Saturday, June 23, 2007

book review: The Culturally Savvy Christian

I noticed yesterday at Family Christian Store(which thankfully was open on Sunday for me to notice this in their convenient between-service-hours) that Dick Staub's latest, The Culturally Savvy Christian: A Manifesto for Deepening Faith and Enriching Popular Culture in an Age of Christianity-Lite was no where to be found. Surprise, surprise.

Staub's book is a mostly-homogeneous mixture of deliniating the important, but obvious, and offering a way for Christians to proceed, all in regards to the superficial, shallow pop culture that surrounds us all, Christian, irreligious, or otherwise. Staub's focus is evident in the book's subtitle; it is the phenomenon that he refers to as Christianity-Lite, i.e., the Christianity that he feels is becoming more and more prevelant in Western culture that reflects well just how shallow and superficial our popular culture has become. His call then goes forth to readers hoping to see the rise of what he calls the culturally savvy Christian, from here on, the csC. The book is divided into three sections exploring three aspects of this figure: they are savvy about culture, serious about faith, and skilled at relating the two.

The first three chapters examine our culture and Christianity qua Christianity and, finally, what our faith should reflect in contrast to what it often does reflect.
To some, these chapters may seem like one of the afore-mentioned obvious statements, however, for many they will come as a (much-needed) shock, and lay an important foundation for the work. He spends much time decrying the 'three reactions to culture' that many other authors also attribute to Christianity today--N. T. Wright in The Challenge of Jesus, for one--those being, essentially, the run away, wage war, and conform responses. There's much attention paid to the Christian sub-culture in particular that we find today, and this is likely the reason that you won't find Mr. Staub at FCS.
The book's second division, emphasizing the csC's serious-ness regarding faith, with three chapters exploring God's deep, transforming, and loving presence.
These establish the stating-the-obvious category for me. The messages are important, and well said, but certainly rudimentary; they well-commend this book to the sort of 'freshman Bible study' group that could always use more good books. The most interesting parts of this section to me are found in the second two chapters, where Staub draws out brief, yet thorough summaries of two neo-classic works: Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline and C. S. Lewis's The Four Loves. These chapters should be good reads for those unfamiliar with these books, and make a nice reminder for those who have, not to mention a recommendation for the classics.
The final section ("skilled at relating the two") was a highlight of the book, particularly the first two of the three chapters. Staub spends one chapter exploring the notion of our being aliens in this culture, straddling two different countries and citizenships, and uses C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien (mainly Lewis) as examples to look to. His portrait of Lewis is a beautiful one, and we're given a fine idea of this alien calling.
This is followed by a fine chapter on our roles as ambassadors between faith and culture, looking to the ministry of Christ and the Apostle Paul as seen Acts 17.
The book's final chapter is directed almost exclusively at the creative artist himself, offering all sorts of exhortations to him in his work. Not being much of the creative genius, this was less poignant to me, but could be very meaningful to the right reader.

One other small note: I'm not sure I've read another book with as many notes or references to other, good works. The bibliography is like an honor-roll of 20th century(and some much older) Christian publications.

The introduction will really excite you, and heck, there's the recommendation from N. T. Wright on the cover, but on the whole the book is a bit underwhelming in light of my early expectations; not to say that it's a disappointment, I just had high expectations. The Culturally Savvy Christian is certainly an important work, and I think it reflects an important attitude that will hopefully become more common in the church in the days to come, as there's certainly no good to come from Christianity's frequent disengagements from culture, and, thus, from people. Some of Staub's other works sound interesting--especially to me--but this is as fine a start as any, and for all the more elementary points that are stressed, the over-arching ideas are critical, and here well-illuminated.



Anonymous said...

Glad to see this review, Nance. I occasionally check out Staub's web site and have been curious about the book. I'd also recommend to you the work of Jeffrey Overstreet, whose blog can be found at:

His first book, "Through a Screen Darkly", came out a few months ago, and he's got a pretty interesting perspective on art. He's definitely not your typical Christian movie critic (though he does occasionally write reviews for Christianity Today).

Nance said...

thanks for the link, Josh. I've seen some of Overstreet's reviews on CT, but I can't recall which ones they were... I'm going to go check out his site presently, though.