Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Book 15: Everyday Theology edited by Vanhoozer, Anderson, and Sleasman

Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends edited by Kevin Vanhoozer, Charles Anderson, and Michael Sleasman.

Pages: 288.

How it was obtained: I used a gift card my parents gave me for my birthday to buy it from CBD.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 2 years.

Days spent reading it: 4.

Why I read it: I have heard great things about Kevin Vanhoozer, who teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity. So I was interested in reading some of his work. I am also interested in how Christians should interact with our culture. This book seemed to be a good fit.

Brief review:
Everyday Theology is a collection of essays that attempt to interpret culture through a multifaceted analysis. The basic grid is that we need to understand is called "the world behind, of, and in front of the text." The text is whatever element of culture we are looking at. "Behind the text" is the background information. "Of the text" is how does the text itself promote the message it is conveying. Like how hardcore music sounds angry, so it conveys this sense through aggressive rhythms, etc. (At least that is how I understand this point, its a little murky to me in the book). "In front of the text" refers to how we will respond to the text, I have to appropriate a response. For Christians this step would include taking the text and comparing it to a Biblical response.

If this sounds a little daunting, it can be, but it is also important if Christians want to be culturally savvy agents.

In this book, each essay takes one aspect of culture and analyzes it through this grid. For example there are articles on film (Gladiator), music (Eminem), political movements (UN Declaration of Human rights), as well as social movements (designer funerals, weddings, blogging).

I think Everyday Theology gives a solid grid for Christians to interpret culture through. However, I felt at times it was overly technical (I was certainly put off by some of the jargon). My interest level also rose and fell with different articles. If it was something I was interested in (i.e. Gladiator) I would be more interested than in something I barely encounter (i.e. designer funerals). And, as in any collection, some authors were clearly better at communicating their ideas than others.

The best chapter in the book was the final chapter. It actually walks us through the process of interpreting culture by analyzing something we all know--weddings. This chapter easily could have been the second chapter in the book (after the introductory essay by Vanhoozer that sets up the methodology used throughout the book) and would have served the reader better there because it gives a first hand account of how to interpret texts and trends. The other articles do not walk us through the process in such a step by step approach.

I would recommend this book to people who are interested in how Christians should interpret culture. This book is a little more academic than I was expecting, but does give good examples of how to evaluate culture and how we should respond to the culture we are interpreting. I would not suggest this book for the casual reader interested in Christians and culture, it might just be a little too dry for them.

Favorite quote:
"The ultimate goal of cultural hermeneutics is to live redemptively in response to cultural work. We find ourselves in a world in decay and yet with the shadow and promise of glory, a world that God is reconciling to himself. Part of our ambassadorship for Christ is to imagine how he should shape our lives in light of the influences of the texts and trends around us. Only if we practice cultural agency have we truly done cultural interpretation and fulfilled our responsibility to acquire wisdom."

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

Final Word: Relevant.

1 comment:

Rob said...

Interesting to read all your reviews, Patrick. I remember hearing (or reading) an urban ministry guy say that we need to exegete the Scriptures and exegete our culture in order to minister effectively. I'm not sure I have done a very good job at exegeting my culture, even as a missionary. BTW, what would it be like to go through life with a last name like Sleasman? :)