I just finished Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch. I should probably also qualify that I actually consumed it via audio book as opposed to hard copy, though I believe I absorb both forms about the same.
The first thought that looms in my head upon completion is that it is a somewhat long book, at least by my standards, at 284 pages. But this is to be expected with the approach he takes. After an introduction, he establishes some definitions surrounding the word “culture,” describes five different ways humans interact with culture, explores how culture is referenced in the entire narrative of the Bible, and concludes by explaining the role of Christians in the world today when it comes to culture. Honestly, the analytical side of my nature loved it, especially as he established the definitions and then categorized all the ways people respond to culture. While some points did seem a bit belabored a times, I think perhaps this is a book where repetition and examination from multiple angles helps to clarify and drive ideas home.
At one point he mentions how we, as Christians in the United States, sometimes feel we are in the midst of a “culture war.” We often even hope for an overnight revival or revolution of sorts. But he then points out that nothing lasting ever grows from the ashes of a revolution. Any enduring shift in culture occurs slowly over time as a process of creation of new “cultural goods,” not wholesale discarding of existing ones. We must offer better, more attractive alternatives than the prevailing downward spiral of our society.
Another interesting thread was how he spoke about cultural goods. Everything from an omelette to interstate highways to the Bible are cultural goods. By his definition, culture is “what people make of the world,” and any new cultural good is one which affects the “horizon of possibility.” (For example, the interstate highway system makes it possible to drive from coast to coast in a few days.) In this sense, the ultimate cultural good is the story of resurrection, which utterly changes the horizon of possibility for human existence. What was before impossible, eternal life in a perfect state, is now possible. I always enjoy seeing a new way the story of Christ fulfills the deepest aspects of humanity.
The way he presents scales of culture also interested me. Societal culture is a very shaping force, but perhaps even more shaping is the culture each of us can create within our families, churches, or workplaces. Implementing the cultural good of family prayer time makes it possible for parents and children to connect at a spiritual level otherwise unattainable. Creating a cultural good of a “lunch plans” white board at work makes it possible for members of separate teams to get to know one another. Creating culture can be a big, world-changing endeavor, but it doesn’t always have to be.
One viewpoint in the book I’m not sure I agree with is how he presents the place of culture in eternity. He cites the closing of Revelation and how various cultures are described bringing their goods into the New Jerusalem which has come down from Heaven. In recent years, I had become more open to an eschatology of God renewing the earth rather than destroying it and starting over. In this instance, it struck me that many of those who envision the second coming as renewal take the vision of Jerusalem coming down to earth somewhat literally. Yet few take the rest of the imagery in Revelation so literally. Crouch describes an eternity where cultural goods and even the continual creation of new culture are integral. That’s hard for me to imagine, but then again so is eternity in general. At the end of the day, I’m not sure it’s worth exerting a lot of effort to figure it out. We’ll find out eventually.
Overall, it was a very worthwhile read which expanded my ideas of the role of Christians in culture and challenged some preconceived notions I wasn’t aware I had. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who would like a broadened perspective on what culture means to humanity, especially if he or she has an analytical streak.