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Joy for the World (Cultural Renewal Series) Paperback – 28 Feb 2014

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This book brought Joy for my World 12 Mar. 2014
By Jason Kanz - Published on
Format: Paperback
Greg Forster's Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence & Can Begin Rebuilding It (2014) is a must read for Christians. Last year, I had the privilege of going through a Christian worldview program, the Centurions program. As a part of that program, I was required to read several books and I will be heartily recommending this book to them.

In this 322 page book, Forster seeks to be an encourager to the church, specifically as we engage culture. He offers some appropriate pushback on the sometimes dour approach we Christians take to dealing with culture, providing a fresh perspective. As Tim Keller wrote in the foreward, "Greg Forster's important and practical new book helps Christians think out how to engage culture" (page 13).

Forster opens his book explaining why the joy of God has change potential. He described how the joy of God changed his mind, heart, and way of living, leaving me asking what does he mean by joy of God?" He answered: "when I talk about the joy of God, I'm not talking about an emotion. I mean the state of flourishing in mind, heart, and life that Christians experience by the Holy Spirit" (page 23). Forster's description of the joy of God brought to mind Neal Plantinga's concept of shalom discussed in his book Not the Way It's Supposed to Be, another must read book.

His opening chapter, "Christianity and the Great American Experiment," was worth the price of the book in my opinion. It was readable, informative, and engaging. He wades through minefields, such as the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation...or not. In this section, his wise discussion of the foundational importance of freedom of religion is crucial in the time and place in which I live, 21st century America.

Forster calls Christians to be involved with and engaging society, manifesting the joy of God. Forster was right: "if we we focus on intentionally cultivating social transformation only inside the church building, we are failing to cultivate discipleship in 98 percent of our lives" (page 80). Unfortunately, this message is sorely lacking in most American churches.

After issuing a call for joyful cultural engagement, Forster explores how the church might accomplish this in several different areas of our lives ranging from doctrine and worship to sex and government. This book is wide ranging in its scope, but it kept me interested as a reader. I fear that some people will reject this book out of hand due to its long chapters and overall length, but please do not let that deter you.

Though I have read hundreds of books over the last few years, there are only a very few that I consider must reads. Joy for the World will now be on that list and that is especially true if you are drawn to books like Not the Way It's Supposed to Be, Culture Making by Crouch, or any of the works of Tim Keller, Chuck Colson, or Francis Schaeffer.

I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway Publishing Beyond the Page book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Renewing Your Vision for Cultural Change 17 Sept. 2014
By Dr. David P. Craig - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
As a Senior Pastor one of the most difficult challenges I've faced over the years is how to keep and shepherd a flock in holiness and influence the world without being contaminated by it at the same time. Tim Keller is a pastor who has been able to do both. Tim writes the forward to this book and his own churches vision statement is as follows: "We at Redeemer Church (Manhattan, New York) seek to build a great city for all people through a gospel movement that brings about personal conversion, community formation, social justice, and cultural renewal in New York City and the world."

What Dr. Forster does in this book is show how this type of vision is desperately needed in the Western Church today. He shows historically how churches in Europe and America were once the primary influencers in culture and how that now they are more influenced by the culture than influencing culture. Forster's knowledge of history and theology allows him to make penetrating insights into how Christianity has lost ground in influencing society, and yet offers hope in how to turn this paradigm around.

According to Forster the "exilic challenge of the Israelites in Babylon is the permanent state of the New Testament church. If so, we should consider the Lord's instructions to His people during the Babylonian Exile: "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jeremiah 29:7). Forster uses this passage as a stepping stone to develop the idea of "whole-life" discipleship which encompasses the walls inside and outside of our churches. He forges practical ways and examples to penetrate our communities with the gospel in the context of our families, workplace, educationally, socially, and politically.

In the final analysis Forster has written a book that is especially helpful for Christians and Churches that have become "ingrown", "inward-focused," "isolated," and "self-absorbed." He gleans principles from the Bible and the Reformation that are particularly helpful in getting the Church back on track in the balancing act that is theologically deep and practically relevant. I highly recommend this book for pastors, lay-leaders, and Christians of all stripes that seek to become ambassadors for Christ who make a difference in our communities and in our world for our joy and God's glory.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Flourishing Joyfully to Bless God and Others! 29 Oct. 2014
By Pastor C. R. Biggs - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Greg Forster’s ‘Joy for the World…’ is a welcome, winsome, and wise contribution to how Christians can hope to make a realistic difference in the world. After compellingly and convincingly tracing how Christianity has lost its cultural influence to a certain degree (very interesting!), Forster invites Christians to seek primarily to make cultural influence by being joyful Christians as we humbly fulfill our callings in our homes, workplaces and communities.

