Books on Culture: Gray Matters by Brett McCracken

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“Christians have a hard time with nuance,” says author Brett McCracken in his latest release Gray Matters: Navigating the Space between Legalism and Liberty.

McCracken notes that we tend to take extreme positions on areas of life and culture that scripture does not directly address.

“[S]criptural silence about the particularities of twenty-first century media habits is … an invitation to think about the gray areas more deeply, to wrestle with them based on what Scripture does say and what we’ve come to know about the calling of Christians in this world. The gray areas matter.”

That’s just what Brett McCracken aims to help us do in Gray Matters: wrestle through thoughts on how to best engage our culture. McCracken believes the case for the good of culture has already been made, and he lists fifteen books published in recent years on Christians and culture as evidence. What he aims to do in Gray Matters is make a case for a “more mature consumption” of culture.

“My goal in this book is to help us think about how a healthy consumption of culture honors God, enriches the Christian’s life, strengthens community, and advances the Christian mission. I intend it to be a guidebook for anyone who wishes to better integrate their Christian identity with their habits of cultural consumption.”

“We need more cultured Christians,” McCracken says. By that he means Christians who are intentional and open-minded—that take their role as a consumer seriously. The author identifies some defining characteristics of a “cultured Christian”:

  1. They are willing to explore new cultural ideas, even if they don’t accept them all in the end.
  2. They recognize that discernment about what edifies is a deeply complex and personal issue.
  3. They love culture for its “inherent goodness, truth or beauty. Not for what it can do for them.”
  4. They aren’t swayed by what is popular. Rather, they embrace culture for its quality and value.
  5. They do not judge quickly. “They understand that good things in culture rarely lend themselves to immediate and easy understanding.”
  6. They consider the far-reaching effects of engaging with culture.
  7. They avoid the sacred/secular dichotomy; they understand how culture informs faith.
  8. They understand that good things can be abused and become evil. Moderation is important in preventing this from happening.
  9. They are not “pendulum people”; they avoid extreme reactions in favor of thoughtful consideration.

Why is it important to become a cultured Christian? Because when we miss opportunities to engage with culture in a thoughtful way, we miss out on a foretaste of the Kingdom to come. And also, McCracken says, “Because God receives glory when we take pleasure in his creation.”

On Monday mornings in December, we are dipping into the gray. We’ll be working our way through Brett McCracken’s book, discussing the four gray areas he covers in Gray Matters: eating, pop music, movies, and alcohol. I hope you’ll join us for some good discussion. Next week, writer Shelly Miller leads our discussion of Part 1: Eating.

Image by Tim Miller. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Laura Boggess.