Let's reclaim the culture for Christ!
We need to transform the culture!
Let's redeem the culture!
We should resist the culture!
What do these phrases really mean?
What do we mean by "culture" when we talk about transforming it?
Is it our Christian calling to redeem "culture?"
Andy Crouch's new book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (IVP, 2008) is a landmark work that will create a new culture of its own within evangelicalism. Crouch points out the areas where evangelical thinking about culture-making has been counterproductive, and he charts a new path - one that would have evangelicals understand culture in more tangible ways.
Crouch points out the fallacious ways in which we conceive of "culture." Christians too often think simplistically about "culture" - as if it were some nebulous, overarching thought system in our world. Crouch believes we are wrong to talk of "culture" in this way. Instead, we must start thinking of culture as specific cultural goods (29).
Culture is what human beings make of the world. And these things we make eventually affect the world we live in. We cannot withdraw or escape culture because it is what we were made to do (36).
Analyzing culture does not substitute for the creation of real cultural goods (64). "The only way to change culture is to create more of it," Crouch says (67).
Crouch sees much of evangelicalism's desire to "engage the culture" as well-intentioned but often misguided. We tend to take certain, appropriate gestures toward cultural artifacts and make them postures - our position towards all cultural artifacts. Crouch points out several ways that Christians relate to "culture:" (78-98)
Each of these may be appropriate positions to take toward certain cultural items. After all, there is nothing we can do with pornography except condemn it. There is also a place for strong critique of culture. Likewise, there are times when copying culture is appropriate. And of course, we can consume culture without any guilt at all when such action is glorifying to God.
But Crouch warns us against making these appropriate gestures into postures. When we turn gestures into postures, we assume a certain outlook regarding all culture. Crouch sets forth a different model. Instead of reacting to culture as it is, Christians should concentrate on creating and cultivating culture as we want it to be. We are to be artists and gardeners - creators and cultivators of cultural goods.
Crouch describes concrete ways that we can be creators of culture. He shows us how cultural artifacts change the culture. (There is a fascinating section on the difference between the river and the highway.)
Readers will discover that an emphasis on humility pervades the book. Crouch warns against thinking that we can change the world.
"Changing the world sounds grand, until you consider how poorly we do even at changing our own little lives... Indeed, I sometimes wonder if breathless rhetoric about changing the world is actually about changing the subject - from our own fitfully suppressed awareness that we did not ask to be brought into this world, have only vaguely succeeded at figuring it out, and will end our days in radical dependence on something or someone other than ourselves. Beware of world changers, they have not yet learned the true meaning of sin (200)."
Crouch bases his thoughts on culture-making within the creation narrative and the gospel story of redemption. He dodges the question of historicity of the creation accounts (120) by talking about the importance of the story, not just the historical details. (I find this evasion most peculiar, because he treats the biblical text as fully accurate throughout his book.)
Crouch is right to show that heaven too will have a culture. "Culture is the furniture of heaven. (170)" This leads us to the thought-provoking question about our cultural artifacts: Can we imagine this making it into the new Jerusalem?
Crouch critiques the emphasis that "worldview thinking" places upon analysis and thought. He believes we need less critics of cultural goods and more creators of cultural goods. But considering the fact that a great number of Christians simply consume culture without critically thinking about the messages of these goods convey, I believe we could use more creators and critics of cultural goods. It is true that too much analysis can keep us from purely "enjoying" art, but I'm not convinced that enjoyment and thinking critically are necessarily opposed to one another. I'm also concerned that some evangelicals might take these words from Culture Making as a free pass to watch or listen to whatever they want and to dismiss the idea of worldview-critique.
What I love most about Culture Making is the theme of hope. Crouch believes we can start creating culture in small spheres (our family, for example). He points out the importance of small groups (three, twelve, 120). Culture is not always made by the large crowd. We can all get busy fulfilling the creation mandate to create and cultivate.
Culture Making is filled with grace. We recognize that our ability to create or cultivate culture is rooted in God's grace. "Where are we called to create culture? At the intersection of grace and cross." (262)
"So do you want to make culture? Find a community, a small group who can lovingly fuel your dreams and puncture your illusions. Find friends and form a family who are willing to see grace at work in one another's lives, who can discern together which gifts and which crosses each has been called to bear. Find people who have a holy respect for power and a holy willingness to spend their power alongside the powerless. Find some partners in the wild and wonderful world beyond church doors. And then, together, make something of the world." (263)
Amen. Now, let's get busy!