For a summary and review of chapters o1-05 covering Culture click here. In these chapters Crouch traces the story of culture throughout the biblical story. Taking his readers on a very impressive and biblical-studies atuned reading of thier involvement.
06 The Garden and the City
Culture’s beginning in the bibilcal story is found not just in the narrative itself but the fact that indeed it is narrative which is itself an example of literary culture-making. God is the original culture-maker in who’s image humanity was formed. But what does it mean to be made in the likeness of God? Many things says Crouch, but in these is culture making. If being in God’s image includes culture making then just how does God make culture? Crouch says in the way God creates from nothing, in the way God creates relationally, in the way creation requires cultivation, and finally in the way creation ultimately leads to celebration.
Taking off from something Crouch developed in the first section of his book, culture making requires creation and cultivation. Genesis 1 is an example of creation, and Genesis 2 is an example of God’s work of cultivation in a garden. Almost immediately we see the relational element of culture making in that God creates a fit collaborator to culture make with him in original creation – Adam and Eve. Which is itself the first and perhaps one of the greatest gifts God has given to humanity, the gift of culture making. “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.” (pg. 110)
Of course most people know the end of the original collaborative story of culture making. It didn’t end in celebration, it ended in separation. Wilderness and themeparks have a lot in common says Crouch, they both are places where culture making is deeply difficult to practice. So humanity in their fall doesn’t lose their calling to be culture makers but does experience the complicatedness of doing it in a wilderness as their creation of fig leave clothing expresses. “From the fig leaves onward, culture becomes entwined with sin – indeed, it is the place where humanity acts out their rebellion from God and their alienation from one another.” (pg. 115) A rebellion and alienation felt no more stronger than in the place where the critical mass of culture making happens – the city, Babel.
Interlude: The Primordial Story
In the span of three pages Crouch thoughtfully and perhaps in the most succinct way engages the question is Genesis 1-3 myth, history, or something more. You’ll have to buy the book to find out what he says. Crouch exuded a beautiful civility in the way he engaged this question – beautiful!
07 The Least of the Nations
If you were to skip from Genesis 11 to Revelation 21 you’d find the most unthinkable ending to the biblical story. That new creation ends in a heavenly city descending, when the wildness of the old creation ended in the ascension of a sinful city. But if you were to take this “spoiler” approach to reading the biblical story you’d miss what makes cities possible in the first place – nations. Nations, or a more correct way to say it – a nation – would become God’s vehicle from Genesis to Malachi to redeem culture making. God always gives us leather in the place of fig leaves, “God never allows human culture to become solely the site of rebellion and judgment, human culture is always from the very beginning, also marked by grace.” (pg. 124)
What could answer the magnitude of sin at Babel but a nation, Genesis 11’s answer comes in Genesis 12! And from the nothingness of Abram comes the hope of all nations – even Christ! “…[T]he heart of God’s agenda with Israel is to create something that has never existed: a nation that belongs in a special way to the Creator of the heavens and earth.” (pg. 127) To appreciate just how difficult this was for God we must pay attention to the time, place, and the size of Israel. God doesn’t do this in a day, it spans throughout the Old Testament story. Nor does God place Israel in the periphery of culture, he places them in Cannan which was the highway intersection of the Ancient Near East. And he doesn’t do it with the greater empires of the time, he does it with a barren man and woman. “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.” (130)
How does Israel fair, does she absolve herself from the lust of Adam and Eve or from the pride of Babel? “…[T]he Hebrew Bible ends inconclusively, with Jerusalem half rebuilt and another empire, Rome, looming on history’s horizon. There is nothing tidy about the cultural project of Israel…and yet the Hebrew Bible itself contains the beginnings of a hopeful answer to this perplexity.” (pg. 132)
08 Jesus as Culture Maker
“Jesus, like every human being since Adam, arrives in the midst of not just “culture” but a culture, a specific cultural tradition of a family, a language, a people, a nation. He is not Jesus full stop – he is not Jesus the Son of God or even just Jesus the Messiah. He is Yeshua bar-Yosef, jesus Joseph’s son.” (pg. 135) Jesus didn’t just minister to the world’s universal needs, he ministered to Israel’s immediate needs. He was a cultural cultivator in his own day and time says Crouch. Jesus was also a creator, not just of original creation (Jhn 1), but also a creator in the way he taught, and in his dramatic practice of open meals with sinners, saints, and all thats inbetween. “Jesus did not just teach creatively; he lived creatively; and the guardians of the horizons were unsettled by him.” (pg. 138)
A creativety that flowed out of Jesus understand of the Kingdom of God and how he related to it. Of the many great innovations he made one stands out above all others, his astonishingly bold claim “that Israel’s original vocation, to demonstrate complete dependence upon God in the sight of the nations, had come to rest on himself.” (pg. 139) Of course Jesus did even more than this, he took upon himself Israel’s and humanities failures, all of their cultural dead ends, their sins and consumed them upon the death of the cross. “The strangest and most wonderful paradox of the biblical story is that its most consequential moment is not an action but a passion – not a doing, but a suffering.” (pg. 142)
But Jesus story doesn’t end at the cross, he has risen! “The resurrection is the hinge of history…The resurrection shows us the pattern for culture making in the image of God. Not power, but trust. Not independence, but dependence…In the kingdom of God a new kind of life and a new kind of culture becomes possible – not by abandoning the old but by transforming it. Even the cross, the worst that culture can do, is transformed into a sign of the kingdom of God – the realm of forgiveness, mercy, love, and indestructible life.” (pgs. 145-146)
