Housewife Theologian

The Gospel Interrupting the Ordinary

Book Review:

Written By: Aimee Byrd - May• 04•12

Popologetics, Ted Turnau (P&R, 2012)

Back in the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college, I dated a guy who I wasn’t all that attracted to. Sure, he was plenty good-looking, and had some great qualities. He just wasn’t my type. But he took me on some really cool adventures that summer: traveling, hiking, tubing, and even line dancing. I just couldn’t resist the adventures, so I kept going out with the guy—platonicly, of course. Well, that’s kind of what has been going down with Kindle. If you haven’t read my article about our first date, I wasn’t all that impressed. But nonetheless, I went on a second date for the adventure he offered me. I had the opportunity to read this great book in e-format and said, “What the heck.” It was a nice date, but Kindle and I are still keeping things platonic. He’s just not romantic enough for me.

Popologetics is a word describing how Turnau believes Christians should critically engage popular culture. He encourages us to know our own faith well enough, as well as the worldviews that are competing against it. Thus, “the job of apologetics is to build a bridge between hope and the non-Christian” (Loc 795). We all know that popular culture profoundly influences the way that we think of ourselves and our world. But many of us are overwhelmed with what to actually do about it. It has caused a range of reactions from ignoring the problem to trying to isolate ourselves from its mediums. Ted Turnau comes to our rescue with this wonderful tool for discernment.

This is a very comprehensive book; it’s like taking a mini-course on worldview, pop culture, and Christian apologetics. You can tell that Turnau is a teacher by the very organized and instructive way the book is formatted. He clearly defines all his terms, and even gives us visual learners a few pictures (my favorite is his worldview tree). He teaches us that in many ways, popular culture is like a mirror that reflects the popular imagination, but then further informs and shapes us. “Through this dialogue, this listening to and shaping the imagination of its audience, popular culture’s influence runs deep (far deeper than we realize) and wide (it is nearly ubiquitous, like something in the air we breathe). And it affects us at the level of worldview, how we understand the reality around and in us. The influence on our worldview is simply undeniable” (Loc 526-537). Turnau’s passion and style are very Schaeffer-esque. Francis Schaeffer’s books introduced many of these ideas to me in my early college years, so I am very happy to see a modern-day approach targeted to the popular culture of our time.

After defining important terms, motivating the reader for this significant task, and giving us a strong theology of culture, Part 2 of the book addresses the different reactions Christians have regarding pop culture. With funny headings like, “Don’t Touch that Dial: It’s Dirty!” to “It’s All Good,” we see the reasons why some of us have taken these approaches, and are challenged to open our eyes to the bigger picture.

Part 3 gets to the business of engaging pop culture. He encourages us to use our “critical imagination…We need to listen to our culture and argue with it a bit before we are ready to speak creatively to it” (Loc 3720). And just like a good teacher, Turnau gives us five questions to ask ourselves in this process (stay tuned, I will be using them in my next article). They are very helpful and easy to remember. Just like Schaeffer, Turnau reminds us that the imaginative worlds that popular culture creates are trying to live in God’s world, and as Christians we have both the privilege and responsibility to point out their inadequacies according to the real story. Not only does the author teach us a method, he practically applies it to some popular movies, songs, shows, and even the Twitterverse. Good stuff. Turnau ends the book with more practical tips on how to engage our peers, learning about their views, and having compassion on those we challenge.

While I have many praises for this book, I do have a bit of critique as well. I’m not sure that everyone is going to want the 300 level course that Turnau is offering. While it’s not a difficult read, it is a long one—368 pages. The author’s voice is not “professorly” but the footnotes are. One chapter had as many as 111. I understand that this topic requires a lot of research, and even enjoyed reading and learning from many of the footnotes, but there were times I felt like he was having a conversation with himself in some of them. I’m just afraid that many who would be interested in this topic will not want to invest in the book’s girth of knowledge. That would be a real shame. While Part 2 is well written and informative, I’m wondering if condensing those chapters into summaries would have served a wider audience of readers. My suggestion for those who may be intimidated by the size is to read Part 1, the summary at the end of Part 2, and then all of Part 3. The book is well worth it. Part 2 is like a book on its own, and you can go back and read that as a bonus later.

