Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 1 (Winter 2015) - Page 111

VOLUME 11 NUMBER 1 2015 Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence & Can Begin Rebuilding It By Greg Forster. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. 320 pp. $18.99 paper. Greg Forster has chosen an intriguing title for his most recent work, Joy for the World. It is the subtitle, however, that even more so piques the reader’s interest: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence & Can Begin Rebuilding It. In effect, by titling his work this, he has embarked upon three distinct journeys: 1) defining “joy” and describing its impact in/on the world; 2) probing the historical record of Christianity set in the context of American Evangelicalism; and 3) prognosticating what steps might result in an improved social standing for the future church here in the United States. Tackling any one of these topics alone could result in a difficult task; thus, by addressing all three, he could have given rise to the fear that perhaps this was going to be a simplistic, segmented “how to” book. Nothing could be further from the truth! In his introductory chapter, Forster asks three questions that will undergird much of his writing: “So how is it that Christianity has so dramatically lost its impact on American civilization? And how can it begin the process of rebuilding that impact? Should we even try, or is cultural impact more dangerous than it is desirable?” (18). Definitions are always key in a work such as this, but for Forster they are essential, especially with respect to the concept of “joy.” Utilizing Isaac Watts’s hymn “Joy to the World” as a template of sorts, Forster works to capture the essence of “the joy of God” by first defining it as “the state of flourishing in mind, heart, and life that Christians experience by the Holy Spirit” (23). He later expands on that in his first chapter, “Christianity and the Great American Experiment,” by developing what he calls “this holistic Christian life,” where he weaves such concepts as “politics,” “scholarship,” “worldview,” “evangelism,” “emotions,” and “causes” together into an integrated whole (58). In the following chapter, “The Church and the World,” Forster asserts, “Joy is not just a fuzzy feeling, it is a transformation under God’s power. The joy of God equips us with knowledge, freedom, and strength that others don’t have” (94). This last statement could be seen as cause for the church to assume an elitist separatism in society; but far from assuming this, Forster affirms his commitment to general revelation’s effect with this thought: “The joy of God—this Spirit-powered flourishing of human beings—can be experienced in a secondhand way by those who don’t have it themselves” (24). DOI: 110