Book Review:

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.