John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle, A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, Colorado Springs, David C. Cook: 2017.
“To be human and to be alive is to deal with a world of ideas, values, issues, artifacts, institutions, and structures. We have no choice but to jump in, make decisions, interact with others, and build lives together as families and citizens while navigating around the landmines that seem to be everywhere.”
For many Christian parents, the world in which our children are growing up is a battleground that we’d rather they remain conscientious objectors to. We fear the cultural changes and the ever-increasing animus toward people of Christian faith. It is a natural reaction for us to want to shelter and protect our young, but as we all know, and try to ignore, the day is coming when they will no longer be under our protective wing. What will they do then? How will they fare in a world of competing ideas and inflammatory rhetoric aimed at the very foundations of their worldview? The answer, championed in the quote above, is to prepare them now so that they might endure in that day of battle.
This is exactly what A Practical Guide to Culture was written to do. Authors John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle have spent the majority of their years in ministry seeking to equip parents and young people to engage with the current culture. Having spent his entire life in a Christian home, only to have his faith dismantled by a college philosophy professor, Brett now spends his life preparing young people to succeed where he failed. He serves as the Student Impact Director at Stand to Reason, and brings more than 18 years of experience working with youth to his writing. John has also worked with young people through years of service to organizations like Summit Ministries and Ratio Christi and is currently the President of the Chuck Colson Center and on-air personality for Breakpoint.org. He is the author of several books, including Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan to Change the World Through Everyday People and a champion for the defense of the Christian worldview. Both men seek to impart decades of practical wisdom to their readers, through this current project, in the hope that the coming generation will “navigate this cultural moment as champions for Christ.”
The book is divided into several categories, beginning with a theoretical understanding of culture itself, then moving toward specific social topics faced by most teenagers today. From there, it broaches practical means by which parents or mentors can guide children toward answers found in Scripture and a brief closing section on the reliability of the Bible in shaping one’s worldview. Interspersing technical data with personal experience, the authors guide parents gently into the ominous waters of the culture war with the care and compassion that readers should reciprocate to their children.
For many who are unfamiliar with social engagements faced by the younger generation, the first section of A Practical Guide to Culture will be helpfully illuminating. The authors rightly distinguish between creation and culture, writing that, “Culture doesn’t refer to this created world; rather, it refers to what humans do with it. To clarify a bit further, culture refers not to what humans do by instinct or nature, but to what they do freely.” Establishing this distinction, they seek to remind readers that while a withdrawal from culture might seem preferred or even righteous, it is through proper focus on the greater story of redemption and the Redeemer that believers can functionally navigate a culture that seems to turn increasingly against them.
In the second section, Kunkle and Stonestreet take much of the norms in the modern information age to task regarding the damaging psychological and sociological effects that have resulted from an excess of both entertainment and data. Readers are made aware of the need to engage children with a greater intentionality, providing both structure, leadership and comfort; aspects of life which are slowly eroding with the advent of social media and the internet search engine. Ultimately, the disconnection within the family that results from the availability of outside material can be remedied as parents seek to entertain the questions their children pose and guide them within an environment built on trust. As per the authors, “The issue of trust is complicated only if kids think that so-called Christian authorities are untrustworthy. . . We must never give our kids the idea that questioning is doubting or that doubting is sinning.”
The closing sections of the text will resonate deeply for those seeking specific responses to specific struggles. Covering the gamut of concerns from pornography to affluence and entertainment, both authors speak truth to various lies surrounding each point of cultural engagement and provide avenues for deeper discussion. Concluding their work within the very philosophy upon which it is written, the authors point readers to the need for biblical foundations within the home. Both Kunkle and Stonestreet draw upon their years in apologetic instruction, briefly and ably expounding on the reliability of the Christian Scriptures and the rationality of the faith.
What’s Good About the Book
Possibly the most encouraging portion of the text is what the authors call, “hope casting”. At the close of each third section chapter, a portion of the discussion is devoted to upward or positive trends observed in recent studies. It can be far too easy to lose hope in the current Western climate. Even while scanning through the various struggles in this writing, the reader can feel the weight of the future upon them. Because of this, the authors choice to provide light amidst the darkness is well placed.
