Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch

Culture MakingCulture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch. IVP Books. 288 pages. 2008
***
I originally read this book as a part of my Calling, Vocation and Work class at Covenant Seminary last summer. The book is listed on the Center for Faith and Work site as one to read if you want to learn how to integrate your faith and work. As a result, I went through it again, this time, listening to the audiobook version.
The first five chapters of the book are dedicated to discussing culture. The second six chapters are dedicated to discussing culture in the biblical-story. The last five chapters are dedicated to discussing Christian’s calling in light of the nature of culture and the gospel.
The book was Christianity Today’s book of the year for 2009. Helpful resources are available at http://andy-crouch.com/#section-Culture-Making, including a study guide.

I highlighted a significant number of passages as I read the book and want to share some of them with you below. This is a complex book. I have read it twice and may go back over it again in the future.

• This book is for people and a Christian community on the threshold of cultural responsibility.
• Indeed, the desire to engage culture-to listen to it, learn from it and affirm it while also critiquing it-is one of the most hopeful developments of recent decades.
• What does it mean to be not just culturally aware but culturally responsible? Not just culture consumers or even just culture critics, but culture makers?
• This book is an attempt to point my fellow Christians toward new and also very old, directions for understanding our calling in culture. I hope to offer us a new vocabulary, a new story and a new set of questions.
• First, a new vocabulary, because our ways of talking about culture-how it works, how it changes, how it influences us and what we hope for from it-often do not serve us well.
• In the second section I’ll be offering a new story or, more precisely, a new way of reading a very old story: the story of culture as told through the pages of Scripture, from its opening chapters to its surprise ending.
• Finally, I want to offer a new set of questions about our calling. What is it, exactly, that we are called to do in the world? Are we called to “transform culture” or to “change the world”? If we are to be culture makers, where in the world do we begin? How do we deal with power, that most difficult of all cultural realities, and its inescapably uneven distribution?
• What is most needed in our time are Christians who are deeply serious about cultivating and creating but who wear that seriousness lightly-who are not desperately trying to change the world but who also wake up every morning eager to create.
• I hope that when you finish this book, you will have discovered that culture is not finally about us, but about God.
• Many attempts, especially Christian attempts, to come to terms with culture have fallen short because they paid too much attention to one of these categories of culture. High culture, pop culture, ethnic culture, political culture-all are part of culture and worthy of attention, reflection and action. But culture is more than any of these things.
• So complex is the work that we find in the caves of Europe, says the writer Paul Johnson, that “it is likely that art was the first of the human professions.”
• Those earliest traces of culture do not preserve language. But soon we have records not just of language but of stories. The most durable stories-the ones we call “myths”-wrestle directly with the questions provoked by the existence of the world.
• All human beings share the first two beginnings-the universal experience of infancy, and the history of the species. But biblical people emphasize a different beginning, the story recounted in the first pages of the Hebrew Bible.
• God himself makes an “image” of himself. Humankind’s “images of God” are always deficient and destructive, the Hebrew Bible insists, but God’s own “image of God” is the summary of everything he has made, crowned with the words, “It was very good.”
• Genesis presents God as both Creator and Ruler of the universe. Creators are those who make something new; rulers are those who maintain order and separation.
• Yet creativity cannot exist without order-a structure within which creation can happen.
• So in a way the Creator’s greatest gift to his creation is the gift of structure-not a structure which locks the world, let alone the Creator himself, into eternal mechanical repetition, but a structure which provides freedom.
• This, then, is the picture of humanity we find in Genesis: creative cultivators.
• They also find themselves, as we find ourselves, as human beings always and everywhere have found themselves, sensing that they are in the midst of a story.
• This phrase, which I have adapted from the Christian cultural critic Ken Myers, distills what culture is and why it matters: Culture is what we make of the world. Culture is, first of all, the name for our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it’s given to us and make something else.
• It is what human beings make of the world. It always bears the stamp of our creativity, our God-given desire to make something more than we were given.
• Making sense of the world, interpreting its wonder and its terror, is left up to human beings alone.
• We make sense of the world by making something of the world. The human quest for meaning is played out in human making: the finger-painting, omelet-stirring, chair-crafting, snow-swishing activities of culture. Meaning and making go together-culture, you could say, is the activity of making meaning.
