Jossey-Bass, 2007. Available from Koorong Books in Australia.
Dick Staub does not like what he sees. Nor should we. Much of the Western world is dominated by popular culture. And popular culture is overwhelmingly brainless, shallow, soulless and vacuous. If Paris Hilton and Big Brother are the best we can come up with, we are in very bad shape indeed.
But it gets worse. The real answer to the cultural and spiritual wasteland of modern culture is biblical Christianity. But much of what passes for Evangelicalism today is just as bad. It too is largely shallow, intellectually empty, culturally vapid and spiritually anorexic.
Culture-lite is more than matched by Christianity-lite. Indeed, the latter is largely a product of the former. Modern culture offers nothing of substance, whereas the church should. But too often the church is slavishly mimicking the latest cultural trends in the interests of being relevant. Thus it comes off just as anaemic and shallow.
Dick Staub argues that a needy world is certainly being short-changed by pop culture, but it is also being short-changed by much of Christianity these days. The paucity and poverty of contemporary Evangelicalism is made worse by knowledge of the fact that it was not always this way.
At one point Evangelical Christians were known for their intellectual, cultural and aesthetic complexity. Think of such massive figures as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, to name but a few. Evangelical Christianity used to be on the cutting edge of artistic, cultural and intellectual endeavours. But today we have largely lost that depth and richness.
Indeed, think of the rich contributions made by people of faith in the past: Dante, Dostoevsky, Rembrandt and Bach. The Christian church led the way culturally, artistically and intellectually for centuries, producing a deep and rich culture. But today the church mostly just parrots pop culture, which is all about entertainment and amusement.
Pop culture is destroying the soul while filling the wallets – of global marketeers. Instead of promoting the good and the true and the beautiful, it is about the “cultivation of a sizable, wealthy, impulsive generation groomed to be consumers from the cradle to the grave”.
Tragically, young believers are not all that different from young non-believers today. Staub reminds us of the grim statistics: evangelical’s behaviour pretty much resembles that of non-believers. We tend to be just as consumeristic and materialistic, just as shallow, just as anti-intellectual and just as apathetic. Divorce rates are as high in the churched community as outside it; belief in absolute truth is at an all-time low; and Christian discipleship seems to be a lost art.
In order to see why we should be concerned about all this, we have to remind ourselves of the truth that we are made in the image of God. As Staub reminds us, human beings have intellectual, spiritual, relational, creative and moral capacities, and all these areas should be used to love and serve God.
He quotes Hans Rookmaaker who said some decades ago, “Jesus did not come to make us Christian; Jesus came to make us fully human”. “We are called to be culturally savvy Christians,” says Staub, “who are serious about faith, savvy about faith and culture, and skilled at fulfilling our calling to be a loving, transforming presence in the world”.
Jesus asked the Father not to take believers out of the world, but to protect them from the evil one (John 17:15). Yet it seems we have succumbed to the lures and temptations of the world and lost our saltiness. Instead of transforming culture, we have become slaves of it. So we now have pop culture and pop Christianity.
The bulk of this book is about how we can once again become culture changers and cultural leaders. It is about how we can regain authentic Christian spirituality and creativity. The journey from Christianity-lite to the real thing will not be easy. It requires swimming against the tide. But that is what Jesus has always demanded of us.
This book is a much-needed wakeup call to a church that has lost its way, and has simply become a poor imitation of the surrounding culture. The church greatly needs a new vision of its Lord, of its calling, and of its world. Dick Staub thankfully helps us to do just that.