In Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling, Andy Crouch does an excellent job discussing abstract, often intangible, ideas in succinct and understandable ways. He not only defines “culture,” but explains its purpose in the world from a biblical perspective. Crouch also illustrates the essence of man’s identity and purpose within his culture, constructing an argument for the cultivation and creation of it. Crouch’s approach of first reorienting common perspectives on culture and mankind – and then delving into a conversation on how humans can and cannot, should and should not, interact with their culture – is brilliant. The strength of the application he calls for is in the doctrine he sets up beforehand. The basic truths he communicates and the variety of illustrations he employs make his work virtually universal, accessible to single moms with children, to families of five, to the single missionary in the bush, and to the businessman at his cubicle.
Crouch’s main point about culture is that it is a gift from God, and that so are our creative abilities which give it birth. While the idea that our talents and resources are God-given blessings is widely circulated in the church, Crouch’s perspective on culture in general is a unique one. Crouch argues that mankind was created not only to exist in the context of culture, but that our purpose in it is to both cultivate what is already there and to create more of it with the resources, materials, and capacities we have. Where much of the church has overlooked the application of these original commands to “the culture” specifically, Crouch illuminates a jewel of insight. Crouch’s line of thinking permeates the elusive integration of being “in the world, not of the world” that the church has perpetually struggled to pinpoint.
Crouch contrasts the state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, abounding with cultural potential fueled by a love for God and a desire to be with Him, with the condition of man after the fall, whose drive to create is now based on rebellious a desire to be independent from his Creator and to usurp His authority in the world. It is significant and innovative that Crouch takes his views back to this basic level; his insistence on getting to the bottom of the issues makes his later applications more poignant and purposeful. His discussion of the motives behind human creativity takes his thought processes to a more interesting and radical depth.
In light of the chasm between what culture was originally intended to be and what it has become, Crouch outlines four main ways the church has attempted to put a band aid on this specific broken aspect of the world. He looks back at history, drawing out the benefits and casualties of different stances on cultural engagement. Beginning with fundamentalism and working through postmodern consumerism, Crouch entertains the “gestures” of condemning, critiquing, copying, and consuming culture. His point is that while all of these are appropriate positions at times, none is acceptable in every circumstance; this is why he calls them “gestures” and maintains that we never begin to default to any one of them as our definitive “posture” on cultural interaction.
His call is ultimately for Christians to acquire a reasonable understanding of the existing culture (cultivating) and then to seek to create more of it in a way that is faithful and true to the character of the God who gave it to us, as well as the ability to influence it. He insists that creating culture is, in fact, the only way to change it. This statement is convicting, challenging, and freeing. It puts more responsibility on believers, while also opening up new realms of possibility and enjoyment for those with the discernment to keep from getting locked in one cultural stance. Crouch cites Jesus, himself, as the ultimate example of a cultivator and creator of culture.
Crouch gets into the details of creating culture in the latter half of the book. He persuasively argues that there is no sacred/secular divide—almost all forms of culture creating can be honoring to God (or not) depending on how that creation is exercised, in what context, and to what end. He discusses the stewardship and service with which we are to wield our power, the concentric circles of community which play into the distribution (or not) of a new cultural good, and the discipline, failure, and suffering associated with the grace of creativity. Crouch’s personal experience in creating culture is indispensable to his credentials as well as to the inventiveness of his case. He puts words to the gnawing fear we all have that changing the world is actually harder than we think. He also eases our premonition that we all have to be world-famous in order to make any kind of difference. Throughout his book, Crouch’s insights glimmer with the Truth of the Gospel. His arguments are consistently and intentionally in line with the Biblical virtues of faith, hope, and love.
Crouch points out that the “critical mass” of cultivation and creation will be the transformation of the original state of mankind’s environment (a garden) into a divine city. He is careful in his description of the New Jerusalem to include that it will not be comprised exclusively of “Christian labeled” works. Not many people would desire to spend an eternity standing in pews and singing songs from the same anthology, neither would there be crowds streaming into a heaven that looked exactly like a contemporary Christian bookstore. Crouch’s conception of the future home of the saints will be characterized by the most excellent uses of the resources in each sphere of culture. He says certainly there will be many “Christian” works that do not pass through the gates, and that there will also be “non-Christian” creations that do. In this statement he is reordering common perceptions about heaven, which brings his position full-circle.
In Culture Making, Andy Crouch reorients a reader’s understanding of what culture is, what it was meant to be, and where it will eventually culminate, putting his/her perception in line with the Biblical narrative as a whole. He outlines mankind’s divinely ordained role in the cultivation and creation of culture and then challenges us to align ourselves with God’s agenda for our own lives and for the world around us. We are to embrace our identity as creative vessels through which God can reveal Himself to a culture that has forgotten and rebelled against Him. We are designed as culture-makers to be the means through which God proclaims His redemption to the world, and this book calls us to “join him in what he is already doing—to make visible what…he has already done.”