Reading the World
Everyday Theology is a collection of essays that present a Christian way of analyzing culture. Ranging from "The Gospel According to Safeway" (see excerpt) to "Between City and Steeple: Looking at Megachurch Architecture," each chapter dissects an aspect of North American culture through a biblical lens.
Kevin Vanhoozer, the chief editor of the book, has been teaching a class called Cultural Hermeneutics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School since 2001. Everyday Theology emerged out of those classes.
Vanhoozer spoke with CT about the book and his exegetical approach to culture.
Can you explain what this collection of essays is about?
The big idea is that we're Christians trying to live the Christian life in the world. But in order to live a Christian life, we have to somehow embody the Word in a world that the Scriptures never envisaged.
Seminaries usually do a good job helping students understand the Word, but if discipleship is helping students live out the Word in the world, we've also got to understand our world.
And so the book is about a methodnot the only method that's using different disciplines coordinated by theology to help students exegete their everyday world.
How would you define cultural exegesis?
It's trying to determine the meaning of culture. And I would define culture as everything human beings do that we don't do by reflex. Cultural exegesis treats culture like a text. It asks, "How do you read culture?"
So why do you think people need this book, Everyday Theology?
The book helps to wake us up, to see what's going on in a different framework. This is necessary if people want to have a deeper faith and understand the way the church has to respond to this very complicated situation.
Is it just business-as-usual for the church? Should we be like culture? Should the church use all the tools that seem to be working in culture, like marketing tools? Well, we have to understand something about marketing and where that comes from and to what extent it's got a hold of our culture's imagination. And then we have to ask what it meanswhat's really being assumed by these practices? Should the church be engaged in that, should it resist it, should it redeem it?
You mention theology often when you write about cultural exegesis. Do you understand theology to be broader than understanding God?
Theology is about faith seeking understanding. What it's trying to understand is God, but also ourselves in light of who God is. We're in his image. We're in his world. Particularly, we're trying to work out our relation to God and God's relation to us.
Everything we do, says the apostle Paul in Colossians, we're to do to the glory of God. The kind of life we make together as Christians should glorify God. Life we make together is culture. One of the things cultural exegesis does is it asks, is the life we're making together in the church and in our societies glorifying to God? We have to know something about who God is to answer that, because to glorify God is to respect God back to himself, celebrating his attributes, his love, his mercy.
So we need to know who God is. We need to know whether what we're doing in everyday life is glorifying to God. And that's how cultural exegesis and theology connect.
Would understanding culture shed light on the nature of God?
This is a current talking point in evangelicalism. One extreme would be, perhaps the older, fundamentalist let's shun culture. It's not of God; let's avoid it; God is where culture isn't. The problem with it is if you withdraw from culture, you have no redeeming effect on it. You won't be able to be salt and light, and you would miss something important that would help you develop as a human being. So I do encourage students not to have knee-jerk reactions against culture. Understanding means you've got to stick with it for a while to discern whether there is something of God going on.