In a culture that is increasingly post-Christian, the church needs helpful resources to use in order to better equip the next generation to engage the culture. John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle’s A Student’s Guide to Culture does just that. This book is meant to be a companion to A Practical Guide to Culture, a book written for parents to discuss cultural issues with their kids. This book is targeted to high school students, groups of students, youth groups, or parents reading together with their teenagers. Stonestreet and Kunkle’s approach is Scriptural and prudent, taking into account history and current trends in order to see our cultural moment in a wider context. As a youth pastor, I was eager to get my hands on this book.
The two authors bring a lifetime of teaching and ministry experience to the book. Stonestreet is the President of the Chuck Colson Center for Worldview, host of the daily radio show Breakpoint, and frequent speaker for student conferences and events such as Summit Ministries (where he used to be President). Kunkle is a former youth pastor of over 20 years and the founder of MAVEN, an apologetics ministry that specializes in taking groups of young people to places such as college campuses, teaching them how to defend their faith and evangelize in anti-Christian environments.
The book is broken into four major sections. Part One is an explanation of the need to care about culture. Part Two walks through three dangerous undercurrents of culture. Part Three is the actual guide to a variety of topics from a Christian worldview full of grace and truth. Finally, Part Four gives practical strategies both for students building a Christian worldview and sharing the gospel meaningfully to the secular culture.
The authors offer a wise piece of advice at the outset: do not skip straight to the Guide—the second half of the book that covers eight cultural issues ranging from Pornography to Gender Identity to Racial Tension—to think about and discuss the hot topics. They believe that it is critical to understand what culture is before we attempt to interact with it. Many Christians are first concerned with winning the “culture war” before winning people. Stonestreet and Kunkle’s approach suggests that our evangelism needs to show that Christianity is true, but to communicate it in such a way that draws others into a dialogue rather than a quarrel.
Christians often think of “culture” as all the bad things in the world, but God gave humans the desire to “form and fill the earth”; i.e. to create culture. Culture is not “good” or “bad” in itself, it is simply what humans make of the world. Though much of culture can feel overwhelmingly evil, students do not need to feel overwhelmed by the weight of the “cultural moment,” but rather, are invited to live in light of God’s story. We live in-between Jesus’s redemptive act of sacrificial love on the cross and His eventual return and promise to make all things new. No matter how bad it gets, believers have hope that goodness, justice, and truth will win in the end. Our task is not to escape from culture, but to engage and transform culture just as Jesus did. Stonestreet and Kunkle invite us to see “our salvation means we have work to do now, in God’s redemptive plan for the world.” While many Christians are tempted to feel despair in an ever-increasingly secular culture, this perspective is timely and needed.
After evaluating what culture is and our redemptive mission to culture, they move to what they call “dangerous undercurrents of culture.” They discuss three currents: the easy access of information but lack of wisdom, the loss of what it means to be human, and the pandemic of isolation as a result of false intimacy from technology. I imagine the movie Finding Nemo when the main characters were in the underwater current, being swept along without effort. In the same way, undercurrents are ideas that move culture along without its inhabitants putting in effort. As C.S. Lewis framed our difficult task, “We can make people attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted.” Stonestreet and Kunkle invite students to not drift along in the cultural currents, but to step back and examine the assumptions in order to think Biblically about the culture.
Having established the necessary background of Christian worldview and cultural currents, they turn to the specific topical issues they warned against skipping to in the beginning. They address pornography, the hookup culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, affluence and consumerism, addiction, entertainment, and racial tension – having a chapter dedicated to each topic. With each of these topics, Stonestreet and Kunkle structure the conversation by first identifying and refuting cultural lies, such as “what you do when you’re young won’t impact your future,” or “we should validate people’s thoughts and desires so they’ll flourish”. Then, they show how to recapture each issue in light of God’s story, “Gender is a gift. God made us male and female, and the unique design and functioning of the sexes isn’t something to eradicate. It’s a good gift to celebrate.” They then offer “action steps” – bite-sized ideas that take the principles of Scripture and translate them into practical application. For example, the chapter on homosexuality equips students with the mindset to not shun their homosexual friends or family members and to make a relationship with Jesus, not sexuality, the main issue. At the end of each chapter they offer what they call “hope casting.” In it, they write stories of success. For example, at the end of the chapter on addiction they share the testimony of Brian “Head” Welch, the former lead guitarist for the nu-metal band Korn. His story of leaving addiction when finding Jesus gives meaning to the idea of hope.
Part Four equips students in how to build a Christian worldview, and then what it looks like to take the gospel to the culture. “Taking the Gospel To The Culture” is one of the shortest chapters, yet it is certainly the one that is the most practical. For example, they say, “Whatever evil you can stop, you should.” I am left wondering, how? Unfortunately, the authors do not have the time to develop this point. I believe this chapter is a missed opportunity to provide a meatier conclusion to an otherwise strong book. That said, I am glad that they raised the topic and would suggest Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch for a fuller treatment of the topic. I would also recommend Apologetics and the Christian Imagination by Holly Ordway if you are interested in how to communicate Scripture in a meaningful way in our post-Christian culture.
Stonestreet and Kunkle have written an accessible and relevant resource for Christian students across western culture. That said, there is one thing I wish they did better. I fear this book (with the exception of part 3), though accessible in its language, will be difficult to students younger than college age to figure out how to apply practically. For example, in chapter three they discuss a group of friends who rise up against the Nazi ideology because of their Christian convictions. This led to their execution because they did not back down. I wish there was more application on what courage looks like in a high school, where it does not involve full revolution against an evil dictatorship. When I shared this story with my middle and high school students, they thought it was cool but did not know what the principle meant for them. Further discussion would be needed in order to make good application. Unfortunately the book does not include discussion questions, but you can get a discussion guide by contacting the publisher, David C. Cook.
Stonestreet and Kunkle present a hope-filled vision of recapturing the wonder of God’s story in light of pressing cultural issues. We are called to go into all the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ, to rebuild what is broken, to heal what is hurt, to bring light into darkness, and to do all of this with the recognition that Christ will one day come again. He will make “All things new.” Until then, we will continue to participate in God’s redemptive story through obedience while praying that God’s Kingdom will rule on earth as in Heaven.
 Genesis 1:28.
 John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle, A Student’s Guide to Culture (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2020), 23.
 Ibid. 42.
 Ibid. 47.
 C. S. Lewis, “Christian Apologetics” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 90-91.
 A Guide to Culture, 107.
 Ibid. 100.
 Ibid. 124.
 Ibid. 159.