Book Review: A Practical Guide to Culture

John Stonestreet writes “In a world of bad ideas, we need good ideas. Knowing what is true is always important, and it’s never been more so than in an age of drowning in information.” This book, fully titled A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, co-authored by Brett Kunkle and John Stonestreet, is overflowing with good ideas steeped in truth.

The treasure of this book is right in its name, “Practical.” There is no deceit here; this book is extremely practical. I would say it is the definitive playbook for all Christians who have any role in raising the next generation of believers. The comprehensiveness is outstanding. Instead of just saying “do this” or reminding us how troubling the cultural influences on our kids can be, the authors are more profound. Readers are first asked to learn what culture is, how it is formed, and the power it has. Then, with that understanding, the authors give you the tools to engage and become a culture expert yourself. Therefore, being able to explain the issues well to your kids. Along the way, you will also become a better defender of the Christian faith.

Part One, “Why Culture Matters,” must not be looked over. It can be tempting to jump ahead to the “how to” section of Part Two. As I said above, this part is what makes this book unique and helpful. You could have the greatest arm in football history and steal the coveted New England Patriots playbook, but if you had no idea what football is (the rules, the objectives, etc.), then you still would not be that great of a quarterback. Understanding what culture is and why it matters first gives you the knowledge of the “game” and will significantly help you apply the practical steps to engage your kids in conversation. You can then even explain to your kids why culture matters and educate them to share your concerns.

The authors give you a crash course in worldviews and culture. They admit that it is no easy task to stay informed, but always remind you what is at stake. Both Brett and Jon’s decades of experience in apologetics shines throughout as they make what can be difficult concepts easy to read and understand. What stood out to me the most is that as Christians, they do not take the fatal “us versus them” mentality with the culture that I would argue is not healthy. They write “Culture doesn’t refer to this created world; rather, it refers to what humans do with it.”

Part Two, titled “A Read of the Cultural Waters,” opens with what I’ve already learned is a crisis for teens: technology. Brett and John begin to unpack that this abundance of information available to our children must be ushered through by parents and mentors. That there are a lot of bad ideas out there and that they do not exist in a vacuum and bad ideas have bad consequences. The authors remind us there are many competing forces trying to steal your authority as a parent and we must take our kids questions seriously. John writes “Remember, in the information age, if we won’t take our kids’ questions seriously, others will. Kids who have seen hypocrisy or immorality in the lives of parents, pastors or Christian leaders struggle the most with trust.” The following chapters discuss the particular challenges that our information age brings, including identity, losing touch with ourselves and others, and the lies the internet creates in these realms. Of course, helpful suggestions are given to establish healthy habits in your home concerning technology.

Part Three is the “playbook,” titled “Pounding Cultural Waves.” There is too much information to write a short review, but each of the chapters are broken down into four sections: Don’t Buy the Cultural Lies, Recapture the Wonder of God’s Story, Action Steps, and Hopecasting. Each walks you through a pressing and relevant cultural issue by exposing the truth at the heart of it, shows what God has to say by presenting concrete truths from Scripture, gives you practical steps to have healthy discussions with your kids and implement good habits, and sharing hope from God’s story. The following topics are addressed: Pornography, The Hookup Culture, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Affluence and Consumerism, Addiction, Entertainment, and Racial Tension.

Part Four, “Christian Worldview Essentials,” is your introduction to apologetics. I read this part first and is key to being able to drive home the ideas in this book. The Christian story is reality and when we discuss with our kids that the ways of the Bible, the Christian way, is the better option in life, we have to be able to explain Christianity is real in the marketplace of ideas. Teens are by nature skeptical. Remove your doubt and questions first with your faith, and you will speak with greater confidence and authority.

We cannot just say “this is bad” or “this is not right.” We have to not just turn away from the negative in our culture; we have to turn toward something better. The authors give us a brief, yet sufficient, apologetic of the Christian worldview. From Brett’s and Jon’s experience, they know that to properly talk to our kids about culture, we just can’t tell them the Christian way is better. We must first understand what the Christian way is and then be able to defend it.

Finally, the last chapter is a call to action. The authors argue we (parents and kids) should learn in culture to “…celebrate, create, confront, co-opt, or correct. Beautiful art, brilliant ideas, and compelling stories should be celebrated. New policy solutions and clever inventions should be created to solve contemporary problems. Lies, slander, and false religions should be confronted. New technologies can be co-opted for kingdom use. False information and misperceptions about others should be corrected and replaced with truth. Discerning which approach is appropriate for specific situations isn’t always easy, but Christians ought never be passive consumers of culture. Instead, we need to sharpen one another in the body of Christ so we can make wise decisions.

If you are a parent or a mentor, or have any influence on kids as a believer, get this book. Be part of equipping the next generation to stand firm in the truth and bring healing and God’s Kingdom to a culture in much need of it.

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