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Review: The Pop Culture Parent

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Posted by Robin Barfield, 22 Oct 2020

Robin Barfield reviews The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World For Christ, by Ted Turnau, Stephen Burnett and Jared Moore.

Book cover of The Pop Culture Parent

Ted Turnau’s earlier work, Popologetics, has been widely used, not least in youth groups, as a Christian way of reading popular culture. It has been incredibly useful for pastors and youth leaders for helping Christians understand the messages of the world (good and bad) as well as for reaching non-Christians. Its downside was that it was unwieldy and more theoretical. It is for these reasons that many who read that work have looked forward to a more user-friendly, local-church level work. And The Pop Culture Parent does not disappoint.

This new work is based around an adapted form of Turnau’s five questions which can be asked of all popular works but seeks to embed these questions in the family at all levels. The five questions are:
1. What is the story?
2. What is the moral and imaginary world?
3. What is good, true, and beautiful in this world (common grace)?
4. What is false and idolatrous in this world?
5. How is Jesus the true answer to this story’s hopes?

The first five chapters of the book spend time arguing the importance and the value of popular works of culture and why parents should engage with their children’s worlds. There is so much helpful material here, combatting both TV as the “third parent” as well as the idea that parenting is about “worldproofing” our children.

Once the foundation is set of a parent engaging their child with popular culture, the authors move on to explaining and applying Turnau’s model to the various stages of childhood and adolescence. The chapters on each stage are packed with practical advice on how to introduce these ideas with the child and what our expectations should be. There are then three examples from each stage analysing Frozen, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Fortnite. These are lucid and apt, providing clear working out of the five questions and how they might be used with a child.

I cannot exaggerate how useful and necessary I think this volume is for parents and carers. It deserves to be bought in quantity and handed out to every parent in your church. If applied, I can see the principles laid out here raising up a generation who are confident in speaking into culture and understanding the cultural air they breathe. This can only be a good thing. It is also clear throughout that the authors love their subject. There is no begrudging acceptance of human creativity but a deep delight in much that has been produced. This means the book is full of examples of how they have put it into practice.

A few minor niggles. It is heavily dependent on Turnau’s excellent work and I did feel I was not always aware of the voices of the other authors, but that’s to be expected. I also felt it was a little on the long side which might put some parents off picking it up, however it was all so useful there was little I could imagine omitting. Instead, this may be best given off the back of some parenting sessions where the method is demonstrated in order that it will then be read. In summary, this is a must-read, bulk-buy book.

Robin Barfield is Associate Minister for Children and Families at Christ Church, Wharton and also lectures in youth and children's ministry at Oak Hill College and Union School of Theology.

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