Posted by: Tim | June 10, 2008

Book Review: “Culture Shift” by R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Culture Shift (you can buy it here) is one of the books that was given away at Together for the Gospel 08 in Louisville. It is the first (I think!) book by R. Albert Mohler Jr., President of Southern Seminary in Louisville, host of the Albert Mohler (Radio) Program and blog, and one of the four T4G founders/leaders/friends. Mohler is known for having a very sharp mind and for being an avid reader with a huge personal library. He is reported to be able to pull a book at random from his large library and give a good synopsis of the content and argument of the book. I actually saw him do it on a video, where CJ Mahaney wanted to prove to everyone watching that Mohler could do this!

Culture Shift is a collection of twenty essays about current topics that impact Christians and require a Christian response. The topics range from secularism to abortion to terrorism to the problem of evil. The chapters can be read standalone but should be read in order as some of them flow together. The chapters are short and many can be read in about five minutes. But don’t be fooled, short does not mean that they are not meaty.

I would like to now highlight a few chapters that stood out to me.

1. The first was chapter 5 “The Culture of Offendedness”. Here Mohler describes the way our culture has become very touchy and thin-skinned, with many people now demanding the right not to be offended. This demand is in direct contradiction with the right to free speech, as those who demand not to be offended are calling for the silencing of those who offend them. Interestingly, as I was reading Culture Shift last week, I was also following the British Columbia Human Rights trial of Maclean’s magazine over an article about Islam written by Canadian author Mark Steyn. Some Canadian Muslims found the article offensive and charged Maclean’s with a human rights violation. You can read the blogging of the trial by Maclean’s writer Andrew Coyne here. It is worth your time to read, as it describes a current real life example of what Culture Shift is discussing. It is hard to believe the reality of the Canadian Human Rights system, where truth is no defense (really!), normal rules of evidence do not apply, the government pays the full bill for the plaintiff and the accused foots their own bill, and the historical conviction rate is 100% for complaints under the section 13 hate speech section (Yes I did say 100%! Big brother is listening so be quiet!). If you want to be even more amazed/shocked/appalled, visit Ezra Levant’s blog. Ezra is also being charged under Canadian Human Rights laws for printing the Danish Muslim cartoons in the magazine he formerly published, and his story defies imagination. On his blog he discusses his own case, and other cases including one where a Canadian pastor in Red Deer (about 1 hour from Three Hills, where I live) was convicted for writing a letter to the local newspaper that spoke out against gay rights activists (Links here and here discuss it further).

ANYWAY….all this to say that this chapter 5 in Mohler’s book was being played out here in Canada around the same time I was reading it. Mohler gives an interesting quote from Salmon Rushdie (the author of the Satanic Verses who lives under death threat for writing it):

“The idea that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted is absurd. So too is the notion that people should have the right to call on the law to defend them against being offended or insulted. A fundamental decision needs to be made: do we want to live in a free society or not?” (p 34 in Mohler’s book, quoting from here)

Mohler also reports an interesting observation from Christian philosopher Paul Helm, who notes that the word offense has shifted in meaning (ie culture shift!) as,

“Historically, being offended has been a very serious matter. To be offended is to be caused to stumble so as to fall, to fail, to apostasize, to be brought down, to be crushed.” (p31)

Mohler notes that today, “All that is required is often the vaguest notion of emotional distaste at what another has said, done, proposed, or presented”.

This shift in meaning has brought us to where we are today. Amazing the power of words – if you can change the meaning you can change the world.

2. A second section that I found particularly interesting was made up of two chapters on the subject of abortion, chapter 14 “Is Abortion a Moral Issue” and chapter 15 “Who’s Afraid of the Fetus?”. In it, Mohler describes how using 3-D ultrasound technology (we had such an ultrasound with our third child, who is now 18 months old – very cool – much better and more real looking than old 2D type), many crisis pregnancy centers are helping women choose not to abort their child. When these woman see their unborn child, a majority are deciding that they cannot and must not end the baby’s life. Mohler describes how abortion-rights groups are upset with this strategy and do not want women to see their unborn children. Mohler is blunt in assessing that they are afraid because they cannot win the battle against these images of a living child inside a mother’s womb. I found this section to be both challenging and encouraging, reminding me that we must continue to strive for life and justice for our unborn children. (Even in my own country of Canada, where there is no abortion law at all, politicians being afraid to touch it with a ten foot poll. Countries in Post-Christian liberal Europe have tighter abortion laws than Canada, to our utter shame. About 100,000 babies annually are killed in Canada by abortion.)

3. A third section that impacted me was chapter 18 “Ninevah, New Orleans and the City of Man”. Earlier on in the book Mohler discusses Augustine’s City of God and City of Man. I have heard of these terms from Augustine’s famous book, but I appreciated Mohler’s explanation and how they relate to Christians today. Mohler writes this chapter in light of the terrible destruction in New Orleans during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. This chapter and the two before help to address the questions “Why did God let this happen?” and “Is this God’s judgement?” Mohler reminds us that cities are not the permanent places they seem to be, as the pages of history repeatedly tell us. Cities rise and fall with time. I guess this is an obvious truth, but it hit me fresh as I confess I have though of cities as relatively permanent, showing my own bias to forget that change is always occurring in life. Frighteningly, Mohler points out cities that are likely to see devastation at any time due to earthquakes such as San Francisco and Tokyo (typhoons likely as well in Tokyo). I thought about the fact that millions of people live in these cities fully aware that they could face death through their choice of geography for their home (I realize some people may not have much choice due to economic or other circumstances, but the US & Japan are both free countries, where generally people can move if they set their minds to it). This is a frightening thought that the devestation that hit New Orleans could happen again – not just could – it will sooner or later, as history reminds us repeatedly. In fact the only city that is eternal is the City of God. This reminds us that we as Christians should live like people of the heavenly city, not of our earthly city(cities).

In conclusion, I recommend Culture Shift. It is a book that will stimulate your thinking about important issues to which Christians need to give Biblical, reasoned responses. While the essays are written in the American context, they are relevant and applicable for people outside the United States as well. You can buy Culture Shift here at amazon.ca

One more thing – this is a fairly short book 160 pages, small pages, big spacing, so you can read it quickly. Don’t let the small size fool you – this book is packed with good material!

R. Albert Mohler Jr., Culture Shift, Multnomah, Colorado Springs, 2008, 160 pages.

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