Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling
With all the books on the market about the intersection of faith and culture, you have to wonder why we need another one. The answer is simple: it's unlikely that any other book out there accomplishes what CULTURE MAKING does, and certainly not in the way that Andy Crouch does.
Crouch --- columnist for Christianity Today, documentary filmmaker and classically trained musician --- begins his discussion of culture with the birth of a baby, setting us up for the staggering scope of the content to come. But Crouch deftly reins in what could be an unwieldy amount of material, first by providing concrete images (such as an omelet) to describe the way people create culture, second by giving simple and understandable definitions of culture (such as "the accumulation of very tangible things --- the stuff people make of the world"), and third by organizing the material around the basic premise that "the only way to change culture is to create more of it."
If that last quote leaves you bewildered ("And just how do we create more culture?"), rest assured that Crouch doesn't leave you stranded. But before he shows how we can creatively make more culture, he examines the four ways Christians typically respond to the culture around them: condemning it (ineffective unless we offer an alternative), critiquing it (with no lasting influence unless something new is created), copying it (such "Christian" films with limited distribution and influence) and consuming it (or not consuming it, as in boycotts that seldom have the intended impact). Creativity, Crouch maintains, is the only source of change in culture, the only way we can have the impact we want.
In writing about changing the culture, Crouch is not referring to a kind of grandiose scheme to take the world for Jesus. Instead, he sees a "great irony" in our obsession with becoming world changers: "The rise of interest in cultural transformation has been accompanied by a rise in cultural transformation of a different sort --- the transformation of the church into the culture's image. …Changing the world is the one thing we cannot do. As it turns out, fully embracing this paradoxical reality is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian culture maker." What we can do, he writes, is change the culture on a smaller scale, at a particular time and place.
In fact, Crouch maintains that all cultural change --- whether it's a new recipe for an omelet or a new law that is enacted or a new word that enters our common lexicon --- begins not with an impressive presentation before thousands but with a small group of, say, three people. And that's where our potential as culture makers lies: with a small circle of grace-filled people who will partner with us to discern and encourage each other's dreams, gifts and creativity, in a spirit of holy humility.
CULTURE MAKING will easily resonate with three groups of readers in particular: those who have a passion for impacting the culture, those who feel so insignificant that they don't see how they could possibly "make" culture, and those who appreciate both meaty content and wonderful writing. Consider this: "There is a grace-filled power loose in the world that far outstrips our greatest human ambitions and can quiet our deepest human fears. We enter into the work of cultural creativity…as participants in the story of new creation that comes just when our power seems to have been extinguished. Culture making becomes…the astonished and grateful response of people who have been rescued from the worst that culture and nature can do." Substantial content, beautifully expressed.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on November 13, 2011