Book Review: Cultural Apologetics by Paul Gould

I’m honored to be a member of the review team for Paul Gould’s recent book, “Cultural Apologetics.” Professor Gould is a respected thinker in Christian philosophical circles. Additionally, for me, Paul is a local friend and an undeniably passionate chaser after God.

What is this book about? While “apologetics” in general may be defined as a branch of theology which defends and makes the case for Christianity, it is most frequently associated with “rational apologetics,” where specifically defending the reasonableness of Christianity is in view. Gould invites us to think of apologetics more broadly, and in fact “four dimensionally.” Obeying Jesus, we “go into all of the world” (Mark 16:15), to every length and width of the map, but we must also go deep into that third dimension, “penetrating into the social and ideational structures of culture so that the gospel will be viewed as reasonable and desirable.” In fact, getting Christianity to be viewed as “reasonable and desirable” is the defined goal of cultural apologetics, as Paul defines it. So while it has a local apologetics component (i.e. guidance on 1-to-1 conversations), Gould’s overarching theme is to paint a global vision for how we can help shape culture, preparing the soil even across time for future evangelism. “Time” is the fourth dimension. In other words, I do not personally think the book’s greatest relevance is to 1-on-1 apologetics (which is what I expected going in to an apologetics book); its main focus is casting out a cooperative game plan for promulgating Christianity. And I think the game plan is great. 

What does Gould recommend? He advocates promoting the “voice” of Christianity by working to inject Christian insights of transcendence into three areas: the culture’s imagination (where we all seek beauty), its reason (where we all seek truth), and its conscience (where we all seek goodness). There’s something to be said for catering to not just the culture’s rational needs, but its very human need for meaning and beauty. Gould emphasizes how we all seek these things, but then persuasively lambasts the three secular approaches to acquiring beauty, truth, and goodness. He makes clear that 1. In chasing after truth in the secular way (naturalistically), they blind themselves to its enchanting truths, 2. In chasing after goodness in the secular way (prioritizing what they can physically sense), they dismiss its most ethically valuable object(s), and 3. In chasing after beauty the secular way (hedonistically), they deprive themselves of the deepest pleasures of transcendence. The secular worldview is shockingly depressing and banal, when examined. The shallow things secular culture champions and chases after are at best cheap substitutes, “contraband transcendence”, that leave everyone hollow. So in being salt and light, we have much to offer the world by putting on display Christianity’s superior imagination, reason, and conscience. 

Who is this book for? Well, mainly, it’s for anyone who would like to see the paragraph above fleshed out! And in fact, if you enjoy how C.S. Lewis expresses himself, then I think you’ll especially like this book. It is peppered with an impressive storehouse of powerful quotes from authors writing in a similarly eloquent way, and Gould’s own writing is no exception. Gould and these great authors were insightful tour guides in helping me explore and re-explore the riches of my own worldview, making for an experience that I think any Christian (or non-Christian) would benefit from. 

*This review was written by Blake Giunta of

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