Get Out of Your Cocoon : Interview With Dick Staub (Part 1)

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Dick Staub is not afraid of the hard questions. In his recent book The Culturally Savvy Christian , he's also not afraid to offer some hard solutions. The book is a manifesto for cultural and spiritual change, and Dick Staub calls us to task. The Christian's role in culture, he argues, is not merely to critique or imitate. God can work through his people to change the culture itself.

Dick Staub is no stranger to interviews, though he has more experience on the other side of the table. From 1987 to 1999 on "The Dick Staub Show," he interviewed the shapers of American culture—authors, business leaders, educators, politicians, futurists, theologians, filmmakers, musicians and trend-watchers. Staub has also served on the board of North Park University, Martin Marty's Public Religion Project, Image (A Journal of Art, Faith & Mystery) and advises the C.S. Lewis Foundation.

Recently, Staub spoke with about his recent book, his ideas, and his challenge for Christians everywhere. Whether we work in media, business, education, medicine, or law, his advice is the same: Get off the pew and go change the world through your daily work.

>> Read Part 2, Get Back in the Game

The title of your book is The Culturally Savvy Christian. Why "savvy"?

The book was born in the sixties. I was a new follower of Jesus, sitting at Fillmore West, listening to Jefferson Airplane with guys smoking grass on both sides and me asking, "What would Jesus do?"

And by "grass" I assume you mean marijuana?

[Laughs.] Yeah.

In addition to the sex, drugs, and rock and roll of the '60s, there was also a whole spiritual conversation beginning to take place. The church seemed to be disconnected from that conversation, but I knew there was a great opportunity for dialogue between the spiritual seeker of the '60s and my new faith in Jesus. So I began to think about the relationship between faith and culture. Over the years, I've developed this belief that we're supposed to be culturally savvy Christians.

Can you define that phrase?

Someone who's serious about faith, savvy about faith and culture, and skilled at relating the two.

We have to open our eyes to what's going on in faith and what's going on in culture in order to really know how to negotiate the two and relate the two. We need a clearer understanding of how popular culture is functioning in contemporary society. How is American Christianity functioning? How is it perceived in American society?

I have to go back to the original story of you sitting between the two guys smoking pot. A lot of Christians are nervous about popular culture because they want to avoid situations like that.

As Christians, sometimes we cocoon ourselves from culture. We withdraw from culture—because as you were just suggesting, there are people out there doing bad things and we ought to stay away from them.

Sometimes, we do combat with culture. We say, "Let's break The Beatles' albums"—which happened back in the sixties. Or today, "Let's build a bonfire of Harry Potter books."

Or we try to be so relevant that we just go along with culture. In which case, we often lose the savor of the salt that we're supposed to be in culture.

I understand the impulse for all three of these responses, but the bottom line is that Jesus was present in culture. And we have to pattern our lives and work and ministries after him.

The word became flesh and dwelt among us. He didn't cocoon himself.

He was a loving presence in culture, which means he wasn't just doing combat with culture. And he was a transforming presence in culture, which means that he didn't just go along with culture.

So can Christians hang out with pot smokers without losing their savor?

Should I have been at Fillmore West? All I have to do is look at Jesus, and I see that he spent his time out in the marketplace. He spent his time eating with publicans and sinners. Jesus was accused of being a drunkard simply because he hung out at parties where people were drinking.

Obviously this is an age-sensitive issue. And a spiritual-maturity issue. A recovering alcoholic shouldn't try to have a ministry in a bar or a pub. But in terms of where Jesus would spend his time, he would go where the people are. And if they're at a Jefferson Airplane concert, that's one of the places he'd be.

So "We're going to avoid pot altogether" or "We're going to cocoon ourselves" are oversimplifications of Christianity. Is that what you mean by Christianity Lite?

Christianity Lite is a reference to what has happened in a lot of evangelicalism. Let me explain it this way. In the Sixties, some early evangelicals—like Karl Henry and Harold John Ockenga—viewed this reaction of cocooning, withdrawing, or combating as the wrong approach to culture.

They began to imagine engaging the culture. Actually going into the culture with the gospel. And so they set out to spiritually and intellectually become part of the culture.

But the popular culture is entertainment oriented, which means diversionary. It's amusement oriented, which means mindless. It's celebrity driven. It's propped up by good marketing and profit motives and new technologies, not by good art or ideas.

Often when evangelicals try to engage in culture and become relevant in culture, we begin to take on the same characteristics of the culture and style. So now American Christianity has got it's own amusement and mindlessness and entertainment.

We've got our own celebrity culture. We know how to market things and make them bigger. We know how to make money off of stuff. We've developed our own parallel universe of music and books and magazines and so forth. But in so doing, we've often lost the essence of the gospel.

What have we lost specifically?

Christian Smith has done a study of America's Christian teenagers and what they believe. And he concludes that many Christian teenagers today believe an aberrant form of Christianity that he calls "moralistic therapeutic deism." It's about being a nice person. Having my needs met. God's out there somewhere if you need him in a crisis. That is not at all orthodox Christianity.

Orthodox Christianity believes that God is of no importance unless he is of central importance. Seek first the kingdom of God. Deny yourself and follow Jesus.

This moralistic therapeutic deism is, in fact, what too many people learn in the churches they attend. It's Christianity Lite.

Read more about Dick Staub at

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