In addition to this, the authors write at a level that is well blended between academic authority and far-reaching approachability. The text never ventures too far into statistics and studies to risk losing the average layperson, but also intersperses enough supporting information to provide assurance in the authors’ research of their positions. For this reviewer, possibly the most encouraging feature of this book is its abundance of Scripture. For many books of this type the emphasis drifts into the primacy of philosophy or sociology with only enough Scripture to support a pre-determined conclusion. When reading A Practical Guide to Christianity there is no point at which the authors guidance by the Word of God is overshadowed by their philosophical training, and that is a refreshing change.
What’s Bad About It?
While this book is both an informative and encouraging read, it must be said that it is difficult to see where it stands out among its peers. Both Kunkle and Stonestreet have a certain level of name recognition that follows them, and while their communicative ability is outstanding, the question must be asked if it will be enough. This is less a critique of the work in hand as it is a bemoaning of what feels like a saturation of culture-related works geared at youth. Certainly, such saturation is a blessing in some ways and clearly an indicator of renewed interest in matters of faith for the next generation, but it also creates a distinct challenge in getting quality writing of this sort to the audience that needs it most.
The Apostle Paul wrote often of what theologians have referred to as the “already/not yet” of the Christian life. For Paul, the believer has been redeemed from this sinful world and already enjoys the presence of God as if they were seated at his right hand presently. However, the ultimate fulfillment of this great promise has not yet been realized, and thus, Christians must remain in the fallen world acting as ambassadors for God’s kingdom until the end. In a large way, this is also the message of this book. However great the desire may be for the believer to desert the world and its cultural influences, preferring far more to live in seclusion, awaiting the return of Christ, this is not what they’ve been called to do. They’ve been called to engage with the culture as ambassadors for the kingdom. Brett and John seek to equip their readers with both the understanding that this brings and the practical means to do so.
This work is written on a level that is reachable by all. From the pastor in the pulpit to the parent of the pre-teen, this book should become part of their life. The ease with which it reads equates to the power with which it can equip, which is itself a testimony to the refined abilities of the authors. For many years, books have been written to youth about what they face and how to face it. Finally, a book has been written for those that guide them. Parents and youth pastors alike should have a place for this writing on their shelf, but only if they plan to act on the wisdom contained within.
 John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle, A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, (Colorado Springs, David C. Cook: 2017), 27.
 Stonestreet and Kunkle, A Practical Guide, 19.
 Ibid., 31-32.
 Ibid., 83-84.
Jason B. Ladd, One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview, Wasilla, AK: Boone Shepherd, 2015.
“Can there be true meaning and significance in our lives now if there is no ultimate, objective meaning and existence after death?” Such is the question that permeates the narrative of the life of Marine Corps fighter pilot Jason Ladd. The book’s author draws from a lifetime of experiences before and during his Marine Corps career to demonstrate his personal journey from atheism to Christianity. Examining the Christian worldview from one’s particular avenue of life is not new, but Ladd’s honest, and at times difficult, disclosure maneuvers deftly between biography, devotional and apologetic. Because of this unique structure, One of the Few looms larger than most in a sea of similar works.
Divided into three parts, the book carries readers through the early stages of the author’s life into his time in the armed services. From there, parts two and three seek to approach various apologetic and social mores with a biblical response and conclude with an encouragement for spiritual battle cloaked within the seven articles of the Code of the U.S. Fighting Force. Narrating his life from the time of Marine Corps “brat”, Ladd recounts a life spent on military bases far from home in tandem with youthful, unrequited love, always encumbered by the sense that more existed beyond the naturalism within which he was raised. Part 1 closes having found the author engaged in aerial combat in a far-off land. While not yet a believer, Ladd continues to weave various theological themes into these trying times of his life, demonstrating the questions that continued to overshadow his very existence. As he writes:
“Who determines the appropriate time, age, and method of death? Why is it assumed that dying in your bed at the age of 80 is the only right way to die. . . .Even atheists know human life is special, although their worldview implicates otherwise. Only an all-knowing God with the authority to take the life which he has given can determine the time of death that will provide the greatest good, the least suffering, the most mercy , and the highest justice.”
