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Book Review: Practical Guide to Culture

Author: John Stonestreet
Many of you are familiar with John Stonestreet and his ministry previously through Summitt Ministries and currently through the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. John continues to stay deeply engaged with the challenging issues facing parents and youth today. His message provides key insights for the home, church and school. This review will attempt to highlight several of the major points specifically applicable to our Christian Schools today. You will enjoy the entire book (co-authored with his friend Brett Kunkle) and this review will not even scratch the surface of many of the chapters and concepts in the book. Following are the points which I believe most significant to us as Christian educators today.

1)     Definition of culture: This word has taken on so many connotations (mostly negative) in our media saturated society that is filled with inaccurate or loose definitions. Stonestreet rightly begins with the origin of the word from the Latin word culture, which means agriculture. From this definition, he brings the understanding that culture in its most basic sense refers to what people do with the world: we build, we invent, we image, we create……. He brings a clear biblical perspective to this word and subsequent definition by stating,” Cultivating is exactly the sort of behavior the scriptures would have us expect from God’s image bearers.” He goes on to clarify that culture doesn’t refer to this created world: rather, it refers to what humans do with it.

2)     Cultural blind spots: Stonestreet draws on this concept from C.S. Lewis. The premise is that each culture has its own blind spots. Thinking otherwise reveals our ignorance not only of the subtle power that culture wields over our hearts and minds but also of the universal human condition that infects all people in all times and all places. He continues this thought with a powerful perspective on a common Christian statement that we have “lost the culture.” This phrase implies that there was a time when we had the culture. However, because of the sin that infects all people and all cultures, there has never been a thoroughly Christian culture.

3)     How culture works and what it does to us: Stonestreet dedicates an entire section of a chapter to discuss this issue. Here are some key points related to our discussion. What we do with the world becomes part of our normal way of living together, it’s called objectification. That’s why culture changes: new things are created and old things are left behind. We internalize culture as we settle into its routines, lifestyles and habits and as we consume its products, ideas and assumptions about the world. He goes on to make the striking statement that ideas spread in a culture through champions. Artists, storytellers, entrepreneurs, and educators communicate their ideas through their artifacts- songs, books, classes, tools, and other means. Two final points for this section. When it comes to maintaining and perpetuating culture, institutions play the chief role. Second, our loves, our longings, our loyalties, and our labors can become products of the liturgies that our culture imposes.

Once again, there is SO much more to this book but the goal of this short review is to ensure that we are thinking, living and sharing rightly in relationship to culture. Unless we personally begin with a clear definition, demonstrate a willingness to look for and address our blind spots as well as understanding how we can address how culture works and what it does considering the truth of scripture then our efforts to lead our faculties and impact our students will not be fully developed. My hope is that you will personally consider these implications for your school and your leadership and then determine the best way to begin addressing these issues of culture in every area of your school. Also, I would encourage you to read the entire book and pull out other areas that the Holy Spirit may apply to you and/or your school.

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