Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, by Andy Crouch. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008. 284 pp.[A1] $26.00.
Andy Crouch is an influential evangelical, as his résumé plainly reveals: long-time InterVarsity campus minister at Harvard, former editor of re:generation quarterly, editorial director of the Christian Vision Project at Christianity Today International, board member for Fuller Seminary and for Books & Culture. Crouch’s book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling may be the most important part of that résumé, because Crouch has written an important book deserving a careful reading.
Toward the end of the book, Crouch points out that “changing the world” is a peculiarly turn-of-the-21st-century phrase; multiple recent book titles contain it. Christians in particular have become fascinated with the idea that they can “engage the culture,” transforming it for the better. Crouch is skeptical of that fascination. His book is not merely a pep talk for Christians engaging the culture. Crouch is far more balanced because he is far more scriptural. If he is on a bandwagon, he is at least playing a well-tuned instrument and standing squarely over the center of gravity.
The heart of the book comes in a taxonomy of ways one can approach any given cultural artifact, from highways to ham radios. Crouch distinguishes between “gestures and postures”: one cannot keep the same posture toward all offerings of culture, he says. One cannot condemn everything or consume everything. Crouch suggests instead that we should view his characteristic responses to culture as gestures, something you do depending on the occasion. He starts by describing four such gestures:
- Condemning culture
- Critiquing culture
- Copying culture
- Consuming culture
One or another Christian group has made each of these a consistent posture, Crouch says, and that concerns him. Some Christians characteristically condemn culture and withdraw from it. Heady evangelicals—Francis Schaeffer is Crouch’s primary example—critique it. The Jesus Movement and CCM copy culture. And most modern evangelicals simply consume it. Crouch argues, however, that none of these gestures should become postures. Some cultural goods should be flatly condemned, others carefully critiqued, others copied, many just consumed. It was here that I read an extremely powerful passage I have thought of often:
Most evangelicals today no longer forbid going to the movies, nor do we engage in earnest Francis Schaeffer-style critiques of the films we see—we simply go to the movies and, in the immortal word of Keanu Reeves, say, “Whoa.” We walk out of the movie theater amused, titillated, distracted or thrilled, just like our fellow consumers who do not share our faith. 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 The Simpsons or The Sopranos, than many of my non-Christian neighbors. They are content to be just like their fellow Americans, or perhaps, driven by a lingering sense of shame at their uncool forebears, just slightly more like their fellow Americans than anyone else. (89)
Picking up the argument again: we can’t stop with these four gestures, and here Crouch gets to his major contribution by adding two more C’s. Christians should have the ongoing postures of:
- Creating culture
- Cultivating culture
We should care for, preserve, and develop what is good in the cultural traditions we have received (97). Within the space created for us by previous generations, we should add to those traditions by creating new cultural goods. This, Crouch argues, is something God designed us to do from the beginning.
Crouch spends part two of his book telling the story of God’s world from that beginning to its intended end—and you may be surprised to find what the Bible says about the culture(s) of eternity. Part three provides practical warnings (a great deal of them) and suggestions for working with God to carry out the culture-making commands of Scripture.
I have a few complaints about Crouch’s work: he wastes three pages needlessly dismissing a straightforward reading of Genesis 1–2 which he elsewhere relies upon, and he makes a few minor overstatements. But I do not think these errors affect the substance of his argument.
This is not a book full of vague platitudes about “engaging the culture” or “redeeming” it. It is a careful scriptural study. Crouch is not a theonomist; he does not ever recommend the violent takeover of public institutions. His ambitions seem a good bit more realistic.
In the period since I read Crouch’s work, I have found that “creating” and “cultivating” culture are important ideas with real biblical weight behind them. If you want to take your liberal arts education seriously and Christianly, read this book.
Mark L. Ward