Gospel Culture: Living in God's Kingdom
Toronto, Ontario: Ezra Press, 2016
"Culture-making is therefore inescapable for all God's image-bearers, for it is an expression of worship. Human beings will turn the visible and invisible materials of God's creation into culture, either as covenant keepers or covenant breakers, since all people are God's creatures are either obedient or disobedient as they stand in relationship to God. (p. 4)"
In this short, though rich, volume, Dr. Joseph Boot lays out the foundations for working towards a gospel culture; a culture shaped by and outwardly expressing the rule of the Lord Jesus Christ over His Kingdom. Just as the biblical storyline is one of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation, this first volume in the Cornerstones series takes a similar shape. Boot identifies the creation of culture (in God's creation), its fall and current failings, the redemptive, renewing work of Christ, and the hope and potential for the world in light of his rule over all spheres of life. At its heart, culture is, as Henry Van Til writes, "religion (or worship) externalized," and, thus, there are only two cultures one can live in and work towards: either that of the Kingdom of God or of the Creation (Idolatry). As Christians, Boot explains, we must recognize that the gospel forms a new culture, one in which we are restored to true worship of the Creator, and called to work towards seeing all of life brought into obedience to Christ. This is the focus of the second half of the book, in which Boot presents a robust critique of Two Kingdoms Theology, while presenting an alternative tranformationalist approach to the idea of the Kingdom and this world, which belongs to God.
Boot's understanding of culture and its foundation in the creation mandate is well articulated, and, while similar in its thrust as that presented by people like Richard Middleton or James K.A. Smith, does well to come at the subject from a covenantal perspective. In fact, this is something I appreciate throughout the book (as well as his other works). Boot also shows his cultural nous, carefully and, in my opinion, accurately diagnoses the philosophical ideas underlying the cultural decay and existential confusion we face today. In rejecting God, humans assert their own autonomy and create their own gods (idolatry) and means of salvation. The section on the State as savior is particularly insightful, as Boot describes the view of many students I've talked to on the university campus via an illustration from Canadian politics:
"One MP and key speaker began his presentation by saying that the core problem is that the Labour Party needs a robust return to the conviction of the essential goodness of man. This illustrated the recurring theological-political illusion concerning the human person: people are born without sin, and so we can change people by doing away with the evil in society by getting back to an unspoiled condition that humanity supposedly lived in in his primitive past--a condition of absolute social equality. (18-19)"
Thus, Boot explains, our fallenness is plastic, and the solution to the problems facing our world is not related to living as covenant keepers to the Triune God, and changing our governments and social institutions to be in line with his ways, but rather, is by eliminating all distinctions and hierarchies, as well as redefining ourselves as we will. In a clear and convicting way, Boot calls us to recognize that the true nature of the culture problem is one of worldview and those things that we have allowed to shape us in ways antithetical to our calling as human beings created by God (especially Christians and the institutional church).
Another strength is the book's critique of Two Kingdom (2K) Theology, which asserts that there exists two completely separate kingdoms (the common and the redemptive). Drawing on the writings of Brian Mattson, Evan Runner, and John Frame, Boot presents a three-pronged case against the 2K view. He identifies philosophical, theological, and sociological problems with the 2K approach, and shows how such an understanding of "kingdom" leads Christians to be confused and, ultimately, apathetic (or impotent), towards the task of culture-making. Specifically, I appreciated his interpretation of the Noahic covenant and the rooting of human ethical conduct in God and our role as image-bearers and witnesses (testifying to, unfolding, and occupying creation in accordance with our created purpose, as James K.A. Smith writes in You Are What You Love).
Finally, I found the all-encompassing, full-orbed presentation of the gospel in chapter five to be both refreshing and hopeful. Boot begins with Creation and the effects of the Fall before turning to the person and work of Christ in redemption and the Kingdom of God. This gospel is holistic and cosmic, and the grand picture presented by Boot shows the tremendous power of the gospel of the Kingdom, challenging the personal, reductionistic, escapist gospel popular in much of contemporary evangelical Christianity.
All that being said, there are a few weaknesses with the book. First, though chapter one does a good job of introducing the idea of culture, I would have liked to have seen more on its rootedness in Creation. Second, while Boot's critique of Two Kingdom Theology is great, I think it is too long for such a short book (34 pages). Furthermore, because of its length, this negative argument somewhat overshadows the positive one Boot makes in the following chapter (which is only 20 pages long). Which leads to the final weakness of the book: not enough application. After some heavy philosophical, theological, and cultural lifting, Boot presents a stunning, and all-encompassing vision of the good news of the gospel, but fails to deliver much by way of how to practically engage/change the culture around us. Perhaps this is what the following volumes in the series will seek to do--apply this gospel of the Kingdom to various spheres of life--but I was anticipating more of that in this book's final chapter.
In Gospel Culture, Joseph Boot presents a compelling case for Christians to reconsider their understanding of the gospel, and the implications of Kingdom of God on our callings to live as ministers of reconciliation; ambassadors of the new creation, a new culture. He does some fantastic cultural exegesis, exposes the flaws in the philosophical underbelly of our contemporary culture, and presents a truly beautiful, cosmic picture of the hope that comes through Christ and His Kingdom as all things are renewed and brought under His reign. I wholeheartedly recommend this book for anyone interested in better understanding our culture, the grand scope of the gospel, or how the Kingdom of God relates to Christian living in the here and now. I would further recommend this book to anyone interested in an intelligent, extended critique of Two Kingdom theology.