• Culture is not just what human beings make of the world; it is not just the way human beings make sense of the world; it is in fact part of the world that every new human being has to make something of.
• So culture is cumulative: our cultural products become part of the world that a future generation must make something of-in both senses.
• Culture really is part of our world, just as central to our lives and our being human as nature. In some ways it is more central.
• The cultural world of language is more essential to human flourishing than the natural world of sound.
• We don’t make Culture, we make omelets. We tell stories. We build hospitals. We pass laws. These specific products of cultivating and creating-borrowing a word from archaeology and anthropology, we can call them “artifacts,” or borrowing from philosophy, we can call them “goods”-are what eventually, over time, become part of the framework of the world for future generations.
• Yet culture, in its more fundamental sense, really does remake the world, because culture shapes the horizons of the possible.
• And these two functions-making things possible that were impossible, and perhaps even more importantly making things impossible that were once possible-when put together add up to “world-building.”
• I’ve found five questions to be particularly helpful in understanding how a particular artifact fits into its broader cultural story.
• The first two questions arise from culture’s meaning-making function-culture’s role in making sense of the world. (1) What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world is? What are the key features of the world that this cultural artifact tries to deal with, respond to, make sense of? (2) What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world should be? What vision of the future animated its creators? What new sense does it seek to add to a world that often seems chaotic and senseless?
• Then come two questions that acknowledge culture’s extraordinary power to shape the horizons of possibility. (3) What does this cultural artifact make possible? What can people do or imagine, thanks to this artifact, that they could not before? Conversely, (4) what does this cultural artifact make impossible (or at least very difficult)? What activities and experiences that were previously part of the human experience become all but impossible in the wake of this new thing? Often this is the most interesting question of all, especially because so much technological culture is presented exclusively in terms of what it will make possible.
• Finally, because culture inevitably begets more culture, we have to look at the effect of this artifact on future culture. (5) What new forms of culture are created in response to this artifact? What is cultivated and created that could not have been before?
• So this is what culture does: it defines the horizons of the possible and the impossible in very concrete, tangible ways.
• Indeed, without culture, literally nothing would be possible for human beings. To say that culture creates the horizons of possibility is to speak literal, not just figurative or metaphorical, truth.
• Culture requires a public: a group of people who have been sufficiently affected by a cultural good that their horizons of possibility and impossibility have in fact been altered, and their own cultural creativity has been spurred, by that good’s existence.
• Until an artifact is shared, it is not culture.
• We can’t speak of culture without speaking of particular “publics”: specific groups of people who are affected by particular acts of making something of the world.
• Multiculturalism begins with the simple observation that the cumulative, creative process of human culture has happened in widely different places, with widely different results, throughout human history.
• So when we speak of “ethnic” cultures we are referring to these extraordinarily complex, rich collections of traditions of culture making, each rooted in a particular set of times and places.
• I learned several things about culture during my visit to probate court. Poverty is not just a matter of lacking financial resources; it can also simply mean being cut off from cultural power. To be poor is to be unable to “make something of the world.”
• But there are even smaller scales at which culture happens. A basic unit of culture is the family.
• Food and language, two of culture’s most far-reaching forms, begin in the home, which may encompass a “public” as small as two people.
• Until we leave our families and venture into the homes of our neighbors and friends, or perhaps the family home of our future spouse, we are likely not even to realize all the ways that our family sets our horizons.
• Family is culture at its smallest-and it’s most powerful.
• The larger the scale of culture, the less anyone can plausibly claim to be a “culture maker.”
• So finding our place in the world as culture makers requires us to pay attention to cultures many dimensions.
• We will make something of the world in a particular ethnic tradition, in particular spheres, at particular scales.
• There is no such thing as “the Culture,” and any attempt to talk about “the Culture,” especially in terms of “transforming the Culture,” is misled and misleading.
• If progress is not the right word for buildings or poems, what is the right way to evaluate cultural change? I suggest integrity.
• The bigger the change we hope for, the longer we must be willing to invest, work and wait for it. It is possible to change things quickly for the worse.
• But no one can build the World Trade Center in two hours. The only thing you can do with Rome in a day is burn it.
