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A Peculiar People: The Church As Culture in a Post-Christian Society [Paperback]

By Rodney R. Clapp (Author)
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Item description for A Peculiar People: The Church As Culture in a Post-Christian Society by Rodney R. Clapp...

Looks at the Christian faith as a subculture within modern society at large

Publishers Description
Voted one of Christianity Today's 1997 Books of the Year Christians feel increasingly useless, argues Rodney Clapp, not because we have nothing to offer a post-Christian society, but because we are trying to serve as "sponsoring chaplains" to a civilization that no longer sees Christianity as necessary to its existence. In our individualistic, technologically oriented, consumer-based culture, Christianity has become largely irrelevant. The solution is not to sentimentally capitulate to the way things are. Nor is it to retrench in an effort to regain power and influence as the sponsor of Western civilization. What is needed is for Christians to reclaim our heritage as a peculiar people, as unapologetic followers of the Way. Within the larger pluralistic world, we need to become a sanctified, subversive culture that develops Christian community as a truly alternative way of life. Christians must learn to live the story and not just to restate it. Writing inclusively with considerable verve, Clapp offers a keen analysis of the church and its ministry as we face a new millennium.

From Publishers Weekly
The church's role in Western culture currently is undergoing a profound redefinition. What does it mean to be the church or a Christian in the postmodern age? Clapp (Families at the Crossroads) describes the confusion American Christians, and particularly evangelical Christians, feel as accustomed religious roles and influences change. Clapp explores the impact of the "culture wars" on the church and, while critical of the methods of many of the evangelical "warriors," sees redeeming value in many of the assertions they make about a distinctive Christian way of life. Clapp redefines liturgy, social ethics and especially evangelism and missions for a postmodern church whose locus is not the individual but the faith community. Clapp offers a refreshing and reforming evangelical perspective to the church and culture debate. Clapp argues that evangelicanism has too often focused on the salvation of the individual to the exclusion of the development of community. He here contends that for the church to be a dynamic institution it must recognize its historical tensions and move beyond them to establish community. (Nov.)

Awards and Recognitions
A Peculiar People: The Church As Culture in a Post-Christian Society by Rodney R. Clapp has received the following awards and recognitions -
  • Christianity Today Book Award - 1997 Winner - Top 25 category

Citations And Professional Reviews
A Peculiar People: The Church As Culture in a Post-Christian Society by Rodney R. Clapp has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Booklist - 11/01/1996 page 460
  • Publishers Weekly - 10/14/1996 page 77

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Item Specifications...

Studio: IVP Academic
Pages   251
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.24" Width: 5.52" Height: 0.77"
Weight:   0.65 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 1, 2000
Publisher   IVP-InterVarsity Press
ISBN  0830819908  
ISBN13  9780830819904  

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Christian Living > General
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > General
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Bible > General
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Ecclesiology

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Reviews - What do customers think about A Peculiar People: The Church As Culture in a Post-Christian Society?

A Not So Peculiar People  Jul 24, 2006
It is telling that a book with so much potential ends up with an uninspired pitch for "Christian friendship." "Christian friendship is not a matter of managing or controlling others [Clapp says], but of genuinely accepting their differentness and standing open to surprises - surprises that, whether joyful or demanding, extend our powers to achieve greater excellence in the practice of friendship epitomized on the cross." P. 209. If you exchange the symbol of the cross for another symbol of your choice, what exactly is the difference between Clapp's "Christian friendship" and plain old ordinary, devoted, self-sacrificing, loyal friendship that may be found amongst the non-Christians of the world?

This pitch for "Christian friendship" is illustrative of what is wrong with Clapp's account of "a peculiar people" - turns out they aren't so peculiar after all. Clapp has a lot of good things to say about the virtues of community, people bound by a common oral history, committed to a meaningful liturgy, open to the wisdom of outsiders. He warns that the modern practices of "writing and reading are solitary activities that throw the psyche back on itself," and into the pit dug by self-absorbed liberalism. He grasps the importance of shared words and communal worship -"At worship we consecrate our lives: what we worship or ultimately adore is what we live and die for." He calls the church to be a community rooted in its particular place and time. Abstractions and generalities will not do. Nor will accommodation to the principalities and powers that be.

