A Faith and Culture Devotional | Notes & Review

Posted on December 29, 2008


Thanks to Zondervan for my pre-release “bloggers” copy. (All notes and comments refer to that edition.)

Kelly Monroe Kullberg, and Lael Arrington. A Faith and Culture Devotional. Zondervan, 2008. (302 pages).
A Review at BookNotes blog: http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/booknotes/a_faith_culture_devotional_dai/.
iCrucified also received a pre-release copy.

faith-and-culture-devotionalSet in very short (one or two page) readings, this 15 week devotional provides one selection per day (seven each week), each one under one of seven major categories: Bible & Theology, History, Philosophy, Science, Literature, Arts, and Contemporary Culture. They include some original writings, as well as excerpts from previously published books (for the complete list, see below), and end with questions for reflection and discussion. Formatted for simple and easy reading, this will not only work well for an individual who enjoys daily devotionals, but would potentially work well in a small group, or other “group” type discussions.

Reading through, however, is somewhat of a roller coaster ride. While I echo other reviewers’ sentiments in that this is an important and exciting book (mainly because it will expose the reader to works and ideas that they may not have otherwise engaged with) overall this doesn’t necessarily leave the reader with any sense of “deep engagement.” Part of that is simply the format, (very short readings and excerpts that can do only so much in ~500 words) but part of it is also because of the presuppositions of the writers themselves, a few inadequacies in reasoning and terminology (in my opinion), and the apparently assumed intended audience (that being “Christians”) and the overt placation of that audience. It seems that a work like this will continually alienate the unconvinced through the weakness of the material presented, and/or substantiate the opinions of the already convinced (hence the raving positive reviews thus far.)

For example, Sam Storms begins the book with “A Christian Theory of Everything,” a fantastic beginning. Deep philosophical questions about existence, ontology, and even physics are invoked in this starter reading. “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is the question at hand. But then he offers an answer. “The simple answer is that God chose to create.” (23) He goes on to say, “The source of God’s creative energy was the joy of infinite and eternal abundance! God chose to create from the endless and self-replenishing overflow of delight in himself.” (24) While I have a deep appreciation of the “answer” given, I found that response to be too “esoteric” and “Christian” for someone who really wants to truly engage with the cultural disciplines of philosophy and physics. In other words, that’s great that you believe that, but does that reallyanswer” the question of origins? Again, for the skeptic, no. For the already convinced, “Hallelujah.”

Other examples would be Erwin McManus’ “A Conversation with Muslims” ( a topic that is very relevant). The devotional is a great exhortation to believers about love, but drastically shifts from the big themes the title suggests that they’ll address (38). John Eldredge’s continual dichotomization of masculine and feminine stereotypes (masculine “power” and feminine “allure”) may fall short of relating to the culture that seeks to demolish these kinds of classifications. (41) Walter Kaiser’s statement “if Sodom was not razed, could it be that our faith is also in vain?” (44) is just too dogmatic for an appropriate “historical” approach to the scriptures. Lael Arrington’s use of the word “entertainment” (54) perhaps ought best be exchanged for the word “amusement” per the influence of Neil Postman’s writings in our culture. Sarah Sumner seems illogical to suppose that we cannot “study God himself” but rather “the revelation of God,” but then in the next line suggest that “the marvel is that we can know God personally even though we cannot study him.” Would it not more rationally follow that we can either a) truly study God through the revelations of Him, or b) we can only know God’s revelations personally? We can’t have it both ways. (57)

(This reviewer and this reviewer from Amazon.com, exhibit some similar sentiments, though in a harsher tone.)

I recognize this critique may be perceived as a bit harsh, and I actually sincerely lament my responses and feelings about it. I believe the work actually succeeds in “catlyz[ing] a kind of kingdom education from master kingdom teachers, expanding our knowledge, strengthening our beliefs, and inspiring our love for God and others.” (13) However, I simply hope and believe that if the Kingdom of God is going to have that kind of cultural engagement, we ought to keep our biases, presuppositions, and a priori commitments in check taking a stance of great humility. We must then express that humility in our writings, qualify our beliefs, and leave our conclusions open for debate and discussion. Much of what I’ve read (thus far) has, in my opinion, fallen short of this.

