Thursday, June 18, 2009

Book Review - "Faith and Pop Culture" study guide

Title: Christianity Today’s “Faith and Pop Culture” Study Series
Author: Christianity Today contributors
Published: Thomas Nelson, 2008; 127pp

This study guide is meant to facilitate Christian discussion of the topic of “Faith and Pop Culture” within a small group setting. In an age where more people are spending time at the movies, watching TV, engaging in sports and various entertainment options, it is quite a challenge to distinguish the good ones from the bad. Discernment is learning to sift out the bad weeds from the good wheat. Eight issues were highlighted with articles from a large variety of contributors. In a nutshell, the controversial topics were quickly introduced without having to plow through lots of material. It helps the reader to exercise Christian-thinking. It leads readers back to examine the issues from a biblical perspective.

I like to thank the publishers for coming up with this creative idea to engage the modern culture from a Christian perspective. The framework of the book is broadly a simple three-step process. The first step begins with an article about the topic. The editors supply a helpful article to help prepare the platform for discussion. Using a previously published article on the flagship publication: “Christianity Today,” the article is meant to prepare the table for any group to ‘jump-in’ and discuss the topic particularly from a Christian perspective. The second step helps to raise issues for readers to grapple, to agree or disagree with. The final part of the framework attempts to offer a redemptive eye to see the whole matter. Throughout the book, questions were placed to let the readers engage with lively discussions. Some of the questions are provocative, while others are the usual attempts to link biblical references with the observations. From an engagement angle as well as a discussion format, the purpose of the book has been met.

I like the questions that have been framed. It is open and contains helpful Bible references to guide the reader. However, there is a risk of taking verses out of context, so the Bible study session ought to be led by a more mature believer. One of the biggest values this book gives is toward seeing faith and pop culture from a Christian perspective. It tries to avoid dualistic (for example: the material world is bad; spiritual is good) thinking, and offers a way to redeem culture. It recognizes that despite the flaws and weaknesses of each art medium, there is still a way for Christians to enjoy art, albeit with a critical eye. Critical not in a negative sense, but from a redemptive angle.

Depth. As an introduction to the issues each topic raises, it is pretty good. However, it ought to point interested readers toward resources and ways to learn more about the topic at hand. Probably, from a marketing perspective, the editors have missed out an opportunity toward a win-win scenario. On the one hand, the publishers could have used the opportunity at the end of each topic to parade their wide range of resources to readers. On the other hand, readers will also recognize that the discussion could be a beginning of a fruitful journey of discovery, what a deeper understanding of ‘Faith and Pop Culture’ could mean. It also lack a small bibliography, and better treatment of alternative points of view.

Though the Bible references are good, there is a risk of eisegesis, (ie; reading meaning INTO the text) as opposed to exegesis (reading the meaning OUT OF the text)

I feel that for a study series, having one article that espouses one point of view is grossly insufficient. Even though the articles chosen reflect a brief discussion of various points of view, the fact remains that all the writers have a particular angle of what faith and pop culture means to their faith. Personally, I feel that it is more beneficial to have at least 2 articles per section, one on the left and the other to the right, and allow readers to draw their own conclusions and to have a better informed discussions. Perhaps, the editor has done this intentionally, so as to make a lively discussion even more ‘livelier,' without having to bog down group members with excessive reading. After-all, brevity has its advantages for a small group discussion. It can cut down costs as well. A short list of bibliography will help. Finally, despite the shortfalls, in general, the study guide does a good job to clear the ground for faith discussion and should appeal for both Christians and also for non-Christians seeking to understand more about the Christian perspective.

This should be an interesting study for those of us keen to engage culture with a biblical perspective. It is good as an introduction. Period.

Thomas Nelson Reviewer,

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