• All the more so, the most beneficial events possible have little positive effect in the short run.
• It was not until several hundred years had passed that the Christian movement, with the assistance of a possibly converted and certainly savvy emperor named Constantine, began to shape the horizons of the Roman Empire. Even the resurrection of Jesus, the most extraordinary intervention of God in history, took hundreds of years to have widespread cultural effects.
• So hope in a future revolution, or revival, to solve the problems of our contemporary culture is usually misplaced.
• The biggest cultural mistake we can indulge in is to yearn for technological “solutions” to our deepest cultural “problems.”
• The only meaningful use of the phrase “the culture” is embedded in a longer phrase: the culture of a particular sphere, at a particular scale, for a particular people or public (ethnicity), at a particular time.
• To define culture as what human beings make of the world is to make clear that culture is much more than a “worldview.
• One of the best expositions of the importance of worldview, Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton’s The Transforming Vision, defines worldview this way: World views are perceptual frameworks. They are ways of seeing…. Our world view determines our values. It helps us interpret the world around us. It sorts out what is important from what is not, what is of highest value from what is least. A world view, then, provides a model of the world which guides its adherents in the world.
• What is privileged above all in the world of worldview is analysis.
• The danger of reducing culture to worldview is that we may miss the most distinctive thing about culture, which is that cultural goods have a life of their own.
• The interstate highway system was not just the result of a worldview, it was the source of a new way of viewing the world.
• The language of worldview tends to imply, to paraphrase the Catholic writer Richard Rohr, that we can think ourselves into new ways of behaving. But that is not the way culture works. Culture helps us behave ourselves into new ways of thinking. But culture is not changed simply by thinking.
• Consider this a parable of cultural change, illustrating this fundamental rule: The only way to change culture is to create more of it.
• First, culture is the accumulation of very tangible things-the stuff people make of the world.
• Second, as the philosopher Albert Borgmann has observed, human cultures have the strange yet fortunate property of always being full. No culture experiences itself as thin or incomplete.
• So if we seek to change culture, we will have to create something new, something that will persuade our neighbors to set aside some existing set of cultural goods for our new proposal.
• It is the very rare human being who will give up some set of cultural goods just because someone condemns them. They need something better, or their current set of cultural goods will have to do, as deficient as they may be.
• Copying culture. Another, rather different approach to unsatisfactory culture is to imitate it, replacing the offensive bits with more palatable ones. When we copy culture within our own private enclaves, the culture at large remains unchanged.
• The reality of life in a globalized culture is that individual consumers, or even large groups of consumers, can only very rarely consume their way into cultural change.
• The only way to motivate a large enough bloc of consumers to act in a way that really shapes the horizons of possibility and impossibility, in Hollywood or any other massive cultural enterprise, is to create an alternative.
• Creativity is the only viable source of change.
• The more each of us knows about our cultural domain, the more likely we are to create something new and worthwhile.
• All culture making requires a choice, conscious or unconscious, to take our place in a cultural tradition. We cannot make culture without culture. And this means that creation begins with cultivation-taking care of the good things that culture has already handed on to us. The first responsibility of culture makers is not to make something new but to become fluent in the cultural tradition to which we are responsible. Before we can be culture makers, we must be culture keepers.
• We can only create where we have learned to cultivate.
• The most demanding forms of cultivation are disciplines-long apprenticeships in the rudiments of a cultural form, small things done over and over that create new capacities in us over time. As small and seemingly insignificant as they are, disciplines can have powerful cultural effects.
• So underneath almost every act of culture making we find countless small acts of culture keeping.
• Cultural creativity requires cultural maturity.
• We have to pay a great deal of attention to the fundamentalists, their children and their children’s children. Far from fading into cultural irrelevance, Christians of traditional theological convictions have come to enjoy the greatest cultural prominence they have known since the nineteenth century-though true nineteenth-century-style dominance is well out of reach.
• The story of mainline Protestants’ engagement with culture is largely unidirectional-greater and greater accommodation paradoxically accompanied by smaller and smaller influence.
• But the movement that most signaled a change in conservative Christians’ posture toward culture was started by an intellectually adventuresome evangelist named Francis Schaeffer, who along with his wife, Edith, formed in the mountains of Switzerland a community called L’Abri that attracted a generation of believing and unbelieving seekers. The posture the Schaeffers modeled toward culture was different from the fundamentalists’: they sought to “engage” it, a term that would become a watchword for a whole evangelical generation.
