Book Reviews

Book Review: Cultural Engagement (Chatraw/Prior)

With the state of affairs in America, fewer and fewer are able to hold a decent conversation with someone who disagrees with them (especially if it’s on social media). Josh Chatraw and Karen Swallow Prior have produced a resource full of essays so that we could learn how others think and be better prepared for future conversations where we will disagree with others. The topics are:

  1. sexuality
  2. gender roles
  3. human life and reproductive technology
  4. immigration and race
  5. creation and creature care
  6. politics
  7. work
  8. arts
  9. war, weapons, and capital punishment

Who has time to read books on each of  these subjects? This book helps us to see what people think and why they think it while pointing us forward to more books on the topics at hand.

Each section brings scholars from different viewpoints together to explain their personal beliefs about a particular topic. Each of these topics contains between five to seven chapters. Think of it like Zondervan’s “Four Views” series, only its “Five Views” or “Seven Views.” But this book isn’t trying to convince you of each position as much as it is informing you of the many differing positions. As the subtitle indicates, this book is a “crash course in contemporary issues.” Chapters are between three and five pages, with most being around only three pages. That said, Part Two, “Contemporary Issues,” is 273 pages long. So there is plenty to read, and it may actually be nice that the chapters are short. If you want to delve more into the topics, each chapter provides links to websites and/or books for further reading. For example, Matthew Vines gives only three-and-a-half pages to “rethinking same-sex relationships” (and he admittedly says this hardly scratches the surface, one he dives into in his own book). But since I already disagree with him, his chapter didn’t help change my mind. But it did introduce me into some of his thinking.

Part One consists of two chapters on how Christianity and the biblical story line interacts with culture. Chapter one looks at how culture communicates meaning: We read through the lenses that our culture provides us with. It shapes how we think, live, decide, and view others. Culture shapes our sensibilities: marketing, smartphones, and movie stars (to name a few) affects our affections and desires. They tell us what is “good” and what kind of things (or people) should be left behind. Culture replicates itself: We pass down our culture to our children through our family rhythms, loves, dislikes, “practices, ideas, and assumed framework” in which we live and move (29).

Chapter two helps us to see how pivotal it is to know the Bible’s storyline so that we can more faithfully interact with culture. Chapter three encourages us to engage virtuously with culture. One such virtue that we need to cultivate is diligence which requires thoroughness. As Andreas Köstenberger writes, “Diligence requires seeking out different points of view on a matter from various sources” (56). This also requires humility to be wrong. We need to be able to listen to others and to have patience with them and their viewpoints, critiquing them (and being critiqued by them) without going on a rampage against them.

In Part Three, the final two chapters encourage us to engage culture as gospel-shaped people and to create culture. Rather than condemning culture (and talking the talk), we should be cultivating culture (walking the walk). That will look different ways for different people (and this final chapter was written by Andy Crouch, so  to find out more ways, read his books! They’re excellent).

Recommended?

This is an excellent book that gives you a broad panorama of nine different topics. Though the chapters are very short, it’s still better than reading something from Joe Schmoe’s opinion piece in the newspaper. These are scholars, many whom I’ve never heard of, writing about difficult topics. Take up and read!

Lagniappe

  • Editors: Joshua D. Chatraw & Karen Swallow Prior
    • Josh Chatraw—Joshua Chatraw serves as the director for New City Fellows and the Resident Theologian at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is a fellow with the Center for Pastor Theologians and has served in both pastoral and academic posts during his ministry.

    • Karen Swallow Prior—Karen Swallow Prior is an award-winning Professor of English at Liberty University. She is a Senior Fellow at the Trinity Forum, a Senior Fellow at Liberty University’s Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States. 26

  • Hardcover : 368 pages
  • Publisher : Zondervan Academic (July 9, 2019)
  • Read the Introduction and Chapter One

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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