One of the catagories of books we promote here at Hearts & Minds bookstore is that broad topic of the relationship of Christ and cultural engagement. One aspect of that is precisely the question of how we ought to most fruitfully and faithfully think about cultural artifcates, patterns and trends. For those of us who are seriously Christian, we want our deepest convictions about life, truth, God, the nature of people, the structures of society and the values of the good life to be brought to bear in the very way we think about culture. Many books explore those themes in specific areas–film, rock music, advertising and the like.
Some are very, very important to help us get a good foundation, and you know I often cite the excellent, and recently updated and expanded Eyes Wide Open: Finding God in Popular Culture by my old college bud, Bill Romanowski (Brazos; $17.99.) This is both easy to read and exceptionally insightful; it is Biblically and theologically astute, and very fluent in the latest discourse in the field. It is fun and serious. I might also say–a tiny bit proudly, I’ll admit–that Bill has been talking about this stuff his entire adult life, and was mentored as a young Christian in the early 70’s by those who knew Francis Schaeffer and Calvin Seerveld and Hans Rookmaaker. Very early books on faith and culture by mainline Protestant scholars, too, were on his agenda, and I might suggest that he was a bit of a pioneer in a field that is really blossoming these days. He even got his name on a hardback scholarly book on the use of rock sountracks in film back in the day when that was notable.
But, now, as I say, this is a field that is coming into its own. The brand new Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Charles A. Anderson and Michael J. Sleasman (Baker Academic; $23.95) is an edited volume of highest calibre, with serious essays on a variety of texts and topics which asks how they can be understood from the vantage point of a Christian worldview. That this was edited by the very well-known scholar of Biblical hermenutics, Kevin J. Vanhoozer (PhD from Cambridge, now a theology prof at Trinity) is fascinating, too. On the back cover, it says this, “Generally speaking, students, theologians, pastors and church leaders are well-trained in the task of biblical exegesis. Where many fall short, however, is in the area of cultural exegesis—reading and interpreting the texts and trends produced by our culture, which can have a profound influence on the way we understand the world and practice our faith.” Everyday theology may or may not be the right phrase to describe this project, but if you have theological questions about ordinary stuff—MySpace and cityscapes, rap music and Martha Stewart—this is a wonderful collection. It not only includes case studies, but the cumulative effect is to show us how to invoke a practice of thoughtfulness, to graft us into a tradition, however evolving, in thinking Christianly about popular culture and the postmodern world in which we live.
Chapters include a fine introduction by Vanhoozer on what he means by “everyday theology” in which he takes steps towards a theory of cultural interpretation. The large middle section includes chapters which show us the art of reading cultural texts, with pieces like “The Gospel According To Safeway: The Checkout Line and the Good Life”, “Despair and Redemption: A Theological Account of Eminem” or “Between City and Steeple: Looking at MegaChurch Architecture.” Other pieces include an important essay on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a study of hope in Ridely Scott’s film, Gladiator.
The third section of Everyday Theology include a handful of chapters on how to interpret cultural trends–from “The Business of Busyness” to a good one on the blogosphere. The chapter on the trend of designing fantasy funerals is fascinating— that the author doesn’t cite the Christian undertaker and exquisite poet, Thomas Lynch, is a large oversite, but there you have it—this stuff needs to be discussed and argued about. Most of us, at least those of us who are middle aged and younger, talk about this stuff all the time, anyway. This will help us do so in an honorable and useful way that honors God and brings–hopefully–insights of blessings for our families and neighbors.
That the editors have put together for reflection sidebars and book links and a few other useful resources is nice, making it more user-friendly. Still, it will be a hard-sell, I’m afraid, to get people to buy and use a book this diverse and unique. I hope our Hearts & Minds friends, who experience some joy in thinking about these very things, and reading books about all kinds of stuff, will agree that this really could be an amazing book to have. Kudos to Baker for their good work in this field.
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Few authors have been as level-headed, clear, principled and graceful in their relating the Lordship of Christ and the sovereignty of God to the issues of the day as Fuller Seminary president and philosophy prof, Richard J. Mouw. I will write more about him soon, but for now, I offer this: his collection of short pieces, some previously published in his column at beliefnet or in Christianity Today, called Praying At Burger King (Eerdmans; $10.00) will be sent ABSOLUTELY FREE if you buy the above listed book. Mouw–who carries an endorsement on the back of the Everyday Theology book—would be a perfect, easy-to-read, nearly devotional guide to read alongside the heavy stuff in the cultural exegesis book. Mouw is known as a deep thinker, but in these brief pieces he offers lively stories and fun anecdotes about ordinary stuff. As one reviewer put it, “Mouw has the knack for spotting the theologically sublime in the simple things and the profound in the quirky events of life.”
Here is why Michael Card wrote about it
Blake spoke of seeing ‘the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower.’ This is exactly what Richard Mouw has done for us. Whether it is Machiavelli of McDonald’s, Martin Luther King of Burger King, Santa Claus or Sister Helen, Mouw helps us to hope that this is indeed a heaven-invaded world.”
Read Mouw, on us. And then you will want to–need to—go deeper in. That is where you pick up the one to deepen your skills doing “Everyday Theology.”
Praying At Burger King
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