• This was a dramatic and positive shift from fundamentalism’s negativism. Yet as with all movements, L’Abri was both empowered by and limited by the temperament of its founding generation. The dominant posture toward culture the movement adopted was analysis-often impressively nuanced and learned analysis, to be sure. To “engage” the culture became, and is still today, a near-synonym for thinking about the culture. It was assumed, as we observed earlier, that action would follow from reflection, and transformation would follow from information. But the faculties that were most fully developed and valued were the ability to analyze and critique, not to actually sort out how to participate in the hurly-burly of cultural creativity in a pluralistic world. It is perhaps not unfair to say that to this day, evangelicalism, so deeply influenced by the Schaeffers and their many protégés, still produces better art critics than artists.
• The rise of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) was a turning point in the shaping of evangelicalism as we know it today. No Christian movement in the twentieth century had so adroitly borrowed energy from the mainstream culture.
• The dominant posture among self-described evangelicals today toward culture is neither condemnation nor critique, nor even CCM’s imitation, but simply consumption.
• If anything, when I am among evangelical Christians I find that they seem to be more avidly consuming the latest offerings of commercial culture, whether Pirates of the Caribbean or Ike Simpsons or The Sopranos, than many of my non-Christian friends.
• I’ve found that a helpful word for these various responses is postures. Our posture is our learned but unconscious default position, our natural stance. It is the position our body assumes when we aren’t paying attention, the basic attitude we carry through life.
• Now, in the course of a day I may need any number of bodily gestures. Over time, certain gestures may become habit-that is, become part of our posture.
• Something similar, it seems to me, has happened at each stage of American Christians’ engagement with culture. Appropriate gestures toward particular cultural goods can become, over time, part of the posture Christians unconsciously adopt toward every cultural situation and setting. Indeed, the appeal of the various postures of condemning, critiquing, copying and consuming-the reason that all of them are still very much with us-is that each of these responses to culture is, at certain times and with specific cultural goods, a necessary gesture.
• Among cultural artifacts around us right now, there are no doubt some that merit condemnation. Pornography is an astonishingly large and powerful industry that creates nothing good and destroys many lives.
• Critiquing culture. Some cultural artifacts deserve to be critiqued. Perhaps the clearest example is the fine arts, which exist almost entirely to spark conversation about ideas and ideals, to raise questions about our cultural moment, and to prompt new ways of seeing the natural and cultural world.
• The problem is not with any of these gestures-condemning, critiquing, consuming, copying. All of them can be appropriate responses to particular cultural goods. Indeed, each of them may be the only appropriate response to a particular cultural good. But the problem comes when these gestures become too familiar, become the only way we know how to respond to culture, become etched into our unconscious stance toward the world and become postures.
• If we are known mostly for our ability to poke holes in every human project, we will probably not be known as people who bear the hope and mercy of God.
• Critique as a posture, while an improvement over condemnation as a posture, can leave us strangely unable simply to enjoy cultural goods, preoccupied with our interrogation of their “worldview” and “presuppositions.”
• The greatest danger of copying culture, as a posture, is that it may well become all too successful. We end up creating an entire subcultural world within which Christians comfortably move and have their being without ever encountering the broader cultural world they are imitating.
• Of all the possible postures toward culture, consumption is the one that lives most unthinkingly within a culture’s preexisting horizons of possibility and impossibility.
• The two postures that are most characteristically biblical-the two postures that have been least explored by Christians in the last century. They are found at the very beginning of the human story, according to Genesis: like our first parents, we are to be creators and cultivators. Or to put it more poetically, we are artists and gardeners.
• I wonder what we Christians are known for in the world outside our churches. Are we known as critics, consumers, copiers, condemners of culture? I’m afraid so.
• Why aren’t we known as cultivators-people who tend and nourish what is best in human culture, who do the hard and painstaking work to preserve the best of what people before us have done? Why aren’t we known as creators-people who dare to think and do something that has never been thought or done before, something that makes the world more welcoming and thrilling and beautiful?
