Too Christian, Too Pagan – Dick Staub
Staub starts off the first chapter by setting forth his purpose for the book. He does this very succinctly and clearly. He calls for the reader to come to the point where they are too Christian for their pagan friends, and too pagan for their Christian friends. His basis for this challenge is found in the life of Jesus, and he uses instances from Jesus’ life all throughout the book. Then in the second chapter Staub tells of the need of the reader to yield his life to God, and to let Him guide. If the reader just goes it on his own, he will always fail. That is why to be perceived by the world as too Christian, and too pagan, one has to yield to God. Chapter three is about getting out of comfort zones and allowing God to use the reader in places that he may not really like. In chapter four, Staub reminds the believer to love the world. After all God created the world, and it was because of His love for the world that He sent Jesus. Chapter five prompts the reader to be good friends to those around him. One of the best points of the entire book is found in this chapter, and it is the admonition to Christian to seek out pagan friends. If the reader is only around other member’s of the Kingdom of God, his influence is vastly limited.
Crossing cultures is the theme of chapter six. Staub does a really profound thing in this chapter. Usually when a person hears the term cross-cultural ministry, they think of going to a different country to do ministry. By relating a situation with a neighbor, Staub demonstrates that crossing cultures is not just in going to another land, but also is going to those unlike oneself in their own community. Chapter seven is where Staub probably starts to become somewhat “out there” for hard line evangelicals. For in this chapter, Staub encourages believers to go to the party, so they can look for ways to minister there. One of the key principles in going to the party is to go with purpose, and not just go. In chapter eight, Staub follows up on the theme of going to the party with the cautionary advice to avoid the Corinthian example. By sharing the testimony of his friend Joe, Staub points out what can happen when a believer goes to the party, lets down his guard, and starts to blend in too much. The issue of caution is continued into chapter nine where the author reminds the reader to seek protection. Believers need protection, because this world is a battlefield, and it is necessary to be armed through prayer, the Holy Spirit, reminders of past failures, the Word of God, and support from friends. Chapter ten moves into the area of experiencing the Gospel personally. Staub states that a believer cannot have much of an impact in the world, if he does not first experience the healing and life altering power of the Gospel in his own daily life. He does not need to only experience the Gospel; he also needs to live it out, as Staub says in chapter eleven. The world will see believers living out the Gospel and be amazed at the radical difference it truly makes.
Too Christian, Too Pagan, in the next five chapters, moves into some incredibly practical and basic concepts that must be mastered before any impact in the world is to be achieved. Chapter twelve talks about the ability to see God at work. It builds on the base principle from Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King, which is that God is always at work, but believers do not see it, because they are not looking. Staub tells them to open their eyes and see where God is working. Chapter thirteen reminds the reader of how amazingly powerful feelings can be experienced. Staub describes seven obstacles to spontaneous episodes of compassion, and also three ways to restore compassion. He ends the chapter with an amazing story of a Hindu master teaching his apprentice how to enlarge his perspective when experiencing pain. The mind is the focus of chapter fourteen. To be culturally relevant, the believer must have a reasonable faith, and must broaden his intellectual horizons. This is an area where becoming a reactionist and going into a cocoon will make no impact on the culture. Instead it will show people that Christians just run and hide when challenged. Chapter fifteen may be the best in the entire book. In this particular chapter Staub tells the reader to use common sense when sharing the Gospel with someone. He says to appropriately tailor the message, but not to alter the veracity of the message. There are parts of the message that some will be able to connect with, and others will connect with other parts. Chapter sixteen points out the need for believers to become dual listeners. Christians need to hear what people or culture is saying, and also the spiritual need behind what they are saying.
Chapters seventeen begins a foray into how to specifically relate to popular culture, and continues through chapter twenty. Listening to the music is the first topic, in this vein, that Staub tackles. It is in the music of the culture that some of the deepest spiritual needs and beliefs are found. Whether that belief is an enmity towards God, a seeking of spirituality, or mistaken views of Christianity, music is one of the best lenses through which to view culture. In chapter eighteen Staub exhorts believers to go to the movies. Movies are another place where the views of society are easily gleaned. Staub says not to go just for entertainment though, but to use spiritual eyesight and look for spiritual themes in the movies and television shows. Not only does the reader need to be familiar with the music and movie industries; he also needs to be involved in the books of the culture. Many of the topics in current fiction are very close to Biblical stories, and can be a great place to show what the Bible actually says about something. Finally in chapter twenty Staub tells the reader to be like Jesus in his didactic approach. Tell stories! Current culture values stories more than logical arguments, and the church needs to be cognizant of this, and respond appropriately.
The final five chapters deal with several issues that need to be considered in the process of becoming too Christian and too pagan. Chapter twenty-one tells simply to be humble. Christians cannot go around being arrogant and expect people to want to follow them. Chapter twenty-two illustrates the necessity to show compassion in controversy. Christians, in general, are notoriously horrible for giving trite, pat answers to those in crisis. If the church wants to impact culture, it needs to meet people where they are hurting and provide compassion and care there. Chapter twenty-three encourages the reader to wait for God’s timing. God’s timing is better than his and he needs to recognize this and be available to serve in His timing. Chapter twenty-four reminds that the reader is human and not perfect. There will be times of failure and struggle. This needs to be realized so that it does not allow our failure to cause regression and cessation of being too Christian and too pagan. The last chapter shows the importance of serving God till the end, and concludes with admonition to burn the boats and not allow an escape back to a life on the sidelines.
This book has many strengths, and it really resonated with me personally. I feel that one of the strongest aspects is the authors use of scripture. It is helpful for me to actually see the scripture in print, and to know where it is found, so that I can go back and examine it further for myself. Staub is very practical in how to go into the culture as well. Too often I hear people say that Christians should influence culture for Christ, but to do so we need to be completely removed from the culture. Staub, on the other hand, takes a much different approach in recommending that we actually know the music, and movies, and books of culture. Knowing these things will provide a starting point for dialogue that may lead into spiritual issues. Another important aspect of this is the suggestion to listen and watch and read, looking and listening for spiritual themes and needs. Too often I can actually get caught up in the enjoyment of a song or show, and forget that someone else may enjoy that same song or movie because they are hurting spiritually. A third strength is Staub’s concept of telling stories. In my personal experience people today relate to stories well, and Staub does not only an excellent job of demonstrating this in chapter twenty, but also makes use of stories all throughout the book. Lastly the concept of tailoring our message is incredibly important, because too many people try to share the gospel in the same way to everyone. Not everyone will respond to the same presentation. We need to be smart in our approaches to people, and Staub points this out very well.
I do not find much that is weak in this book. One thing does concern me though. That is, that a lot of fellow believers will read this book and still hold on to the belief that God wants us to run and hide from the world. This is not so much a statement that shows weakness on Staub’s account; rather it is a commentary on the sad state of perspective of some Christians.
This book has challenged me a lot, and stretched my limits. I feel that it has the potential for a considerable impact on the Christian culture in the twenty-first century. Whether or not that impact is ever realized or not depends greatly on the attitude of fellow believers. Will they run and hide, or will they listen with open minds, and see what Staub is saying in this book? Will they react and run, or will they stretch themselves and truly become too Christian and too pagan?