Book Reviews

Book Review: Cultural Apologetics (Paul Gould)

People need to see the good, the true, and the beautiful. But, as Paul Gould writes, most of us live in a disenchanted world. Due to scandals, in-house arguments, and lack of conviction,  “the church’s prophetic voice, once resounding with power on issues of slavery and human rights, is now but a whimper” (18). Many (though certainly not all) are failing to give a high view of God that changes us to really be more like Christ. In a country pervaded by TV and YouTube videos, the church just can’t compete when it comes to entertainment. But then again, it was never supposed to compete.

Gould argues that we need to employ cultural apologetics. He defines cultural apologetics as “the work of establishing the Christian voice, conscience, and imagination within a culture so that christianity is seen as true and satisfying” (21). Anyone can use this method. Gould rattles of a list of the types of apologists (classic, evidentialist, cumulative case, presuppositionalist, Reformed epistemologist), but even normal folk like me (and probably you) can be cultural apologists. We should operate on two levels:

  1. Globally: we pay attention to how the culture thinks and lives, and then we work to create a world that is welcoming, thrilling, beautiful, and enchanted (more on that soon).
  2. Locally: We remove obstacles that prevent people from coming to Christ and offer positive reason to believe in him so that people will see Christianity as true, satisfying, plausible, and desirable (23).

We don’t just want to rattle off a bunch of facts to show Christianity is true. In our post-truth world (see my review of Abdu Murray’s “Saving Truth”), many would respond to our list of facts with a “So what?” We want need to show how living as a Christian is better and more desirable than not. Everyone wants truth, justice, beauty, and goodness. We resurrect relevance by showing how Christ answers our human longings. We resurrect hope by “creating new cultural goods and rhythms and practices that reflect the truth, beauty, and goodness of Christianity” (24).

Reason guides us to truth. The conscience leads us to goodness, and the imagination transports us to beauty (29). Intellectuals, prophets, and artists point us to the beauty of Christ’s gospel in different ways. But we are disenchanted. We follow after idols of our own making, buying TVs that show us what we don’t have, feeling lonely while we are equally connected with everyone on social media. Art, movies, science, music, philosophy all  speak to our innate desires for truth, goodness, and beauty.

All good stories point us to Jesus, even if they do so indirectly. We are drawn to some stories over others because we intuit that they reflect reality, that they are somehow connected to another, ongoing story. Fictional stories prepare us to recognize the true story when we see it. They are windows to another world, beckoning for us to look through for the One who offers us joy unending. (113)

The bulk of Gould’s book looks at how we can use reason, imagination, and the conscience to point to Christ. There is also a chapter on addressing internal barriers (within the church) and external barriers (in the culture) to the message of the cross.

Recommended?

This was a very good book. It is a denser read than Abdu Murray’s “Saving Truth,” but nonetheless it was a good push toward thinking about how to be an influence within culture. While Paul does say the cross is foolishness (and not desirable), I do think Gould gives a helpful perspective even to our own selves to think differently about our faith and how we are called to live as Christians among our neighbors.

Lagniappe

Buy it from Amazon or Zondervan Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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