It seems that now more than ever, the “public square” is becoming an important component of Christian living. In fact, with the rise of social media, the public square has become nearly inescapable. Cultural commentary is only a click away, as our news feeds are filled with discussions and stances of various political, economic, and social matters. Most Christians fall into the “fight” or “flight” positions, either choosing to war the culture at all costs or taking the “holier than thou” stance of not engaging. Neither attitude is healthy. Cultural engagement must take place, but how do we learn to do it with a gospel focus? How do we live a Christianity that is in and for culture? (12)
In Every Square Inch, professor and scholar Bruce Ashford has provided the church an introductory manual toward answering this question. The first half is devoted to building a foundational understanding of a theology of culture and calling (Chapters 1–4). The last half of the book analyzes specialized areas of cultural practice, such as the arts (Chapter 5), the sciences (Chapter 6), politics (Chapter 7), economics (Chapter 8), and education (Chapter 9), with a final chapter on our mission as Christians. Ashford draws from the Kuyperian view of the world, that the whole of creation, down to the last iota and inch, is under the Lordship of Christ, and this is especially shown in this latter half of the book.
One of the most informative chapters in the book was Ashford’s examination of various case studies on culture. Ashford consults the lives and works of six various theologians to present an in-depth look at what prominent voices of church history taught us about cultural engagement. Saint Augustine, Hübmaier, Kuyper, Lewis, Sayers, and Schaeffer are six very different people from different periods of time, but the collection of their insights is a gold mine, particularly Kuyper’s extensive work on the subject.
One of my favorite chapters was the chapter on “Politics and the Public Square.” Obviously, being in the midst of an election year brings about more political discussion than the typical year. Yet it seems with the election situation America is facing today, political commentary is higher than ever. Knowing the ways to engage this often-sensitive issue is critical for churches to get right. Ashford is quick to remind us that we are a “contrast community,” a people whose lives should look noticeably different from the lives of others (97). However, this does not mean we are to detach ourselves. Quite the opposite, in fact. Ashford contends that we should desire to strive for the common good, use discernment to inform our conversations, and have realistic expectations in our engagement with cultural issues. These are wonderful principles that can help us get away from endless Facebook feuds and cold carelessness towards important matters.
Readers will be happy to see that there are less than 150 pages of the book itself, so it’s a very short and accessible read. It is also a wonderful equipping, on-ramp resource, as each chapter includes a list of action points and further reading. This is a handy tool for anyone trying to get a better grip on why and how we should deal with the cultural questions of the day. I am grateful to Dr. Ashford and to Lexham Press for releasing this important book.