While the second part of the text continues the author’s journey to faith, it does less so. Ladd’s writing veers away from the bulk of its original biographical flair to focus centrally on theological themes. Opening with a brief discourse on the nature of God and man (chapter 12), a correlation between science and Scripture (chapter 13) and on to discussions regarding the Christian view of sex (chapter 18), drugs (chapter 19), and alcohol (chapter 20). It is during this section that the book becomes more devotional in nature. Each topic is broached by opening on a scene from the author’s military experience which then translates to spiritual lesson around the original idea. This is best observed in chapter 13 wherein the author describes a mission of aerial extermination in which many lose their lives at the hands of he and his squadron. This encounter then becomes the object lesson for the nature of life itself and the confluence of scientific naturalism and Christian theism.
As part three of the text brings about the close to the story, it focuses its content primarily on the encouragement and strengthening of the saints. In the masculine overtone that would be expected from a work which finds its impetus in the life of the United States Marine Corps, Ladd illustrates the need to remain vigilant when engaging the spiritual enemy (chapter 21); the need to develop a worldview on the basis of observation and assessment (chapter 22); the need to understand the enemy (chapter 23), remain diligent (chapter 24) and to clarify what it means to stand for Christ (chapter 25). Closing the text where it began, on a military base in Japan, Ladd brings his story full circle bringing the reader into a state of reflection along with the author. While looking back on the journey which brought him from a young man to a seasoned veteran, Ladd finds himself acknowledging that, “When my questions were answered, I believed. My heart was ready and I was waiting for someone to give me answers, and I found them in Jesus.” While the reader may not close the book with the same profession as the author, they are left with the same sentiment of having wandered right by his side.
Ladd’s writing style is not one of the scholar, but neither is it one of the unlearned. His life experience, coupled with higher education has produced the ability to relate to an audience that hovers somewhere in between. In doing so, the work is approachable by the widest array of reader. It’s military typology and combat themes certainly lend the text to a mostly male demographic, but not exclusively so. Also, this writing would be most enlightening to those who have spent time in the armed forces, as much of the jargon and discussion is relatable across the fields. While entertaining and informative to read, the format of the book feels slightly disjointed. the reader begins the journey slowly endearing themselves to the author through his life story, but as that story heightens in anticipation, the second part of the text changes course and becomes a series of shorter, theological narratives that come from random segments of the authors career. It isn’t until the closing chapter of the text that the reader returns to the chronology of the author, only to find that they have returned to its starting point. While this serves both a sentimental literary purpose, it must be asked if the text would not have been served by narrating the author’s life chronologically separate from its theology, or perhaps interwoven with a more clear description of where each event fell in the author’s journey to faith?
Because of the devotional feel of several chapters, there is a certain aspect of this book that lends itself to a second or third publication specifically designed to be used as a devotional for those in the armed services. The author is uniquely fitted for such a purpose and clearly has the ability to compose such a work. Beyond that, the ability for this book to overflow, as it does, with apologetic information is remarkable. The references cited encourage readers to embark on their own journey to faith while providing resources for to guide them. It is clear from the heart of the author that the intention of this work is to demonstrate the powerful effects of Christian faith on the life one cloaked in darkness and to share that hope with others who may find themselves in similar circumstances. Because this desire bleeds from the pages it is easy to receive and consider, faithfully accomplishing the intended mission of its author. This book is an excellent purchase for any who seek to grow their faith, as well as those curious about the reality of Christian belief.
 Jason B. Ladd, One of the Few : A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview, (Wasilla, AK: Boone Shepherd, 2015), 1.
 Ladd, One of the Few, 222.
 Ibid., 27-30.
 Ibid., 103-104.
 Ibid., 117-120.
 Ibid., 202. The full description offered by the author originates in the military acronym OODA, which means Observation, Orientation, Decision, and Action.
 Ibid., 232.