So I am inspired. After reading this book, I began wondering about some of my own guilty pleasures in pop culture consumption. While I have done some of this kind of engagement on my blog before (this article on the song Landslide is my favorite), I am going to use Turnau’s five questions to engage my critical imagination on a song from my “workout” playlist. Prepare for me to embarrass myself with this one.

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  1. Tim says:

    Thanks for teh review, Aimee. YOu quote Turnau as writing “the job of apologetics is to build a bridge between hope and the non-Christian”, and I wonder if he engages that proposition with 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer [Gr. apologia] to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

    Peter seems to be telling us to speak of our own relationship with God when the opportunity arises, while the Turnau quote looks more like coming up with creating ways to show others what their relationship with God should be. Did I read more into his position than is really there?


    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Good question, Tim: Turnau does talk about the importance of 1 Peter 3:15 in apologetics. One thing I like about his handling of it is pointing out some of the shortcomings some of the traditional apologetic methods have. While the propositional facts of our faith are super important, we need to be aware of the presuppositions and worldviews that others are filtering those facts through. So as we are speaking of our own relationship with God and explaining the gospel as the opportunity arises, we need to be sensitive to the context of the hearer. For example, Turnau discusses how when a Christian uses the word “hope,” we are referring to a sure reality of expectation. Yet, our companion will hear it as “wishful thinking.” Here is a quote from that same section preceding the one you are referring:
      “The apologetical task at hand, then, is one of translation. We should render our hope in terms that make sense to the one who asks, terms that help the person to see the truthfulness of that hope.
      Apologetics, then, has a dual focus: to keep an eye on our hope and remain true to it, and to keep an eye on what speaks to your listener, what connects with him or her at that level of desire (without manipulation)” (Loc 795).
      As you can tell, I haven’t included his whole argument in terms of appealing to the desires of the hearers heart as part of the reason (which is good). He gets into the Greek translations for “apologia” and that the word “story” can also be a translation. In this, he is explaining how we need to contextualize our message to the hearer’s own story or worldview.
      Hopefully I did his argument some justice there and answered your question. It is a little challenging for me to do in a comment.

      • Tim says:

        You did great, Aimee (like usual!). That cleared it right up for me. He is providing tools for carrying out and honoring the Bible’s instruction on apologetics, not substituting in his own idea of what apologetics should be.

  2. Dana Tuttle says:

    I would love to go on a date with this “Guy” in the romantic paper form one day!

  3. Doc B says:

    Much can be learned from watching others embarrass themselves.

    So I’m watching.


  4. Ted Turnau says:

    Hi. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to do this or not, but I wanted to thank you for your in-depth and quite fair review of my book. I wanted to respond a bit to some of your critiques:

    1. You’re right about the footnotes – they do go a bit overboard. But my idea was to give people more than they asked for. I hate books that throw out provocative ideas and then don’t let me dig farther. And there’s a trend in Christian publishing to do away with them all together. Thankfully, P&R isn’t going that direction.

    2. Yeah, the book is kinda thick. It’s sort of my “everything including the kitchen sink” book. But again, that was intentional. I want this book to be a one-stop resource for thinking Christians. And I really liked your advice to skip the second part if you get bogged down. I’ve found that the second part is really helpful to responding to objections that people have about engaging popular culture.

    So, on balance, I think you’re critiques were very fair, and it’s obvious that you get it (a great encouragement for a new author). Thanks.

    One last question: How in the world did you get it so soon? And did you get it on Kindle? People have been asking me. I thought the Kindle version wouldn’t be out for another week or so (or so my publisher told me).


    Ted Turnau

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Thanks for your response, Ted.I agree with you that it is good to have the footnotes to dig farther. I will say that you even had me laughing in some of them. I would much rather have too many than none at all–horror of horrors! Your book will prove to be a great resource to return to over and over again. I didn’t want the size to stop people from buying it, because it really is fantastic. Thanks for the great care you put into it, this is a topic that I am passionate about.

      I got a copy for review on my blog for the Kindle–but I could tell it wasn’t a “final” copy. Not all the illustrations were provided, and the pages were a little jumbled.

  5. Ted Turnau says:

    By the way, I think you get the honor of “first reviewer.” Your review is dated three days before the official release date. That’s…impressive (and by impressive, I mean inexplicable). Congrats!


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