Forster defines joy in this way: "I'm not talking about an emotion. I mean the state of flourishing in mind, heart, and life that Christians experience by the Holy Spirit." What makes us different as Christians is the radical reality that we have Jesus’ joy through the Spirit, and this joy changes the cultural atmosphere where we raise families, live, and work—and this is good.

He writes: “We’ve been so anxious to influence society in the past century that we’ve ended up going after a lot of shortcuts. For some it’s politics, for some it’s education, for some it’s evangelism. We’ve been pulling a lot of levers. The common thread is that we’re pulling levers so hard, we leave no space for people to encounter the joy of God.” Forster desires for Christians to avoid unhealthy triumphalism in our approach to culture on the one hand, while also steering clear of unrealistic and unhealthy separationism from the culture around us.

In his book, Forster emphasizes properly and clearly that the Church is both an organization and an organism and that these should be distinguished in our cultural engagement. The Church as organization must be faithful in the preaching of God’s Word, administering the Sacraments, encouraging fellowship and discipline. The Church as organism consists of living, embodied people who are citizens of two worlds, two cities, or two kingdoms, who are called to live out their different vocations in an infectious and joyful manner doing all for the glory of God.

While Forster reiterates some of the important arguments of other cultural Christian writers of our time, he uniquely offers very practical and accessible ways of engaging culture that Christians can use in their everyday lives. It is obvious that Forster is an expert on this subject, and what impressed me as I read this book was that he teaches in a very humble and thoughtful manner. In fact, the joy that he encourages Christians to display in culture comes through in his writing. I agree with others who have reviewed this book that the book should be on required reading lists in colleges, used in worldview and cultural seminars, and on book tables at local congregations.

My only criticism would be that this important book should have had a more appropriate cover to it. While we’re taught not to judge a book by its cover, we often will. This cover gives a sort of pop-culture kind of feel to the book that I thought undermined the importance and depth of the actual text and message. I would recommend it be given a cover that is more consistent with the message, and perhaps even edit down this longer book to be a shorter book that could be available to a more popular audience? An idea.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A joy to read 16 July 2014
By David Murray - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
How did Christianity lose its cultural influence and how can it begin rebuilding it again? That's the question Greg Foster asks in Joy for The World. And his answer is implied in the title - joy! Yes, real, unique, holistic, Spirit-produced Christian joy is THE most vital tool for engaging our culture AND changing it.

Greg begins with memories of his largely non-Christian childhood, in which his most memorable experiences of joy were associated with Christmas when it expressed a truly Christian, Jesus-centered spiritual celebration. None of these brief annual encounters with Christian joy created or resulted from a real Christian faith, but Greg argues that they made him more receptive to the Christian message later on, prepared him for faith, and even made him a better person in the meantime.

Although he doesn't want to make his experience the rule for everyone, he insists that his experience is quite common and that many people outside the church are "powerfully changed by the way they encounter the joy of God through Christians' participation in their civilization."

He then clarifies what he means by the joy of God: "I'm not talking about an emotion. I mean the state of flourishing in mind, heart, and life that Christians experience by the Holy Spirit."

This, says Foster, is what's so missing from today's culture: "I think Christianity is losing its influence in contemporary America because people outside the church just don't encounter the joy of God as much as they used to."

This book then is a challenge to Christian to "help our neighbors encounter the joy of God through the way we behave in society."

This really is quite revolutionary, isn't it. So many of our evangelistic and apologetic methods are so heady, so rational, so intellectual, so logical...and so miserable and angry and joyless and ineffectual.

But don't think that this is some shallow and superficial book that just appeals to the emotions at the expense of truth. The author is a Yale PhD, a program director at the Kern Family Foundation, and a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. The book itself is a demanding read and will probably become required reading in many Christian colleges and worldview courses.

But for all the intellectual firepower directed at flawed approaches to cultural engagement, the basic message is consistent: the joy of God alone is what makes the church distinct from the world and impact the world.

This book will test you but it will also teach you. You'll learn a lot about the historical and philosophical roots of today's culture and the church's disengagement from it. But you'll also be challenged to re-think your disengagement or your faulty engagement. It's a book for the head as well as for the heart.
Solid, clear Biblical thinking on topics ranging from sex, to economics to work! 12 Feb. 2015
By Scott Allen - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent book! This is one of the most helpful I've read on the topic of church based social and cultural impact. I appreciate Greg's comprehensive understanding of missions and discipleship. You can see the influence of Abraham Kuyper, Dallas Willard, NT Wright, and Tim Keller. I particularly appreciate the sections on sexuality, economics and work— areas where Greg drills down and constructs a solid biblical theology for each topic. He challenges us to think deeply and critically and to abandon ways that our thinking and practice has been shaped by prevailing culture, while embracing, embodying and promoting the truth in these areas within the larger culture. Highly recommended!

Scott Allen
President, Disciple Nations Alliance
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