• And the simple truth is that in the mainstream of culture, cultivation and creativity are the postures that confer legitimacy for the other gestures.
• Even more so, those who go beyond being mere custodians to creating new cultural goods are the ones who have the world’s attention.
• Indeed, those who have cultivated and created are precisely the ones who have the legitimacy to condemn-whose denunciations, rare and carefully chosen, carry outsize weight.
• If there is a constructive way forward for Christians in the midst of our broken but also beautiful cultures, it will require us to recover these two biblical postures of cultivation and creation. And that recovery will involve revisiting the biblical story itself, where we discover that God is more intimately and eternally concerned with culture than we have yet come to believe.
• Of course, what we have seen most clearly is that “In the beginning, God created.” So when the human beings, male and female, are created “in God’s image,” surely the primary implication is that they will reflect the creative character of their Maker.
• From the beginning, creation requires cultivation, in the sense of paying attention to ordering and dividing what already exists into fruitful spaces.
• God does not simply create randomly or willy-nilly, but according to a cultivated plan, with the keen attention of a horticulturist or zoologist to species and their proper place in the created order. Indeed, for this Creator, order is itself a gift, a fruitful space.
• Creation at its best leaves us joyful, not jaded.
• Here we get a crucial correction to a potential misunderstanding of our definition of culture as what we make of the world (and a gentle rebuke to the farmer’s understandable skepticism): it is not just nature that is God’s gift to humanity. Culture is a gift as well. In the biblical view culture is not simply something we have made up on our own-God was the first gardener, the first culture maker.
• Genesis 1 is above all about the Creator’s creativity and humankind’s creativity in God’s image-with a secondary emphasis on the role of cultivation in taking proper care of creation. But in Genesis 2 the primary emphasis is on cultivation.
• God’s first and best gift to humanity is culture, the realm in which human beings themselves will be the cultivators and creators, ultimately contributing to the cosmic purposes of the Cultivator and Creator of the natural world.
• We began as gardeners.
• Once their posture is deformed, once they have broken their relationship of trust with God, they also lose their trust with one another. They sewed fig leaves together-the first human act after the consumption of the fruit is cultural, the creation of that basic cultural good called clothing. They make something of the world.
• From Genesis 3 to 11, the narrative of culture is a steady descent from the creativity and the cultivation of Eden to desperate and violent perversions of culture, slathered with self-justification, shame and recrimination.
• This, then, is one of the arcs of the story of Genesis 1-11, from the fig leaves to the tower.
• Culture attempts to deal with the consequences of sin.
• With their primordial story, the chapters of Genesis 1-11 already stand apart from what follows in Genesis 12 and beyond in their form, style and content. They are less a finely documented history than a story that invites our trust. In this way they are very much like the other bookend of the Bible, the book of Revelation-also a story that stands outside recorded human history.
• Revelation 21:2 is the last thing a careful reader of Genesis 1-11 would expect: in the remade world, the center of God’s creative delight is not a garden but a city.
• Genesis 3, the story of the Fall, is full of bad news, including cultural bad news.
• Not only do the man and woman immediately turn to culture-loincloths made of leaves-to protect themselves from the sudden alienation brought on by sin, God also serves notice that in the wake of the Fall both nature and culture will be corrupted as a sign of judgment.
• To the man, God pronounces another natural and cultural judgment. Nature itself will turn against humanity.
• In fact, at every point in Genesis 3-11, human culture’s darkest moments provoke not just God’s explicit and sorrowful judgment, they also prompt a cultural countermove, a new cultural artifact introduced by God into the story to protect human beings from the worst consequences of their choices.
• A nation is, fundamentally, culture plus time: a culture extensive enough and complex enough to be passed on through multiple generations and retain its distinctive identity.
• There is no such thing as instant culture.
• His culture making does not begin with the mighty and powerful; it begins with “the fewest of all peoples,” in the most unlikely place.
• God’s intervention in human culture will be unmistakably marked by grace-it will not be the inevitable working out of the world’s way of cultural change, the logical unfolding of preexisting power and privilege.
• So the whole of the Hebrew Bible, from Genesis 12 to Malachi 4, can be seen as a record of Israel’s education in faith-not “faith” as a purely spiritual or religious enterprise, but as a cultural practice of dependence on the world’s Creator that encompasses everything from military strategy to songwriting.
