Brett Kunkle, co-author—along with the Colson Center’s John Stonestreet—of a new book entitled, “A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World” discusses the new book, which seeks to help young people successfully navigate today’s complex culture while staying focused on those things that are truly important and that have an eternal significance.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Today, we are going to discuss a wonderful new book that is full of practical insights for parents, teachers, and anyone who desires to help young people successfully navigate today’s complex culture while staying focused on those things that are truly important and that really have an eternal significance.
Our guest today is Brett Kunkle, who is the co-author, along with the Chuck Colson Center’s John Stonestreet, of a new book entitled, A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World. Brett Kunkle, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you on the show.
BRETT KUNKLE: I love talking about these things, so it is a privilege to be on Family Policy Matters.
JOHN RUSTIN: Brett, as we begin our conversation, let’s start from a big picture perspective. How do you define “culture” in this book and how does culture relate to individuals and the communities in which they live?
BRETT KUNKLE: This is a very important question. It’s actually how we begin the book because it’s essential to define culture and know what we’re talking about if we’re going to develop the kind of discernment we need to help our kids navigate this culture. I think, oftentimes Christians reduce culture to all the bad stuff that’s out there, right? But we would want to say that the culture consists of more than just the bad stuff out there. It’s not just all the bad stuff of pop culture—all the bad ideas—because on that view, if you think about what our posture is going to be if that’s our view of culture, we’re going to constantly be against everything and anything in the culture. But this view fails to recognize that we find culture wherever we find human beings. So you can’t just reduce it to all the stuff that’s out there. Culture is simply what human beings make of the world. So this includes: all of our ideas; it includes our institutions; it includes habits; it includes structures; it includes all those things that we embrace to live life together. And so, there are very good aspects of culture. There are very bad aspects of culture, but we’re going to find culture wherever we find human beings. And so as we think about culture, we want to realize that in the Christian worldview, we’re not just saved from the world but we’re also saved for the world. And so that gives us a completely different perspective on culture.
JOHN RUSTIN: It certainly does. Uou write that many Christians today are “reactionary,” often overreacting to things in the culture. And oftentimes, people also underreact to things that really are important. How can we help young people maintain a balance in their lives and be intentional about working to positively shape the culture, rather than having the culture shape them?
BRETT KUNKLE: There’s a number of things to say here. One of the things that we’ve got to do to help our young people not be shaped by culture is to realize that culture is undergirded by a worldview. So, underneath culture there are ideas that shape how we build culture and so that underlying worldview is going to express itself in different institutions, in different cultural patterns, in different ideas. So one of the best things that we can do is help our young people develop a worldview that takes into account all of these things, that grounds them, that they actually take to be true. And so when we help them develop a Christian worldview, that accounts for all of reality. That’s one way they’ll be equipped to navigate the culture. Of course, if we step back here and realize the Christian worldview is the true worldview, it’s not just one of many options. We’re saying the Christian worldview is actually true, it’s objectively true, it’s actually true whether you believe it or not. So therefore, this worldview is a source of knowledge about reality. I think that’s one thing we’ve got to do when we talk to our kids about these kinds of things, is that we need to talk about it in these kinds of ways. We need to use cognitive language. What I mean by that is we need to talk about the rationality of the Christian faith. We need to talk about the evidence of the Christian faith. We need to help them connect the Christian worldview and the Christian faith with the different things that they’re studying day in and day out. They’re studying all these different areas of knowledge, and often for many of them, because they don’t have good Christian worldview—Christianity, their faith, is compartmentalized—it’s cut off from all of these other areas. And so then what happens—and of course we don’t intend this—but what’ll happen is that then Christianity simply becomes irrelevant to much of life for these young people. So I think one of the things we start with is a helping them develop a worldview that they understand to be true and that makes sense and touches every single area of life. Christianity has something to say to every one of these important aspects of life.
JOHN RUSTIN: That is so true. In the book you talk about a new sort of theology that seems to have sprung up as of late called “moralistic therapeutic deism.” What is “moralistic therapeutic deism” and what role does it play in understanding the current cultural crisis that we seem to be in?
BRETT KUNKLE: This term comes from a sociologist named Christian Smith, and he released his findings in a book called Soul Searching that had to do with the religious, spiritual lives of American teenagers. And what he basically said, after doing his research on American teenagers, he said we can describe their basic views—and this was across the board so it didn’t matter whether they were Christian or Roman Catholic or a Jewish kid or Muslim or a secular kid, basically across the board—there was this view that he termed “moralistic therapeutic deism.” This is how they describe and understand religion and spirituality. And here’s what it kind of boiled down to: for these teenagers, faith was about being nice. It was about being happy. And that God was there, He existed, He’s a nice guy but He’s there to kind of make you happy and to help you when you need Him. So essentially, students are kind of deists. They believe that God’s real but He visits their world when it kind of serves their agenda, and he’s there to kind of make them feel good about themselves along the way, help them get out of problems and that kind of thing. But there is no real clear connection between this God and the rest of life. In fact, what the researchers said in that book is they said that God/religion/faith really operated in the background of everyday living. So it’s, again, that religion compartment. It’s in the background of life and when I need it, if I go to church on Sunday or when I do my quiet times, or if I’m in Sunday school or youth group, then I bring that compartment out and I kind of open up that box and then it’s relevant. But really for the rest of life, I just kind of set it back in the background of life and just take it out next Sunday when I need. And we have a whole generation who this is their dominant view about God and faith and religion.