The "Constantinian wedding of church and state" (the fourth century adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire), Clapp asserts, has been a disaster for the church right up through modern times. It has robbed the Church of its culture, and without its culture the Church's relevance and vitality are fatally compromised - Christianity, having lost its political and coercive clout long ago, became an inward, spiritual exercise for individuals, rather than communal practice of a Christ-like way of being. The choices seem to be: 1) accommodate the dominant culture (characteristic of the left) or 2) retrench, i.e., recapture the ability to dictate to others Christian morality (characteristic of the right). Since neither choice is acceptable, Clapp weaves a course between the two, admonishing that "discernment never ends. As situations change, it often evolves in new and unpredicted directions." P. 156.

These are good words, and make this a valuable book (certainly worth reading) but they lead us back to the issue of friendship, and this (again, in an illustrative way) is where Clapp fails us. He leaves us hanging: "we cannot in any event leave or even take a vacation from mass-techno-liberal capitalism [i.e., the dominant culture]. That is a system that, for the foreseeable future at least, we have no choice but to acknowledge." Clapp suggests Christians become "benevolent parasites" of this "mass-techno-liberal capitalism." P. 201. As our thoughtless and brutal global economy (the engine that makes dominant culture possible) wages war on our small and beautiful planet, as it chews up and spits out more and more people, guaranteeing abject poverty for billions of present and future human and animal friends, Christians are not to retrench, they are not to accommodate, they are to become benevolent parasites? The worship of such a lame and helpless people must smell like toxic waste to the Creator of the universe. When the dust has settled, Clapp leaves us with nothing all that radical, nothing that peculiar. Christians will, with any luck at all, continue to eat, drink, dwell, travel, bank, invest, shop . . .i.e. live . . . pretty much as others of comfortable good will -with an offering of benevolent deeds and a host of good friends.
Clarion Call For the American Church...  Sep 27, 2005
As a young seminary student, I have been reading many and varying works on theology, philosophy and biblical studies. Rodney Clapp's book on the church as an alternative people (culture) existing within the world is a clarion call for the questions we need to be asking and the directions our churches need to be moving. Much like, Stanley Hauerwas, Clapp reveals the decay and erosion we have today as a result of the Church being absorbed by Constantine way back in the 4th century B.C. In our pluralist, post-everything society, the time is ripe for the Church to assert itself as God's polis and in doing so actually offer new life or as Jesus said "abundant life" to those who are subjected to a system of destruction and dehumanization.

Clapp's style is candid and written in a lucid manner which will allow the lay reader to understand the theology behind the work wihtout being well versed in historical theology. Ultimately Clapp is not proposing anything new, rather he is pointing the Church back to its starting point. That is, the fact of Jesus' life, death and resurrection as the starting point for any coherent self-understanding. He argues that the Church as God's called out people (like Israel) is the place in which the starting point can be found, affirmed and lived without apology to a culture that has no starting point (e.g. American liberal democracy primed by the Enlightenment).

Pastor's read this book! Members of the body of Christ, read this book, read Acts, then look outside to the perverse and dying culture in which we live and find life as God's polis.

Shabbat Shalom!
A less favorable review  Aug 14, 2005
This book is dated 1996. I ran across this book and read it this summer. Perhaps this book would have been more fresh had I read it nine years ago, but in any case, I offer this review for those who might happen to run across it today...

Rodney Clapp's book began with great promise. Based on writings by Henri Nouwen, he articulated the angst many Christians feel concerning their place within the modern culture. We want to have an important role in the culture; instead, we find ourselves clamoring for recognition. Rather than being the athletes, we are the sponsors.

