Reviewed by: Charles R. Biggs
Date posted: 08/09/2015
Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It, by Greg Forster. Crossway, 2014. Paperback, 320 pages, list price $18.99. Reviewed by OP pastor Charles R. Biggs.
Greg Forster's Joy for the World is a welcome, winsome, and wise discussion of how Christians can make a real difference in the world. After tracing how Christianity has lost much of its cultural influence (very interesting!), Forster invites us to seek to influence culture primarily by being joyful Christians as we humbly fulfill our callings in our homes, workplaces, and communities.
Forster defines joy in this way: "I'm not talking about an emotion. I mean the state of flourishing in mind, heart, and life that Christians experience by the Holy Spirit." What makes us different as Christians is the radical reality that we have Jesus' joy through the Spirit, and this joy changes the atmosphere in which we live and work—and this is good. He writes: "We've been so anxious to influence society in the past century that we've ended up going after a lot of shortcuts. For some it's politics, for some it's education, for some it's evangelism. We've been pulling a lot of levers. The common thread is that we're pulling levers so hard, we leave no space for people to encounter the joy of God." Forster desires Christians to avoid unhealthy triumphalism in our approach to culture, while also steering clear of unhealthy separationism from the culture around us.
Forster emphasizes that the church is both an organization and an organism, and that these should be distinguished in our cultural engagement. The church as an organization must be faithful in preaching God's Word, administering the sacraments, encouraging fellowship, and discipline. The church as an organism consists of living, embodied people who are citizens of two worlds, two cities, or two kingdoms, who are called to live out their different vocations in an infectious and joyful manner, doing all for the glory of God.
While Forster reiterates some of the important arguments of other Christian writers, he uniquely suggests practical ways in which Christians can engage culture in their everyday lives. Forster is clearly an expert on this subject, and he teaches in a very humble and thoughtful manner. In fact, the joy that he encourages Christians to display comes through in his writing. I agree with others who have reviewed this book that it should be on required reading lists in colleges, used in worldview and cultural seminars, and be on book tables at local congregations.
My only criticism would be that this important book should have had a more appropriate cover. While we're taught not to judge a book by its cover, we often will. This cover gives a sort of pop-culture feel to the book that may undermine the importance and depth of its message.