• Jesus was first of all a culture cultivator.
• Jesus’ cultural creativity encompassed much more than words and texts. He dramatically altered the practice of meals, He stretched the horizons of traditional rituals. As innovative as his teachings were, his adversaries seem to have been most provoked by his actions. And this should not be surprising to us: it is the embodied practices of a culture that most powerfully enforce what that culture makes of the world.
• Jesus had a profoundly cultural phrase for his mission: the kingdom of God.
• For as Jesus saw it, Israel’s horizons were misplaced. The Sermon on the Mount is a case study in Jesus’ moving the horizons of possibility and impossibility.
• It is often observed that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus takes the commandments of the law, which applied to external behavior, and applies them to the internal state of human hearts-but his prescription for changing the heart involves changes in culture.
• But Jesus’ calling went even deeper than this-far deeper than simply being a good example of what Israel should have been all along. His calling was to take upon himself all of Israel’s failure, all of its cultural dead ends, the accumulated history of independence from God that had led to a seemingly inescapable, permanent state of exile. In order for the culturally creative movement Jesus sought to unleash to flourish, the brokenness of culture had to be faced head on. And so Jesus accepted the calling of the cross. The cross is the culmination of the mordant story which began in Genesis 3-the story of culture gone wrong.
• What is more, we have solid evidence that Jesus’ vocation, his sense of his role in the story of God’s epic intervention in human culture, had included the cross from early on.
• But what has not been so widely commented on is the way that the resurrection was a culture-shaping event-in fact, arguably the most culturally significant event in history.
• It is fundamentally a statement of bald historical fact: the resurrection, if indeed it happened as Jesus’ followers proclaimed, changed more of subsequent human history, for more people and more cultures, than any other event we can name.
• Of all the things cultures conserve most carefully-of all that they are most committed to cultivating-among the most important are ritual and time.
• The resurrection of Jesus is like a cultural earthquake, its epicenter located in Jerusalem in the early 30s, whose aftershocks are still being felt in the cultural practices of people all over the world, many of whom have never heard of, and many more of whom have never believed in, its origins.
• The resurrection is the hinge of history-still after two thousand years as culturally far-reaching in its effects as anything that has come since. Indeed, one of the most dramatic cultural effects of the resurrection is the transformation of that heinous cultural artifact known as a cross.
• Which means that Acts is about culture. Cities, as we see in Genesis 11, are the place where culture reaches critical mass.
• And that crisis has everything to do with culture-indeed, it might be said to be the place where the issue of faith and culture is most directly raised in the entire New Testament.
• Every ethnos had an ethos-every people had a custom, a distinctive way of making something of the world.
• The events of Acts marked a dramatic turning point in the way biblical people think about culture. The essence of Israel was to be a singular and distinctive culture. But suddenly, faithful Jews, disciples of a Galilean Messiah, were traveling throughout the Roman Empire, taking advantage of that empire’s notable cultural accomplishments in transport and trade to invite members of any and all cultures into their community.
• Indeed, what the Holy Spirit unleashed through the first Christians was nothing less than a cultural revolution-a far-reaching wave of cultural creativity that reshaped the Roman Empire.
• One of the best accounts of the cultural effects of the early church is sociologist Rodney Stark’s book The Rise of Christianity.
• In simpler terms, Christian belief was neither just the product of social forces in Roman culture; nor was it a culturally inert “private” matter. The belief of Christians that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead made them culture makers, and the culture they created was so attractive that by the fourth century A.D., an entire empire was on the verge of faith.
• And at the very end of Revelation, just as at the very beginning of Genesis, we find culture in a prominent role.
• And here we arrive at the heart of Revelation’s cultural vision. The city is already a cultural artifact, the work of a master Architect and Artist. The citizens themselves are the redeemed people of the Lamb, drawn from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). But God’s handiwork, artifacts and people alike, are not all that is found in the city. Also in the city are “the glory and the honor of the nations”-brought into the city by none other than “the kings of the earth.”
• Will all human culture find a lasting place in the New Jerusalem? Clearly not.
• And it seems certain that every cultural artifact will have to undergo a radical transformation of some sort just as gold, translucent when beaten, will become capable of transparency.
