Friday, April 11, 2008

Review: "The Culturally Savvy Christian"

Dick Staub's "The Culturally Savvy Christian: A manifesto for deepening faith and enriching popular culture in an age of Christianity-lite", is the latest in a stack of books by my bedside.  The cover got my attention because it has a picture of a man on the front, and from the urban belt buckle to the suit-coat-with -t-shirt look, this could be a picture taken on any given Sunday at my church.  The striking aspect of this photo is the picture of Jesus, slightly obscured by the cross-necklace, that is printed on the t-shirt.  Is this the culturally savvy Christian, or is this the brand of Christianity that the author is writing against (A brand that is consumer driven, spiritually shallow and entertainment crazed)?

The first chapter is full of quotes and stats that tell us how bad the culture is.  It's interesting, but you've heard it before.  Paris Hilton has no talent, Oprah is the prophet of choice and television will rot your soul.  Tell me something I don't already know, right?

But the second chapter turns the light on "pop-Christianty", and reveals that television is not the only thing that will rot the soul.  Church, with its cineplexes... uhm... I mean Megachurches, and its "anything you can do, we can do cheesier" mentality may be just as dangerous as anything pop-culture throws your way.

Here's the quote that got me:

"Others believe that our apparent success has been accomplished by conforming to American culture rather than transforming it, pointing out, as Alan Wolfe observed, that instead of theological, it is therapeutic; instead of intellectual, it is emotional and revivalist; instead of emphasizing a serving community, it is consumeristic and individualistic; instead of producing spiritual growth and depth, it is satisfied with entrepreneurialism and numeric growth.  Instead of being a moral and spiritual beacon, evangelicalism is viewed as an important political and economic niche."


The rest of the book gives some guidance as to how Christians can become "serious about faith, savvy about faith and culture, and skilled in relating the two."  The sections are divided as such, and Staub has some great things to say about what it means to go a different direction than the current trend of pop-Christianity in a world that has so many opportunities in the areas of intellectualism, art and depth.  

Staub is well-intentioned, but only time will tell if his thoughts truly shape the scene.  Evangelicals, as Staub notes, are well-intentioned and sincere in their desire to reach the culture and transform it.  Staub also has good intentions, but who's to say that his ideas won't end up becoming the next wave of pop-Christianity, or worse, cocooned Christianity.  There is a balance to the Christian life in this world, and few ever achieve it.  Those who do seem to have an intangible quality that allows them to be thought provoking, personable and street smart about the culture.  They make the Gospel look beautiful and believable, and they are rare indeed.  I'm not sure they achieve this balance by reading books... although it probably doesn't hurt.

Oh yeah, about the picture on the front cover... I think this is the person who fails to achieve the balance.  He looks kind of cool, but kind of goofy.  Jesus is great, but he should never be charicatured on a t-shirt.  And the gold chain with the cross is a bad look.  I bet this guy has a gotee!


r! said...

I'm going to buy this book. Placing my order now. Thanks for the review.

Brian Frink said...

and whats wrong with gotees?

As for the cross and the image of Jesus. A friend of mine (little g) pointed out something to me that I had never really considered. First read the 2nd commandment
(Exo. 20:4 - You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.)
Then consider the traditional images that represent "christianity"...the dove, the cross, and the fish.