JOHN RUSTIN: You also, at one point in the book, argue that the old heresy of Gnosticism has reappeared today, particularly when it comes to jobs and ministry. Talk about that for a minute if you would.
BRETT KUNKLE: If we look at Gnosticism throughout the history of the church, it kind of takes a reality and divides it into two parts. You’ve got the physical, which is evil, and the spiritual, which is good. So therefore, you’re supposed to strive for the spiritual things, what we might call the sacred, and you avoid as much as possible that which is physical, or what we might call secular. The way this plays in our culture and in our setting and in the church is that what we do is that we elevate some jobs as ministry while other jobs are not. For example, let’s say a student wants to be a young pastor, or a pastor, they want to go into ministry or foreign missions, or pastoral duties; these are considered full-time Christian service. And you know what, everyone else, the nurse, the doctor, the lawyer, the businessman, they’re doing good stuff but that’s secular work, at best: At best, it’s a way to make money to support the people who are in ministry or to support the local church, those kinds of things. That’s how I think Gnosticism plays out in our churches, in our people. But when we look at the Bible, the Bible describes the world very differently. The world is both physical and spiritual and both are good, because they’ve been created by God’s hand. So you don’t have this division between the physical, which is bad and the spiritual, which is good. But the division is really in a biblical worldview. The division is between the Creator and the created. The Creator is good when He initially creates. He creates everything that is good and it’s through the Fall we have a corruption of that good creation, but still even within that corrupted and fallen creation, God is still proclaiming His existence, His goodness and kindness. Human activity—all of it—should be seen as God’s work. So if you’re a businessman or a businesswoman, when you have a Christian worldview of this, you understand that the activity itself, the enterprise itself, relates to Christianity. It’s not, you know at the beginning of the week you start with prayer or something like that. But it’s that the enterprise the business itself can relate to Christianity. Let’s make this really practical. For instance, we know that we are called in this world as followers of Jesus Christ to be servants. Business is a great opportunity to let that play out, right? As business owners, we have customers. We need to look at them as people that we serve and we serve them with goods or services. And we meet people’s needs and we care about the customer because they’re made in the image of God and we want to meet their physical needs and ultimately their spiritual needs. But we have a Christian view of business and it’s not just simply a secular enterprise.
JOHN RUSTIN: One area that can often be a challenge for not only young people, but also adults, is that of technology. You dedicate an entire chapter of the book, A Practical Guide to Culture, on technology. One thing that really struck me was the fact that many young people today have never known a quiet world. In other words, they’re often unfamiliar and uncomfortable with just simply being silent. Silence is very rare in our culture. Why did you point that out? Why do you think that is significant?
BRETT KUNKLE: At the beginning of the book, we use an analogy. I live in Southern California. I’m a surfer. And when I go out to my local surf brake, I’ve got to navigate the waves, but I also have to be aware of what’s going on underneath the surface. There are powerful rip currents that can drag you out, pull you into dangerous places, and so I have to worry about the undercurrents that are not as easily detectible and sometimes you’re not even aware of them until it’s too late and you find yourself in trouble. And so I think technology is the kind of thing we really have to be careful of. It’s one of these undercurrents that is not quite as visible. I’ll give you an example: I was recently with my four kids that are still at home. I took them out to have frozen yogurt at a local place and we were sitting there, enjoying our yogurt together, and there was a mom and daughter who walked in after us. They had gotten their yogurt, and they went and sat down right next to us, and as soon as they sat down I noticed that the mom, as soon as she sat down, she had in one hand she had the spoon for her frozen yogurt but in the other hand she immediately pulled out her smartphone. And her daughter was probably five or six years old and the entire time mom was looking at the smartphone, and the daughter was kind of looking at mom, looking around, eating her frozen yogurt, but they were absolutely silent. There was not a single word exchanged between them. There’s a book by Sherry Turkle called Alone Together, where she addresses this issue of technology. And I thought that scene in that little yogurt store captured a mom and a daughter who were alone together. And this is a huge concern because, number one, think about it, it cuts us off from one another, it harms our relationships and our connection with each other. So this is something that we have to think very carefully about.
JOHN RUSTIN: Brett, that’s a great place for us to end our discussion today, and we are out of time but I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters, and for sharing your valuable insights with us and our listeners.
BRETT KUNKLE: Thanks, it is a privilege.
– END –