Engaging with “Culture Making” by Andy Crouch

March 2, 2015

Having grown up in the last couple decades immersed in the Christian world, I have heard a lot of discussion about worldviews. I was taught to be conscientious about how I think about the world and to look for the worldviews that are communicated in the media that I consume. But lately, I had started recognizing that there was something missing. It was good to be aware of how I thought about the world and to expose the subtle messages that are communicated in music or movies, but it didn’t feel like enough. Enter Andy Crouch and Culture Making . If culture is what we make of the world, as he so often asserts, the way for Christians to influence culture is by producing something and thereby influencing culture
through that thing. Crouch’s solution makes sense to me. Where discussing worldviews or critiquing culture seems to fall short by staying almost completely in the realm of talk, Crouch pushes the discussion a step further into proactivity and production. If the Church wants to impact the cultures of the world around it, it must make something of the world.Before we get into how Christians can and should interact with the world and the cultures in it, we must ask ourselves: why should Christians concern themselves with influencing culture? Crouch does an excellent job of explaining what culture is, of defining with exact specificity what he means when he says culture. And he does an excellent job of addressing typical Christian responses to culture as well as providing an alternative. However, I feel like this is one particular area where his book is weak. He does not drive home the “why”. Why should Christians care about their interactions with culture? Why does it matter whether we consume the culture around us, appropriate images or phrases and “sanctify” them, or withdraw completely? Crouch points us all the way back to the dawn of mankind, to our advent as image bearers of the Creator and our commission as cultivators of the earth. Why should Christians care about influencing culture? Because we were created to create and cultivate culture. We were made to fill the earth and subdue it. And we, who more fully understand our intrinsic worth and heritage than any nonChristian ever could, cannot abdicate these responsibilities. Obedience to God is our act of worship. The first sin was Adam’s passivity, in allowing Eve to be tempted and to eat the fruit. We must fight against our tendency to repeat Adam’s folly. This is why we as Christians must engage, shape, and create culture.

How do Christians interact with culture? Crouch talks about four gestures that Christians can appropriately use when interacting with culture. These four gestures, however, are often adopted instead as postures, as default positions from which Christians try to interact with and influence culture. The first gesture is condemnation. Right now, a stance of condemnation is viewed as intolerant and bigoted, the worst possible combination of vices in America. However, there are times and places when condemnation is not only an appropriate stance to take, but is potentially the only one that should be taken. For example, this past February, 50 Shades of Grey hit theaters all across the nation. Many Christian leaders condemned the movie because we should not go to see a movie which glorifies a perversion of sexuality in an irredeemable manner.

The second gesture is one championed by Francis Schaeffer: cultural critique. Schaeffer viewed culture, not as something to be condemned and withdrawn from, but something to discuss, as it revealed the underlying philosophical assumptions of culture. This sort of thinking has led to many ministries that are specifically aimed at helping people think critically about the underlying messages and assumptions of a particular piece of art, whether a painting, a novel, a movie, or a song.

The third gesture is copying the broader culture, creating “sanctified versions” of any given artifact of culture. Christian movies, Christian music, Christian apparel, and more. Although many good things have come out of this gesture, too often Christian copies come across as low quality knockoffs of “the real thing”. But the greater problem is that its success encourages a cultural isolation that only serves to make Jesus seem increasingly irrelevant to the world.

The fourth gesture is consumption. It removes the division between sacred and secular completely and tends to leave Christians and nonChristians looking very similar when it comes to the parts of culture of which they partake. From the choice of words to the choice of beverages, entertainment, and education, Christians are moving ever more towards an attitude of consumption of culture with little thought toward the repercussions.

These four gestures, though appropriate at times, cannot become default positions or postures. All of these gestures are reactions. They cannot happen unless culture has already produced something; something to condemn, to critique, to copy, to consume. All of these stop short of becoming truly influential, of shifting and shaping culture. Crouch asserts time and time again that “culture is what we make of the world” (p. 23). But if we are only reacting, we fail to make anything of the world.

Our original calling is to be creators and cultivators. And while reacting toward, against, or alongside culture has its place, we are not fulfilling our original calling until we begin to create and cultivate the world around us. But how do we go about doing this? Unfortunately, Crouch is unable to be very specific about how we can begin to create and cultivate, not because he does not know how to create, but because of the very nature of creation. Creation will look differently for each person, because each of us has a unique set of gifts, talents, aptitudes, situations, and opportunities at our disposal. While one person may be equipped to develop a more efficient means of travel, another may be primed to create a movement within Hollywood to create high quality movies. This diversity is the beauty of our role as creators. But, simultaneously, it makes it impossible to create a one-size-fits-all recipe for creation.

This does not mean, however, that Crouch’s readers are left completely in the dark when it comes to actionable steps. His last three chapters dig into three keys to successful creation and cultivation. The first of the three is power, but not in the way that we tend to think of power. The kingdom of God has turned the concept of power on its head. While the world around us seeks to gain more and more power, using it to climb higher and higher up the ladder of success, the Bible asserts that true success does not acquire power for the self. In fact, it is when we are most powerless that we are most powerful. Just as Christ, by hanging and dying on the cross, was overthrowing the power of Satan and death, so we too gain our lives by losing them. The power we are given is not to build ourselves up, but to empower others. So we find that one of the keys to creating and influencing culture is serving others, giving up our power to enable others to join in creation and cultivation.

The second key is community. We were not created to be in isolation. One of the first acts of culture was Adam’s naming of the animals, to underscore the fact that it was not good for him to be alone. And when Eve was created, Adam created again, singing the first love poem to his new wife. When we become Christians, we are not saved in isolation, even though our choice is personal. We are saved into the family of God. As we seek to create and cultivate, our surrounding community, from those few who are closest to us to those who are in our larger circle of friends, aids us. It comes alongside us, supporting and encouraging and providing insight, honing our creative capabilities.

The final key, and the most important, is the grace of God. God is the one who provides success. This does not mean that we do not have to work. We are called to be faithful in what we were given. But it does mean that we leave the results up to God. Sometimes, when we are faithful, God will grant success. Other times, he allows us to fail. In both places, there is grace, and that grace is what enables us to pick up and keep seeking to follow God, to continue to create and cultivate.

The culture around us is always changing. The possibilities spread out before us and we have two options: to embrace our calling and create culture or to stand idly by and allow culture to create us. Crouch has done an excellent job of showing that God has called us to create and cultivate. Now the choice is left to us, will we strive to fulfill God’s call?
Word Count: 1,496

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