Book Review: Culture Matters by T. M. Moore

In Culture Matters: A Call for Consensus on Christian Cultural Engagement, T. M. Moore advocates that Christians in the 21st century can and must develop a consensus on how to engage culture. (Yes, Moore’s thesis is indeed his subtitle.) Throughout this work, Moore explores five people and/or groups in Christian history whose faith compelled them to participate within their cultures as agents of God’s kingdom. He then extrapolates principles from their approaches and suggests points of application for contemporary followers of Christ–sometimes even including a modern example of contextualization.

In Chapter One, Moore uses St. Augustine’s City of God to present a way that Christians can critique culture, surmising that Augustine was timely, principled, fair, reasoned, theological, evangelical, and a visionary. Chapter Two offers insights from Celtic artists in the Dark Ages on how Christians can forge new culture through art by making certain the message, knowing their media, adopting and adapting, communicating actively and clearly,accepting the challenge of innovation, activating the church, and serving the community. Moore interviews Phil Keaggy as a contemporary example of an effective Christian artist. John Calvin’s innovation in education constitutes the focus of Chapter Three, in which Moore emphasizes the utter necessity of educational reform, instruction must care for the whole person, and that learning must gain a new vision for “renewed selves and a renewed culture” (85). In Chapter Four, Moore assess Abraham Kuyper’s work in cultural reformation, highlighting Kuyper’s teachings that culture matters to God, sin corrupts culture, Christians are called to culture, culture is powerful, Christians must challenge culture, the need to pay attention to contemporary culture, and pursuing culture for the glory of God. Chuck Colson is represented as an example of how Christians can work to reform culture. Finally, Czeslaw Milosz’ poetic writings draw Moore’s attentions in Chapter Five on how Christians can speak prophetically into culture by sharing a message of transcendent truth; exploring everyday encounters and experiences; using questions, propositions, and persuasion; converting people to hope; communicating a transcendent metanarrative; and speaking faithfully. More shares the music of David Wilcox as a contemporary example of prophetic poetry.

Moore’s last chapter concludes, “parameters can be articulated and a variety of forums created to enable significant numbers of believers from all communions of the faithful to realize a common voice and stance toward the making and use of culture in all its forms,” (146). He then offers creative ways for Christians to gain consensus in their communities.

Overall, I agree with Moore’s premise that Christians need to actively work to create a consensus on how to engage our surrounding culture. I appreciated how Moore drew my attention to the work of faithful Christians throughout church history–some of which I knew nothing about. Other reviewers have suggested that a reader needs prior knowledge of these people before reading Culture Matters. I, however, disagree. Though I recommend reading this book slowly in order to gain the most from it, Moore’s explorations of differing cultural engagements provided a nice launching point for deeper study. Now, I am intrigued and desire to study some of these figures more. I also have gained a more perceptive eye to notice instances of Christian cultural engagement–whether beneficial or not–when I come across them in ordinary life.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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Book Review: Called to Stay by Caleb Breakey

Caleb Breakey has a clear passion for the local church. In Called to Stay, he writes to Christians experiencing frustration with their churches who are tempted to abandon the Church altogether. Coining the idea of “infiltration,” Breakey charges Christians to stay with their local churches, working with the community to cultivate health and flourishing. Each chapter highlights an aspect of infiltration–such as building unity and relying on the Holy Spirit–that believers should embrace as they seek to contribute to the good of their local church.

I so wanted to love this book. As an associate campus pastor at a Christian university, I often work with young adults who struggle to fit into local church communities. I was hoping that Breakey would write clear and compelling material, so I could recommend this book to students. Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed. Though Breakey has good starting points, he often launches off with explanations that lack depth and clarity. Not only do Breakey’s points fail to develop well, his poor writing style obfuscates the message he seeks to convey. This becomes especially apparent in obscure allegories that Breakey uses, acting as if they shed brilliant light on his subject, when in actuality, they create more confusion and… well, just overall oddness. Breakey also uses excessive numbering of points and lists in each chapter, which make his main ideas more complicated. Though he tries to make the book practical–and I admit, there are some helpful points–many of his ideas lack meaningful contextualization or maturity. Even the term “infiltration” seems too militaristic to me for what he’s challenging Christians to do.
As a side note: I was bothered by Breakey’s lack of gender-inclusive language. Not only does he always refer to pastors with male pronouns–which at least makes sense if he’s complementation–he also uses almost all male pronouns for generic examples of church-goers. With at least 50% of church members being female, he should have put more intentionality into including them.

After reading this book, I think Breakey seems genuine and his love for the Church is pure. He’s the kind of guy, I imagine would be fun to have coffee with. His book, however, I cannot recommend.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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