Review: Plugged In: Connecting your faith with everything you watch, read and play

The latest edition of our Foundations theological journal was published at the end of November. It contains articles and book reviews of help and encouragement to those wanting to engage with scripture and theology at a deeper level, yet still being practical and applied.

One such book review is of 'Plugged In: Connecting your faith with everything you watch, read and play', Dan Strange (Good Book Company, 2019), 160pp, £6.46 (Amazon):

Dr Daniel Strange, the Director of Oak Hill College, has written a compelling and accessible book urging evangelical Christians to engage with culture in order to communicate the gospel more effectively. Plugged In takes Paul’s discourse to the Athenian Areopagus in Acts 17 as a paradigmatic template for gospel proclamation, as “subversive fulfilment”, which connects with culture and yet confronts its idolatry. Reading this book will certainly help Christians to understand their context and open their eyes to see the possibilities for gospel engagement all around them, thus liberating them from bland and overly-simplistic evangelistic presentations. It will help pastors and preachers sharpen their analysis and application, and ordinary readers to communicate more effectively with their colleague, friends, family and neighbours.

The book is part theological defence of cultural engagement and part training manual, outlining the techniques for effective “subversive fulfilment” and providing some worked examples from a range of fields, including adult colouring books, birdwatching, zombie movies and Japanese domestic toilets. The strength of the book is that is never becomes purely abstract or merely intellectually interested in culture but always seeks to show how this cashes out in practical evangelism.

The book reflects a presuppositional apologetic methodology. Sin is understood as misdirected worship that is manifested in idolatry. It advocates an appropriate balance between the need to connect with the culture, affirming what is good, and to confront it. “Subversive fulfilment” is not a means of evangelism without cost.  

The theological framework helps to dispel the misunderstandings many Christians may have about cultural engagement and demystifies the technical and impenetrable language that is often used by those who favour a presuppositional approach to apologetics. “Culture” is defined as everything that human beings make, which rightfully guards against cultural engagement being an elitist exercise. It is as much about soap operas as opera, and pop culture as high culture. “Texts” are not just writing, but the message conveyed by everything that humans make, encoding or proclaiming an underlying worldview. Whilst acknowledging the great breadth of “culture”, the primary focus of the book concerns engagement with films and television programmes, which is appropriate as this is the means by which most readers will be able to engage their friends and colleagues.  

The book does not avoid the important and controversial question of whether Christians should watch films and movies that contain material which is explicitly sexual or violent. Dan notes the heated debate between Christians in this regard, which can be crystallised by the question of whether it is ever legitimate for Christians to watch “Game of Thrones”. Naturally, a book advocating cultural engagement will want to defend watching such cultural texts with caution, but Dan does so with careful balance.

Rather than laying down simplistic rules, he applies the five solas of the Reformation to provide a helpful framework for personal discernment. Not everything that is permissible is beneficial. Whilst this approach encourages potential viewers ask good and searching questions, it might have been helpful to spend more time considering whether there is a difference between watching films and movies for the purpose of undertaking cultural engagement as opposed to for personal entertainment. How determinative is the motive for our consumption? The argument in favour of watching might also have been strengthened by noting that the Bible itself is a text that contains much material that is explicit or violent in content. Christians can sometimes be more sensitive than the Bible itself about facing the realities of life in a fallen world!

No one could fail to profit from reading Plugged In, and many will be inspired and encouraged to make the most of every opportunity to share the good news of Christ, who alone can meet the desires of our hearts. “Subversive fulfilment” is not the only legitimate evangelistic methodology, but in our post-Christian and post-modern context, marked by increasing biblical illiteracy, it is an essential tool in our armoury. Our contemporary context is overwhelmingly Athens rather than Jerusalem.

Tim Keller warmly commends this book, saying that there is nothing else quite like it on the market. He is right. It makes cultural engagement exciting and possible for every Christian. Its midrange level, relative brevity and engaging and humorous style make it easy to read. It would be ideal for small group discussion in our churches, or as the basis for an evangelistic training course in the local church.

John Stevens, National Director, FIEC


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