Culture Making

Sean Lucas
A couple of days ago, I had some time to read on a flight to Philadelphia, and so was able finally to finish Andy Crouch's new book, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling. I have to admit that the pre-pub buzz around the book didn't make me very hopeful; as I've noted before, I'm a bit of a contrarian when it comes to various cultural phenomenon. If people tell me that something is a must-read, I tend to be a bit skeptical.

That said, I was pleasantly blown-away by Crouch's book. Several quick thoughts: Divided in three major sections (Culture, Gospel, and Calling), he covers all the major ground in ways that surprise and often delight. For example, his working definition of culture ("culture is what we make of the world" p. 23) is helpfully teased throughout the book, especially in the "Gospel" section where he provided a biblical-theological telling of culture.

Not only this, but it strikes me that seeing culture as a human artifact coheres nicely with anthropological and various theological understandings of culture (thinking of Clifford Geertz and H. Richard Niebuhr). Thankfully, Niebuhr's taxonomy doesn't appear in the book until the book is 2/3rds through; this has the salutary effect of actually doing "new" and helpful work on the issue outside of the conventional wrestling with the classic taxonomy.

I loved the approach of talking about "postures" and "gestures" toward culture. To me, this seems to incorporate George Marsden's observation (to which more people need to pay attention) that the Niebuhrian taxonomy is limited because the various "Christ v. culture" approaches can actually occur at the same time. Crouch recognizes this when he talks about postures as our "learned but unconscious default position" and gestures as an appropriate move or response toward particular opportunities and/or challenges. And so, condemning, critiquing, copying, or consuming culture can all be appropriate gestures or even postures depending on circumstance and the cultural good considered.

One of the best sections on the book was the chapter on "power." So many unconsciously imbibe the postmodern critique of power without recognizing the reality of power and authority when it comes to culture. Not only does Crouch defend well cultural power as a "good," granted by God, but also suggests a Christian approach to the use of power, namely service. Helpfully juxtaposing Princess Diana and Mother Teresa as types of power, I found this to be an extremely helpful and important chapter.

One last thing to praise was the chaste humility of the book. The chapter, "why we can't change the world," was exactly the right tonic for so much of evangelical (and Reformed/Kuyperian) cultural transformation rhetoric. Rather, God is the one who is transforming culture; that is his mission, not ours. [One place that is starred in my copy: "Beware of world changers--they have not yet learned the true meaning of sin" p. 200] God's call to us is to pay attention to what the Maker of the world is doing in his world and to join in his culture making. While some may find this chapter deflating, it was actually quite encouraging to me--I could never figure out how to change the world anyway.

All to say, Culture Making probably is one of those rare must-read books that comes along every so often. A book of rare learning, helpful and accessible synthesis, and godly humility, it might actually change the evangelical culture on how to make and engage culture. If so, all I can say is thanks be to God.