With an admission that he is not an expert in one particular field, Clapp promises to summon his strength as part-journalist, part-theologian to lead the church to higher ground. And indeed, higher ground comes into view as the reader marches through the pages: What if the church were truly counter-cultural? What if the church resisted American dreams and myths, and substituted them for a fresh biblical vision? The vision of this higher ground kept me turning the pages at first.

Yet instead of reaching higher ground, I found myself trudging over worn paths that only led in circles. The higher ground remained elusive, and I left this book with frustration.

I think the book suffers from what I call "pompous postmodernism." This seems to be a Christian literary genre in which the author seeks to demonstrate that all Christians until now have been misguided but, alas, now we see clearly through new postmodern lenses. Yet as a student of church history, I take issue with important aspects of Clapp's historical analysis.

In particular, his view of the Reformation is simplistic and, in my opinion, misguided. He worries that the Reformation dismantled the counter-cultural aspects of the church (hierarchy, heightened ethical demands for monks) while not addressing the biblical basis of the Reformers' concerns. Then Clapp posits that the Reformers' view of vocation (all work can be done in a Christian way) was wrongheaded, leading to a Christian sponsorship of the world's culture. However, I would argue instead that the Reformers rightly reminded the world that its culture is actually based upon, and dependent upon, the creation of God and the laws of God. (Clapp admits in a footnote that the Puritans were not so bad. One is left to wonder how these children of the Reformation got so much right when he claims the Reformers got so much wrong.)

Second, for all the talk about moving beyond a watered down "Constantinian" Christianity, which ailed the church from AD 400-1996, I fail to see what Clapp has to offer. When the dust settles, it seems the reader is left with basic principles concerning worship, liturgy, community, etc. While not bad applications necessarily, I am not sure what is new here other than the pride with which the insights are given.

Perhaps part of the problem is that Clapp is overly dependent on the writings of others. He has done some homework, offering hundreds of footnotes. But for lengthy stretches, Clapp basically recycles the work of others (Henri Nouwen, John Yoder, N.T. Wright). Clapp sometimes seems much more like an admiring fan than an original thinker. Which wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the hefty claims about (finally!) getting Christianity right.

In summary, I recommend this book as a springboard for thought concerning the church's role in the world and, in particular, American culture. But you might want to read some others who have written on the topic of church and culture, such as Charles Colson or Edmund Clowney.
Excellent  Jun 24, 2004
Clapp begins by showing how the church, since the time of Constantine, has functioned as a subordinate, a "chaplain" to the dominant culture. This is not a new idea (see Luther) but if it is new to you, this book does a good job expositing it. What Clapp does add to the discussion is a sharp analysis of where the church stands today -- as modern society decides it doesn't have much use for a chaplain anymore, what is the church's response? He shows how conservatives who want to put "God back in government" and liberals who want to take the gospel out of church functions (weddings, funerals, etc.) are essentially twins separated at birth -- both are simply trying to reclaim the church's traditional place in society.

Defining the problem is the strong suit of this book; offering an answer is weaker. Clapp makes it clear that there is another road that the church ought to take, and spends a long time trying to lay it out, but in the end I have less than a clear picture of what it ought to be. In his defense, I don't think this is his fault. Ultimately I think that the role the church needs to and decides to play in a post-Christian society is as yet undetermined -- it is something we need to explore, experiment with, and figure out as we go. If Clapp had offered a clear, easy step-by-step guide to how to succeed in the 21st century, I probably would've been dissatisfied with it (my postmodern roots are showing, aren't they?) As it is, I respect him for his analysis of the past, for taking stabs at possible solutions or directions, and for saying a lot of things that need to be said. This is a valuable book and one I highly recommend to church leaders and those interested in the shaping of the church.

Profound book. A must read for every Christian.  Oct 8, 2002
Rodney Clapp paints a beautiful picture of what it means to be the church. For those of us who have been through countless church splits, arguments, and petty bickering, it gives hope. Yet at the same time it strongly convicts, pushing us toward a higher and more lofty goal. Definitely read this book.

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