Book Review: Joy for the World

Greg Forster’s Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It is a welcome, winsome, and wise contribution to how Christians can hope to make a realistic difference in the world. After compellingly and convincingly tracing how Christianity has lost its cultural influence to a certain degree (very interesting!), Forster invites Christians to seek primarily to make cultural influence by being joyful Christians as we humbly fulfill our callings in our homes, workplaces and communities.

Forster defines joy in this way: “I’m not talking about an emotion. I mean the state of flourishing in mind, heart, and life that Christians experience by the Holy Spirit.” What makes us different as Christians is the radical reality that we have Jesus’ joy through the Spirit, and this joy changes the cultural atmosphere where we raise families, live, and work—and this is good. He writes: “We’ve been so anxious to influence society in the past century that we’ve ended up going after a lot of shortcuts. For some it’s politics, for some it’s education, for some it’s evangelism. We’ve been pulling a lot of levers. The common thread is that we’re pulling levers so hard, we leave no space for people to encounter the joy of God.” Forster desires for Christians to avoid unhealthy triumphalism in our approach to culture on the one hand, while also steering clear of unrealistic and unhealthy separationism from the culture around us.

In his book, Forster emphasizes properly and clearly that the Church is both an organization and an organism and that these should be distinguished in our cultural engagement. The Church as organization must be faithful in the preaching of God’s Word, administering the Sacraments, encouraging fellowship and discipline. The Church as organism consists of living, embodied people who are citizens of two worlds, two cities, or two kingdoms, who are called to live out their different vocations in an infectious and joyful manner doing all for the glory of God.

While Forster reiterates some of the important arguments of other cultural Christian writers of our time, he uniquely offers very practical and accessible ways of engaging culture that Christians can use in their everyday lives. It is obvious that Forster is an expert on this subject, and what impressed me as I read this book was that he teaches in a very humble and thoughtful manner. In fact, the joy that he encourages Christians to display in culture comes through in his writing. I agree with others who have reviewed this book that the book should be on required reading lists in colleges, used in worldview and cultural seminars, and on book tables at local congregations.

My only criticism would be that this important book should have had a more appropriate cover to it. While we’re taught not to judge a book by its cover, we often will. This cover gives a sort of pop- culture kind of feel to the book that I thought undermined the importance and depth of the actual text and message. I would recommend it be given a cover that is more consistent with the message, and perhaps even edit down this longer book to be a shorter book that could be available to a more popular audience? An idea.

Charles R. Biggs

Purcellville, VA

Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It
by Greg Forster (Crossway, 2014)
$15.90 paperback via Amazon

Book Review

Pastor Biggs wrote the following review for the upcomming edition of New Horizon’s:


“The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness”

Charles R. Biggs

 book review

The Bible teaches us that “without holiness no man shall see the LORD.” The glory of God and our holiness are the end goals of our salvation (Eph. 1:4-5). J. C. Ryle wrote in the 19th century: “We must be holy, because this is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world….Jesus is a complete Savior.”

Pastor Kevin DeYoung in this very clear and pastorally concerned book says that the problem in many congregations today is that “there is a gap between our love for the gospel and our love for godliness” (pg. 21). We love to hear the gospel (as we should!), but we are not as earnest about our love for holiness.

DeYoung faithfully guides the reader past the errors of what holiness is not, and addresses the grave dangers of legalism and antinomianism in the Christian life (pgs. 33-47).

We are saved by grace alone through faith, but we are saved for, or unto good works (Eph. 2:8-10; pg. 25). Redemption is salvation from the penalty and the power of sin. We are forgiven and set free to serve God obediently (pgs. 63ff). As our Lord Jesus said: “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

As a help for growing in holiness, DeYoung makes the important distinctions between the indicatives and the imperatives in Scripture. The indicatives are the reality of who we are in Jesus Christ, and the imperatives are those commands that we do in light of who we are in Christ (Col. 3:1-4).

In Christ, believers can seek “extraordinary holiness through ordinary means” through prayer, Bible reading, and hearing the Word of God preached, as well as in fellowship with other believers and regular attendance to the Lord’s Supper. These are the means that Christ has provided for believers to grow in holiness and be like him (pg. 133ff).

DeYoung concludes reminding believers that we should seek to live a life of daily repentance. We always need God’s grace to grow, and when we fail, and when we fall short, we should seek the grace and mercy of Jesus, asking Him to help us in our weakness (pg. 137ff).

I commend the careful balance and pastoral tone of the writer, and the proper focus on the Triune God in the salvation of His people. This book will be outstanding for bible study groups, and has a helpful study guide at the end. This book I would recommend highly for all Christians, but especially those who are new Christians and new to the Reformed faith as a balanced and healthy guide to growing spiritually in Jesus.

Pastor DeYoung concludes with this admonition: “God wants you to be holy. Through faith he already counts you holy in Christ. Now he intends to make you holy in Christ…God saved you to sanctify you…by His grace it can be yours” (pg. 146).