Review: Faith that Engages the Culture

Image from CPH.

Author: Rev. Alfonso Espinosa

Publisher: Concordia Publishing House

I was first introduced to Faith that Engages the Culture through a series of interviews on Issues, Etc, which I encourage you to also listen to. I knew from those interviews that I wanted to read the book, and a couple of months later, I got my hands on a copy. This book lays out the how, why, what, and who for Christians engaging with people in American culture for the sake of sharing the Gospel. As a pastor, Rev. Espinosa catechizes his readers, encouraging, reprimanding, and equipping Christians to live out their Christian vocation to preach the Good News as they are going about their lives (Mat. 28:19-20). This is a book that every Christian should read as it will educate and embolden you to reach others, loved by God, with the life-saving message of the Gospel.

Faith that Engages the Culture is a smooth and approachable read. For as much information and instruction within, it is not tediously long or boring. It is, in a word, engaging. The introduction reminds me of a previous book I’ve written about, and if you choose to read this book, I encourage you to read the front matter, and especially the introduction. Rev. Espinosa lays out the foundation and defines terms that will help you understand the book and apply his teachings to your daily life and engagements.

The book is broken down in a couple of ways. First, it is separated into four parts (though I tend to think of the last two as a jointed whole). Each of those parts are broken down into three explanatory chapters. Those chapters are then portioned into catechesis (including passages from the Book of Concord), the primary subject matter, and a review section. The review section consists of a series of questions that would be ideal for both personal and book studies. Finally, the concluding chapter is one of the best “tell them what you told them” summaries, reviewing in brief what you have learned as well as the why and what you are called to do as a Christian with the help of God. The book has a well-organized flow, and there are even topical and scriptural indexes in the back of the book and a bibliography for further reading.

The first part of the book explains Rev. Espinosa’s format and approach to missional engagement. He refers to this as the engagement triangle: Perspective, People, and Place (John 3:16, 2 Pet 3:15, Acts 17). This is thoroughly explained in the book and puts our approach to ministry into focus. The second part shows how this engagement is played out. These three chapters branch out from the triangle’s three points: Approach, Attitude, and Example. The last two parts of the book engage with cultural issues around us, such as science and politics, and those within us, such as mental health and sexuality. In short, Rev. Espinosa provides a foundation, a structure, and a sort of “how-to” approach for specific topics of engagement.

So what is the point of the book? In brief, his goal is to break down for the Christian how to engage lovingly with people around various cultural issues from a foundation based on God’s Word of Law and Gospel. With this in mind, Rev. Espinosa deals with only a handful of common, foundational cultural issues. He breaks them down within the engagement triangle uniquely for each topic, defining how we view them from our perspective, how the world views them, and how we can lovingly engage with people with respect to these topics. Rev. Espinosa prepares Christians to engage with the culture as it exists, not as we wish it to be. He challenges the reader to face issues head-on with eyes open and a heart full of love for the people dwelling in our culture. With the engagement triangle in mind (perspective, people, place), he takes the mystery out of ministry and the confrontation out of community.

First, we Christians have to know what foundation we stand on, which is God’s word, and how that perspective affects our approach to various cultural issues. Then, we have to know our audience and where it is located. Our audience is everyone and one. The where is the world, but immediately, it is our country, next door, and at home. As we are told in Matthew, we are to preach the Gospel as we are going.

But how do we reach others in a culture that seems so opposed to the Gospel? Christians have to be in the world, but not of the world. We demonstrate the attitude of Christ and serve, becoming “all things to all people,” aka, getting in their shoes and genuinely caring for those we encounter. We show patience and grace, as we have been shown. We love because He first loved us. We should be looking for ins to share the Gospel, seeking common ground with those around us. We as Christians are called to engage, not confront, these real people known and loved by God.

I should note that this is not an apologetics book as most have come to consider such works. This isn’t a book that makes sure you know all the facts about the topics he addresses, nor does he address every possible issue the Christian might encounter. He does not provide the reader with information with the purpose of winning an argument, having the last word, or “owning the debater.” That is not the mission of this type of engagement (or any if we hope to share the Gospel). This book seeks to equip Christians with 1) a better understanding of themselves and their beliefs and 2) a better understanding of and empathy for those they encounter. This book helps to put compassion at the forefront so we may truly love our neighbor.

This is a catechesis to teach Christians how to show they are Christians by their love and actions, emboldening them to reach those around them with the truth and hope found in the Gospel. This book is to aid us in fulfilling our Christian vocation to share the good news with all those around us “in meekness and fear”, bringing hope, love, and Concordia to those for whom Christ died. And this teaching does not come without correction. Rev. Espinosa calls out Christians for complacency and selfishness. We have all been called to “go and preach the Gospel.” And as we are going through our life, we should be engaging with those around us. So alongside the rebuke for excusing this calling, he also encourages us and gives us the knowledge, skills, and attitude to fulfill it.

This was a phenomenal book. I was convicted over how I had approached apologetics and evangelism, and I learned how to reframe my perspective so that I can better serve the God places in my life. Rev. Espinosa explains that ministry is not about having all the answers or being a called worker, but presence, patience, grace, and love. God works through means, and we are those means. With this in mind, I hope you will be bold enough to read this book and be encouraged to take your faith and engage with the culture for Christ.

Blessings to you as yours,

~Madelyn Rose Craig

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