We are at a turning point in Christian culture – a turning point in terms of need, opportunity, and ability.
Christians in the West live in a post-Christian culture. That is not just to say that faith has become the exception rather than the norm. Rather, it is to say that for most of the culture-makers and culture-influencers today, and for most people in their ordinary lives, Christianity as a worldview is something past, dead, irrelevant. The minds at work in Hollywood and in the ivory tower, in workplaces and schools, often simply take it for granted that Christianity is irrelevant to, or interferes with, the real business of life. In past centuries, Christian ideas were presented to the world through worship and the teaching of the Church, but also through music, art, architecture, and traditions in daily life. Those who rejected Christ at least knew what they were rejecting. Most of that is gone now: we need to regain our foothold in culture.
More hopefully, though, we also have the opportunity and the ability to engage in culture. In recent years, there has been a rising awareness of the need for cultural engagement across all fields and endeavors, and many new ministries, projects, and academic programs have risen to take up the challenge. (I know this because I’m on the front lines: I’m writing this in my office at Houston Baptist University, where we are starting a new MA in Apologetics, focusing on cultural apologetics.)
All this leads me to Jonathan Morrow’s timely and valuable book, Think Christianly: Looking at the Intersection of Faith and Culture. He writes in the introduction:
I deeply believe that to become who God calls us to be, we must move in our thinking from isolation to integration. Christianity, if true, requires this. Our great danger is to so compartmentalize our Christian lives that one area does not impact, influence, or inform another, resulting in the equally tragic outcomes of fragmented lives and diminished impact for the kingdom of God.
Think Christianly is a handbook for integration. In it, Morrow takes a broad view, touching on questions of what cultural engagement looks like, why it matters, and how we can do it.
In Part One: Understanding Our Intersection, Morrow asks why culture matters, and how we can engage with, and equip, the next generation. In Part Two: Preparing to Engage, he addresses intellectual formation and discipleship. In Part Three: Areas We Must Engage, he provides a wide-ranging sample of areas that call for Christian engagement, such as addressing relativism, engaging human sexuality, media use, the arts, social justice, the public square, science and bioethics, and stewardship of the environment.
As a poet and an apologist who works with imaginative apologetics, I was particularly glad to see Morrow challenge us to the task of “Recapturing the Christian imagination and the arts.” He writes:
Some Christians emphasize reason, while others emphasize imagination; but why do we have to choose? Properly understood, both are gifts of God that express various aspects of what it means to be human and an image bearer. Our God embodies infinite rationality, imagination, and creativity (Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 11:33-36). But unfortunately the arts and imagination are often viewed with skepticism and practically ignored in the church. When was the last time you heard a sermon on a biblical view of art? This needs to change.
Each section is necessarily brief, but is followed by a list of resources for readers who are interested in following up on that particular avenue of engagement.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is that Morrow structures it around interviews with Christians who are working in the fields he discusses. At first this felt a bit odd – why not have Morrow continue to explain these ideas? – but as I read, I soon realized that this multiplicity of voices was both valuable and encouraging. Encouraging, because it shows that there is much that is already being done; particularly for those apologists, pastors, and teachers who are not part of an extensive network of like-minded people, it can be very easy to feel isolated and discouraged, but this book shows that we have more fellow-workers than we may realize. Valuable, because we are given multiple different examples of what effective cultural engagement looks like: there is no one ‘right’ way to do cultural engagement, but rather many different ways to open up culture to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Morrow wraps up the book with several useful resources: an appendix listing specific ways for a church to engage with culture, another appendix outlining some of the ways that our modern thinking has the shape it does (very useful for understanding root causes of culture), and extensive bibliographical notes that provide resources over and beyond those included in the main body of the book.
Think Christianly is a valuable handbook for cultural engagement; it highlights the root causes of our cultural problems and provides specific ways that individuals and churches can engage with culture in a productive way – and offers a valuable glimpse of what that engagement looks like in real ministry.
Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Dr Holly Ordway is a professor at Houston Baptist University. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, an MA in English from UNC Chapel Hill, and an MA in apologetics from Biola University. She is the author of Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith and speaks and writes regularly on literature and literary apologetics. Her website is Hieropraxis.com.