• It is not just culture that is rescued, redeemed and transformed-nature also flourishes as it was always intended to, now that God has rendered judgment on “those who destroy the earth” (Rev 11:18). The tree of life is no longer prohibited or perilous. The city does not pave over the garden-the garden is at the city’s heart, lush and green with life.
• Culture, then, is the furniture of heaven.
• So it’s a fascinating exercise to ask about any cultural artifact: can we imagine this making it into the New Jerusalem?
• We should ask the same question about our own cultural creativity and cultivating. Are we creating and cultivating things that have a chance of furnishing the New Jerusalem?
• Yet the best of their work may survive. Can that be said of the goods that we are devoting our lives to? This is, it seems to me, a standard for cultural responsibility that is both more demanding and more liberating than the ways Christians often gauge our work’s significance. We tend to have altogether too short a time frame for the worth of our work.
• Culture-redeemed, transformed and permeated by the presence of God-will be the activity of eternity.
• So culture will ultimately fulfill Genesis 1’s mandate-humanity will ultimately comprehend and have our proper dominion over all of creation.
• To put it most boldly: culture is God’s original plan for humanity-and it is God’s original gift to humanity, both duty and grace. Culture is the scene of humanity’s rebellion against their Creator, the scene of judgment-and it is also the setting of God’s mercy.
• He is crushed by culture, experiencing the full weight of its brokenness on the cross-yet his resurrection begins a slow but inexorable redemption of culture, offering a down payment on the hope that culture’s story will not have a dead end but rather a new beginning.
• In sum, the only story that can truly be named the “good news” is absolutely, completely saturated with culture.
• In a lovely Christmas book for children, Madeleine L’Engle called the incarnation “the glorious impossible”-an unthinkable idea that nevertheless shines with possibility and hope. It’s a good description of the gospel as a whole. And it is precisely the impossibility of the gospel that makes it so culturally potent and so perennially relevant. The gospel constantly challenges every human culture with the possibility that we live within misplaced horizons.
• But just as the gospel never is comfortably contained in the realm of the culturally possible, it also never disappears from the horizon altogether.
• Here, at the end of this section on the biblical story of culture, seems like the right place to digress to the most influential theological work on culture in the twentieth century, H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture. If you have been waiting impatiently for a reference to Niebuhr and his famous “types” or “motifs” of Christian responses to culture, the wait is over; if not, you may well want to skim or skip the next few pages, as it is hard to engage Niebuhr’s important book without a certain amount of technical vocabulary.
• On one end of Niebuhr’s scale are those who see Christ against culture and see the Christian duty as withdrawal from the world; at the other end are those who see culture as so fully agreeing with Christ that they can make him a Christ of culture.
• While Niebuhr does not conclude Christ and Culture with a ringing endorsement of any of the five motifs, there is no doubt that most readers have left their encounter with Niebuhr most inclined toward the language of transformation.
• If there is one theme woven through the whole biblical witness on culture, it is this idea that culture, in all its best forms, is God’s gift.
• And we are world changers because we are culture makers. As we have seen already, making something of the world is of the very essence of what we are meant to be and do.
• So world changing begins with a cultural good-but to rise to the level of “changing the world” that good would have to be taken up by an incredibly wide public.
• The first key to answering these questions is to invoke a favorite distinction of philosophers: the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. So what are the all-important sufficient conditions for cultural influence? The sobering truth is that at a large enough scale, there are no sufficient conditions for cultural change.
• There is no way to ensure cultural success-to ensure that a given cultural good will shape horizons in the way its creator may hope.
• Our ability to change culture-or, if you like, “change the world”-is a matter of scale.
• So can we change the world? Yes and no. On a small enough scale, yes, of course we can. But the world is sufficiently complex, not to mention sufficiently broken, that the small scale of our own cultural capacity is never sufficient.
• To further complicate our hopes of changing the world, it is worth remembering that world-changing power resides much more in cultural goods themselves than in the people who created those goods.
• Indeed, over time, the unintended consequences of a given cultural good almost always swamp the intended consequences in magnitude, the unspoken assumption in nearly every Christian use of that phrase is that our cultural activity will change the world for the better.
• Christians have learned from the Gospel of John and the letters of Paul that “the world” is a name for a realm of systemic active rebellion against God’s purposes.
