Andy Crouch has spent his life in the heart and soul of culture-making as an Inter Varsity leader at Harvard; as an editor for Christianity Today; and as a writer and conference speaker. His new book, “Culture-Making: Recovering our creative calling,” is saturated with the wealth of experience he has had as a culture-maker himself. The first five chapters are dedicated to discussing culture (entitled Culture); the second six chapters are dedicated to discussing culture in the biblical-story (entitled Gospel); the last five chapters are dedicated to discussing Christian’s calling in light of the nature of culture and the gospel (entitled Calling).
I’m going to follow Crouch’s three-fold division for this review and summary of his work. Before I jump in there are a number of relevant web links created for his book that I want to point you to.
- The website for his book.
- The Facebook fan site for his book.
- An interview with Andy Crouch done by Good Will Hinton
- Gideon Strauss’s short review over at Christianity Today
- Al Hsu’s link list to five chapters from Culture-Making for free online
01 The Horizons of the Possible
Crouch says people have missed what culture’s true nature is because they’ve gotten stuck in a single category of culture like pop-culture or high-culture and under appreciated culture’s ultimate value. In order to help his audience come to terms with this he connects culture to three significant begins: birth, history, and the Biblical creation account. Culture-making is wrapped up in each of the separate beginnings and its impossible to understand them outside of culture.
Next Crouch defines culture from some of the points he just developed in the three beginnings. 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.” (pg. 22) Culture is: how we make sense of the world by making something of the world. “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.” (pg. 25) to illustrate this last point Andy spends time discussing the ripple effects rivers and highways have made on human social patterns. Culture necessarily limits the possible and impossibleness of what humanity can do.
So if this is what culture is then how can we diagnos the cultural impacts around us? Crouch gives his readers five diagnostic questions: 1) what does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world is?; 2) what does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world should be?; what does this cultural artifact make impossible (or at least very difficult)?; and 5) what new forms of culture are created in response to this artifact? These questions are important because culture does things, its not a cold artifact on the observation table of sociologists. Culture is deeply effectual, “it defines the horizons of the possible and the impossible in very concrete, tangible ways.” (pg. 34)
02 Cultural Worlds
If culture is what humans make of the world what happens when things human make don’t shape culture? They loose their cultural value, because culture though personal in its effect is public in its construct. “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.” (pg. 38) In a playful sub-heading called “Real Artists Ship” Crouch bears out why its important for culture to be a people rather than a person constructed reality. One example of the impact of culture being created by people rather than a person alone is multi-culturalism that has moved off the textbook page into most people’s experience who live in a two hour radius of major urban centers.
If culture-making requires people and not just persons then it follows that culture-making happens in spheres and in scales within each sphere. The larger the scale in each sphere the more people it takes to construct it and at times the less residual impact it has on people. What is the most powerful scale for culture-making? “Family is culture at its smallest – and its most powerful.” (pg. 46) Its not hard to see where this is headed for Crouch, if culture-making is vital to who we are as people made in God’s image and it happens at communal/people scales rather than personal scales then there are only so many scales we can be culture-makers within. And the cultural diversity in our country makes that glaringly certain.
“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. Real culture making, not to mean cultural transformation, begins with a decision about which cultural world – or, better, worlds – we will attempt to make something of.” (pg. 49)
03 Teardowns, Technology, and Change
If culture takes as much as Crouch says it takes to create then this is a sad realization to come to but an inevitable one – culture changes. And change requires evaluative tools as well as language. Crouch isn’t found of the word progress, rather he likes integrity; culture-making should aim at integrity. “We can speak of progress when a certain arena of culture is more whole, more faithful to the world of which it is making something. That world includes the previous instances of culture created by generations before us.” (pg. 54)
“Culture is constantly changing, and different kinds of culture change at different rates.” (pg. 56) As one might guess culture changes faster if it has a weaker impact on what is possible and impossible for people’s worlds. Great culture-making takes a great deal of time, unfortunately as 9/11 embodies great culture-making changes for the worst can happen quickly.
Because we live in a technological age the temptation is to turn to technology as a way to sooth the shocks we may experience as culture shifts. Nor, says Crouch, is the popular approach among evangelical Christians to turn to resolving their commitment to worldview resolutive for major shifts. Culture is real and the damage shifts in it make are real, not merely self-reflective. “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. They reshape the world in unpredictable ways.” (pgs. 63-64)
04 Cultivation and Creation
Crouch makes a good point in the opening of this chapter through an illustration drawn from his families culture. If you don’t like Chili for dinner the only way to change the family culture is to make more of it, improve upon it with alternative solutions. “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 four our new proposal.” (pg. 67)
Andy says there’s been a number of solutions that haven’t effected culture as much as those who’ve utilized them had hoped, they are: condemning culture, critiquing culture, copying culture, and consuming culture. In an increasingly glocal world these approaches simply don’t have the power they might appear to have. “Creativity is the only viable source of change. There is a paradox here, however. Because culture is cumulative – because every cultural good builds on and incorporates elements of culture that have come before – cultural creativity never starts from scratch. Culture is what we make of the world – we start not with a blank slate but with all the richly encultured world that previous generations have handed to us.” (pg. 73) Andy is dead to rights here, before we can be culture makers we have to be culture keepers.
Creation is much more appealing to modern mans sensibilities than cultivation, but cultivation is part of what empowers creation. There are conservation and discipline elements to cultivation, “underneath every act of culture making we find countless small acts of culture keeping…Cultural creativity requires cultural maturity.” (pg. 77)
05 Gestures and Postures
Crouch opens this chapter with a simple question, how have Christians related to culture? His answer, in a variety of ways, just as the gospel writers related to their cultures in a variety of ways. Christians throughout history have held different postures to culture. In the early 20th century fundamentalist condemned culture; latter on Evangelicals critiqued culture; in the 1970’s Christians copied culture, the Jesus Movement is one example to this end; in the present Evangelicals consume culture, CCM is one example of this.
If we were going to create a sociological history of Christians and culture Crouch suggests that posture is a helpful word. “Our posture is our learned but unconscious default position, our natural stance.” (pg. 90) Postures are dominant ways we relate to the world whereas gestures are temporary stances we have regarding culture. “The problem is not with any of these gestures – condemning, critiquing, consuming, copying. All of them can be appropriate response 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.” (pg. 93)
What’s missing in this four C’s are what’s present in the garden of Eden – creativity and cultivation. Crouch says we’re all artists and gardeners. These are the postures Christians must recapture in the next century as they move toward maturity. How do we recapture them? By re-learning the biblical-story of the gospel, which is what Crouch spends the next six chapters (plus an interlude) unfolding.
Critical Interaction with Chapters 01-05
I used much of Andy’s new book as a folio for what I did with a six-week class on “Faith & Culture” and I found his book to be the best available resource out there on the topic. He’s a gifted writer and has lived an interesting enough life that you never feel caught in a lagging moment as you read his work.
The two high points for me in this first section of his book were his definition of culture and his discussion of gestures and postures. People had no problem wrapping their minds around what he was saying and I think left with some categorical tools that they can apply quite easily to the Christian subcultures they live within.
The low point for me, and there wasn’t much of one, came in how Andy covered church history. It came off a bit predictable and certainly weighted toward the history of conservative engagements with culture in America. You didn’t get a sense of the global, non-Western, non-Anglo engagement of culture that has been taking place.