09 From Pentecost . . .
What happens to the story of culture after the resurrection of Christ? Well cities of course, many of the major cities of the known world being encountered with the gospel. Pentecost in Jerusalem was the beginning of the undoing of the curse of Babel, but more than that it was stagging ground for what would become the new norm – in Christ, all things (including racial things) are made new and brought together. A “door of faith” opens up after the resurrection of Christ and the nations within the cities come to know God through an in His Son.
What happens in Acts is nothing less than the reversal of how Israel had viewed the meaning of “nations.” “Nations was now a word of inclusion, not exclusion.” (pg. 155) And the witness that would come to the nations through the cities of the Roman Empire was a faith expressed in word and deed. “The church would grow not just because it proclaimed hope in the face of horror [plauges and poverty of the empire] but because the cultural effects of a new approach to the sick and dying, a willingness to care for the sick even at risk of death.” (pg. 157) The early followers where truely in the world but not of it in the rightest and truest sense of the phrase!
10 . . . To Revelation
As we turn the last page of Acts we’re at the end of the history that began with Abram in Genesis 12, but not the END of this history. For that we must turn to the great disclosure of relevaltion given to the Apostle John, called what else “Revelation.” It is in Revelation that we see culture ending not with a whimper but a bang. In fact we actually don’t see culture or culture making ever ending. We see it culminating in the Holy City descending from heaven to the new creation. A city we forests of Trees of Life lining the rivers, a city without a temple for worship will not be centralized in a place but exuded throughout all of life. A city where cutlure making tributes are brought to the King of all Kings.
We find an ending where “Cultural goods too will be transformed and redeemed, yet they will not be recognizably what they were in the old creation – or prehaps more accurately, they will be what they always could have been.” (pg. 169)
11 The Glorious Impossible
The gospel is the glorious impossible of culture making. How does the gospel relate to culture for Andy Crouch? This quote below is perhaps the best expression of answer I could give, and I think Andy’s answer is full indeed!
“The gospel is not simply another cultural product that stands alongside other cultural products, comfortably reinforcing some version or another of the horizons of the possible. Indeed if every culture defines the horizons of the possible and impossible for its members, then the gospel always sits uncomfortably on that very horizon, hovering between possibility and impossibility. There has never been a culture where the gospel, in all its world-upending glory, simply and comfortably exists within the realm of the possible…The gospel constantly challenges every human culture with the possibility that we live within mislplaced horizons…No human society – not even Israel, as the prophets lamented and insisted – can fully “enculturate” the gospel. Christendom is always purchased at the price of a reduced gospel that all too often reduces the cross to a piece of jewelry.” (pg. 176-177)
The second half of this chapter is given over to critiquing H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic and formative work “Christ and Culture.” While praising the value and influence of his work Crouch is not shy to offer up some critical interaction as well. He believes Niebuhr’s work is based upon two abstracted words – “Christ” and “culture”; he believes Christians are too easily steered into believing there is only one right answer to how the two should relate; Crouch believes that Christians have too often been tempted to exchange the word Christ for Christians in Niebuhr’s work; and that socialism is perhaps an outflow from Niebuhr’s conclusions; and finally that the best of culture is left out of Niebuhr’s analysis.
So just what is Christians calling for culture making in light of the nature of culture and the gospel? Next section…
Critical Interaction with Chapters 06-11
If I had to gues what Tim Keller was so jazzed over in Crouches book my guess would be this center section. It was masterful, a biblical-theology of culture that leaves every reader with an easy way to summarize th biblical story and apply it to how they view culture. High points for me where Crouch’s connection of urbanization to the mission of God’s people and the story of culture making in scripture. Not to mention how Crouch connected culture to the gospel in the closing chapter.
The lows for me was the minimal interaction he had with Niebuhr. As great as Andy’s book was the likelihood that it will be half as influential as Niebuhr’s has been is not high. Although my own hope is that it becomes even more influential. That being the case I think it would have made a nice appendix addition to have a substantive dialog with Niebuhr. And there were some places that left me wanting. Like identifying the imageo dei as culture making (though he made it a point to say it was also other things). A friend of mine pointed out that its much more likely co-regnal ruling than it is creativity or cultivation though the two are certainly inclusive to each other. I also noticed that even though Crouch didn’t want people to absorb just one of Niebuhr’s models as a controlling model Crouch himself used the language of “transformation” a number of times in the closing chapters of this section (10 & 11).
My last criticism was it was too short 🙂 It was so good I wished Andy had written another hundred pages! Or it was too long, if he decided to make a shorter gift book from “Culture Making” he could easily take the middle section and lighten it up so that more people could gain access to the treasures of his work. Great book all around!