• And history is just another word for the story of how cultures have changed through time.
• God has been involved in culture making from the very beginning.
• Is there a way to talk about God’s purpose for culture that does not fall into the idolatry of our particular cause and moment? If there is, it will require us to go back to the places, times and texts where the Christian tradition declares unambiguously that God has been revealed. And in that tradition two events stand out, not only for their central place in the biblical narrative but for their indisputable culture-making power: the exodus and the resurrection.
• The exodus does not just have religious significance. It stakes a claim to human history.
• Likewise, we have already seen that the historical resurrection of Jesus is quite possibly the only adequate explanation of the myriad cultural effects that still follow, like the aftershocks of an earthquake, two thousand years after Jesus’ death.
• One inescapable feature of both events is that they show God at work in the lives of the powerless.
• As we will see in chapter fourteen, creating cultural goods by definition requires cultural power.
• These two defining cultural events (exodus and resurrection) also reveal a surprising additional theme on closer inspection. Not only do the exodus and resurrection signal God’s concern for the powerless, they display his ongoing engagement with the powerful.
• Above all, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are the culmination of the most extraordinary possible convergence of power and powerlessness.
• I believe this pattern-God working with the poor and the rich, the powerless and the powerful-serves as a kind of template for seeking out what God might be doing now in our human cultures.
• The end of apartheid, of course, was cultural change on a massive scale. But it is clear from Scripture that God is equally interested in smaller-scale cultural change-and many of the most momentous changes start small.
• What is God doing in culture? What is his vision for the horizons of the possible and the impossible? Who are the poor who are having good news preached to them? Who are the powerful who are called to spend their power alongside the relatively powerless? Where is the impossible becoming possible?
• Cultural power can be defined very simply as the ability to successfully propose a new cultural good.
• Culture changes when new cultural goods-concrete, tangible artifacts, whether books or tools or buildings-are introduced into the world.
• An important corollary of this definition of power that no one has the power to impose a cultural good. No one ever knows how much power they have. And no one ever has enough power.
• The only place to begin is with the goodness of power and with the recognition of power as a gift.
• For the basic thing we are invited to do with our cultural power is to spend it alongside those less powerful than ourselves.
• Stewards, by definition, are custodians of cultural power-responsible, as many of Jesus’ parables make clear, not just for their masters’ wealth but for representing the masters’ interests when they are away.
• Campaigns-stewardship is a very good word indeed for we who are custodians of God’s resurrection power in the midst of the world.
• Stewardship means to consciously take up our cultural power, investing it intentionally among the seemingly powerless, putting our power at their disposal to enable them to cultivate and create.
• All culture making is local.
• Now, for any cultural good to reach its full potential, the efforts of more than three people will be required. There will need to be concentric circles of people around the initial three who join in refining and shaping the three’s initial proposal.
• The essential insight of 3: 12: 120 is that every cultural innovation, no matter how far-reaching its consequences, is based on personal relationships and personal commitment.
• And yet the almost uncanny thing about culture making is that a small group is enough.
• Absolutely no one makes culture alone.
• So one of the most important questions for our calling is, who are your 3?
• The parable of the prodigal sower is first of all about Jesus’ own ministry strategy. But it also applies very closely to the work of culture making. Parables, after all, are cultural goods-new ways of making something of the world.
• The right question is whether, when we undertake the work we believe to be our vocation, we experience the joy and humility that come only when God multiplies our work so that it bears thirty, sixty and a hundredfold beyond what we could expect from our feeble inputs.
• Vocation-calling-becomes another word for a continual process of discernment, examining the fruits of our work to see whether they are producing that kind of fruit, and doing all we can to scatter the next round of seed in the most fruitful places.
• I believe the single best question for discerning our calling-the specific cultural sphere and scale where we and our communities of 3, 12 and 120 are called to cultivate and create-is where do you experience grace-divine multiplication that far exceeds your efforts?
• The very divine multiplication that gives us joy and delight in the midst of our cultural calling also leads us directly to the places where the world is most in pain.
• Frederick Buechner writes that your calling is found “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
• Crouch’s conclusion is:
“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.”

One thought on “Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch

  1. This is on my to read list.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s