This review is long overdue, and the best I can do by way of penance is to cut to the chase and point to the best features of The Culturally Savvy Christian. Dick Staub's title is potentially pretentious, but he proves to be his own man, and elaborates on a very popular topic with a conversational voice that's original and very well-informed. Here's a quote that's a good summary of Staub's perspective:
I've spent a lot of time observing today's Christian enterprise. I see people obsessed with evangelism and discipleship, or passionate about the intellectual and artistic restoration of culture, or committed to engaging the culture politically. But for culturally savvy Christians, there is only one worthy obsession: God. Only God's deep spiritual, intelligent, creative presence in us will draw people to him. Only the presence of deeply well people will transform popular culture, and only by going deep in God can we be restored to deep wellness. - Dick Staub
The scope of The Culturally Savvy Christian was wider than I expected, as Straub's argument is that every serious believer should be "culturally savvy"--and that this entails much, much more than hipster cred. I was expecting something clever and stylishly trite, ala Relevant Magazine, but to my relief, Dick Staub surprised me. (An endorsement by N.T. Wright should probably have tipped me off.)
Staub goes beyond mere commentary to critique, integrate, and envision--and his vision is sweeping and compelling. Staub's perspective provides a deep spiritual grounding for cultural engagement and service. It's also loaded with the intriguing cultural references and insight you'd expect from a book with this title.
Staub effortlessly quotes the prophets and spokesmen of American culture, citing George Clooney, Orson Welles, Paris Hilton, Andy Warhol, Neil Postman, Carl Sandburg, Bruce Springsteen, Frederick Buechner, Napoleon Dynamite, Zero 7, Tom Cruise, Homer Simpson, David Kinnaman, Blaise Pascal, Francis Schaeffer, Alan Bloom, Leslie Newbigin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Alan Wolfe, Maxim...and this is just in the first 40-some pages. (Some of my personal favorites like Bob Dylan, Wilco, C.S. Lewis, and Fyodor Dostoevsky appear later.)
Name-dropping does not an expert make, but Dick Staub's ability to synthesize the wildly diverse American zeitgeist is laudable. He uses his expertise to critique Christianity Lite, diagnose the sources of cultural vacuity, and convey a vision for strong, healthy, creative living--not knee-jerk consumption. Ultimately, The Culturally Savvy Christian is a good entry-level work for anyone wondering how the church should interact with culture today. But the book transcends its title, dealing with spiritual vitality and the way Jesus' character forms our stories and can heal us all.
** Staub brings together cultural and theological savvy, and the marriage is blissful. I award The Culturally Savvy Christian two of three stars--well worth your time.