Monday, 11 September 2017 10:28

Books to Read

Written by  Tim Challies
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A Practical Guide to Culture

by John Stonestreet & Brett Kunkle


Christians have an interesting relationship with culture. Culture is a word we love to use, but one we rarely pause to define. We speak of culture’s dangerous encroachment on the church, of our need to avoid it, engage it, or redeem it. But what is this culture thing anyway? It happens to be the subject of an excellent new book by John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle. A Practical Guide to Culture is meant to help those who are helping the next generation navigate today’s world, and it does its job well.


“In its most basic sense, culture refers to what people do with the world: we build, we invent, we imagine, we create, we tear down, we replace, we compose, we design, we emphasize, we dismiss, we embellish, we engineer.” But culture goes deeper than that, and also speaks to our shared beliefs, our “conceptions of God, truth, morality, humanity, and history that shape how we live.” Culture is not people, but what people do. And, of course, culture is always changing because people are always changing.


To summarize, “cultures consist of those products of human activity that have collectively taken on a life of their own. The worlds we create powerfully influence our lives by convincing us of what is normal. As we live in a culture, we become committed to its vision of life, unless we’re intentional otherwise. In other words, we make our cultures, and then our cultures shape us.” It shapes us primarily by what it considers normal and good and worthy of praise.


The authors approach the subject in four parts. In the first they introduce the notion of culture and tell why it matters which provides a kind of framework for the rest of the book. In the second they provide a read of the cultural waters, pointing to a number of prominent culture-shaping undercurrents we may take for granted: the Information Age, new notions of identity, technology’s role in allowing us to be alone together, and perpetual adolescence. The third part is the heart of the book, and here they discuss eight of the cultural waves pounding against the church today: pornography, the hookup culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, affluence and consumerism, addiction, entertainment, and racial tension. In every case they identify the cultural lies, compare those lies to biblical truth, offer practical counsel on taking action, and provide a vision for overcoming the challenges they present. The fourth part provides brief primers on worldview essentials, and especially those related to the centrality and trustworthiness of the Bible.


I am a father tasked with raising three children in this culture, and a pastor tasked with helping a whole church navigate a world that seems to be coming apart at the seams. I am convinced this book has better equipped me in my tasks. I’m glad I read it and heartily commend it to you.



He Will Hold Me Fast

by Connie Dever


This isn’t normally my kind of book, not the type I am typically drawn to. But I thought I might at least read a little bit just to see what it is all about. I read the first few pages, then the first few sections, then the whole thing. It just kind of happened. And I enjoyed it far more than I would have thought.


In 2014, Connie Dever (wife of Mark Dever) was diagnosed with cancer. And, as so many do, she responded by writing. She began a blog to record her experience, her journey. This was not merely a medical journey but, far more importantly and of far greater interest, it was a spiritual journey. He Will Hold Me Fast, then, is a kind of travel-log, a record of her travels and travails.


The book has several noteworthy strengths. First is Dever’s honesty. She shares not only her triumphs but also her failures, not only her strengths but also her weaknesses. She is honest with her fears—both her reasonable ones and her sinful ones. She is honest about having good days and bad days, spiritual highs and spiritual lows.


Second is her maturity. She began this journey a seasoned Christian, but through her suffering experienced a great growth in maturity. Her suffering drove her deeper and deeper into Scripture and brought her constantly to her knees. Along the way she learned what so many Christians learn—that suffering is a powerful classroom.


Third is her faith. While she experiences moments of deep sorrow and crushing lament, her faith does not merely survive, but thrives. She becomes increasingly convinced that God is at work even through this.


And then there are her insights. All throughout she shares truth that is challenging, stirring, encouraging, and edifying. “Worry is what we do when we look forward godlessly. Hope is what we have when we look forward god-centeredly.” And “Why is it that this bitterest pill I’ve had to swallow is bringing the sweetest healing I’ve ever known?” And, “God hires no nannies. God is on duty! He stands watch. He knows His plans and He, Himself, brings them about. He is with His people.”


Written in an informal tone, even preserving some of the verbiage of an online journal, this is an honest, urgent, encouraging account of loss and gain. I’m so glad I read it.


Last modified on Monday, 11 September 2017 10:42
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