This is not to say that there is nothing good or powerful about the book. Lael Arrington does stat that “truth is not a thing, but rather a relationship between our words or ideas and reality.” (28) Arrington’s exhortation that “Christians ought not to be threatened by fantasy and imagination,” (37) is excellent in challenging our positions. John Stott’s suggestion that “one of the major reasons why people reject hte gospel in the West today is not because they perceive it to be false but because they perceive it to be triviall,” (46) really strikes at the heart of the whole issue that I raise above in my critique. And, the overall project is a powerful reminder to all people of faith that the world is much bigger than our beliefs, and reading widely and frequently ought to be a value that we live by on a regular basis.

[I’ll add more critique and positives as I read more…]

Overall, I commend this to the reader who wishes to be more exposed to both the Christian worldview, and the various ethics of cultural engagment that Christianity has purported throughout the many years of its existence. And though my critique is more “critical,” it is only because I care about these kinds of issues, believe that they are important for the world and the faiths that reside within it, and am thankful to Monroe-Kullberg, Arrington, and Zondervan for being faithful in publishing works like this.

Excerpts in A Faith and Culture Devotional from the following previously published works, used by permission with all rights reserved (listed in order as they appear in the book):

Sam Storms. One Thing: Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God. Christian Focus Publications, 2004.
Gene Edward Veith. Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature. Crossway Books, 2004.
Michael Card. Scribbling in the Sand. Michael Card, 2002.
Francis Schaeffer. Art and the Bible. L’Abri Fellowship, 1973.
Erwin McManus. Soul Cravings. Thomas Nelson, 2006.
John Eldredge. Desire: The Journey We Must Take to Find the Life God Offers. Thomas Nelson, 2007.
Kelly Monroe Kullberg. Finding God Beyond Harvard: The Quest for Veritas. InterVarsity Press, 2006.
Dallas Willard. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.
G.K. Chesterton. Orthodoxy. Harold Shaw Publishers, 1994, 2001. (WaterBrook Press).
Philip Yancey. Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church. WaterBrook Press, 2001.
Dick Keyes. Seeing THrough Cynicism: A reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion. InterVarsity Press, 2006.
Nancy Pearcey. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Crossway Books, 2005.
Francis A. Schaeffer. How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. Crossway Books, 1976.
John Eldredge and the Ransomed Heart Men’s Team. CD. Major & Minor Themes (Conversations: Volume 5). Ransomed Heart Ministries, 2006.
James Emery White. Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day. InterVarsity Press, 2006.
Lee Strobel. The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity. Zondervan, 2000.
Mark Joseph. Faith, God & Rock ‘n’ Roll: From Bono to Jars of CLay: How People of Faith Are Transforming American Popular Music. Sanctuary Publishing, 2003.
Drew Trotter. “A Long Way from the Tribe” in Tabletalk magazine, 14, no. 10:13-14.
Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt. A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature. InterVarsity Press, 2006.
Dallas Willard. Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. InterVarsity Press, 1984, 1993, 1999.
J.P. Moreland. The Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power. Zondervan, 2007.
Patrick Kavanaugh. The Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers. Zondervan, 1992, 1996.
Phillip E. Johnson. The Right Questions: Truth and Meaning in Public Debate. InterVarsity Press, 2002.
Hans R. Rookmaaker. Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. InterVarsity Press, 1970.
Vera Shaw. Thorns in the Garden Planet: Meditations on the Creator’s Care. Thomas Nelson, 1993.
Kelly K. Monroe. Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians. Zondervan, 1996.
Gene Edward Veith. Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture. Crossway, 1994.
Robert Charles Sproul Trust. Reason to Believe: A Response to Common Objections to Christianity. G/L Publications, Zondervan, 1978.
Mary Polin in Gladly Learn, Gladly Teach by John Marson Dunaway. Mercer University Press, 2005.
Os Guinness. The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life. Thomas Nelson, 1998.
T.S. Elliot. Excerpt from “Little Gidding,” in Four Quartets. Harcourt, Inc., 1970.
Charles Colson. “The Hope Beyond Ground Zero” in BreakPoint, February 21, 2007. Prison Fellowship, 2007.
Charles Malik. The Wonder of Being. Thomas Nelson, 1974.

Posted in: Religion