Imagine for a moment the chimes of a cathedral bell, echoing from the stone cased tower it presides in. The melodic chorus sounds loudly as the hushed city streets surrounding the holy establishment lie in silence. The untrained ear of the passerby lavishes in the intricacies of tonality and vibrant frequency, while the meadowlark momentarily stops its own joyous tune as the bell brightly sings. Like the bell, culture has its own distinct tune. Borne of the ultimate creative genius, culture has come to manifest itself in the very fabric of humanity’s being, composing the world he presides in. But quite unlike the chimes of a bell daily rung, culture never ceases in exuding a composition that both captivates and crushes, entrances and ensnares. The pages of Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, written by Andy Crouch, peer into the intricacies of culture and encourage a healthy response to our intrinsic and insatiable desire and calling to make something of this place we’ve been given.
Culture. This abstract word never ceases to rise near unanswerable questions. But, as Crouch so simply states, “[c]ulture is what we make of the world” (23). In essence, culture is that act of interpreting the world we find ourselves in and then creating meaning in response; the two go hand in hand (24). The reality that culture is intrinsically intuitive is a mystery near incomprehensible. Yet, from the onset of time, it rings true.
From the very beginning of creation, man, created in the image of God, has borne that image in two significant ways. The first is the ability to create ex nihilo, “out of nothing” (104). Man has the unique ability to create masterpieces using his abilities, gaining inspiration from a wholly intangible source. The second is the relational aspect of man’s image (105). The primary relationship is between God and His creation, and the second is interpersonal. The second relationships drives culture forward, for “[w]e live in the world that culture has made” (29). Our relationship to those before us is quite evident. We live in a world, in the cultural sense, that was influenced and molded by those before us. And as Andy Crouch pointedly states, our first responsibility is to “become fluent in cultural tradition” or that which has been established (74-75). When must know where we’ve been in order to guide where we’re going in the future.
Another prominent aspect of this image and relationship is one of cultivation. When God placed man in the garden, he did so commanding that man should cultivate and keep it. This act of cultivation is one established in the garden and yet continues forever. In relation to culture, “[w]e can only create where we have learned to cultivate” (76). The continual cultivation of the world around us ultimately leads to creating, to culture making.
As humanity embraces these realities, a significant culture maker, whose influence is unparalleled, must be mentioned, that is Jesus. During the years before Christ’s earthly ministry, he lived a life and engaged in the cultural context of his Jewish heritage. Though conceived by the Holy Spirit, the genealogy presented in Luke’s Gospel mentions Joseph as his father (135). This eludes to the curious assertion that Jesus, in his cultural context, was completely human, even taking the title of his earthly father while maintaining his complete Sonship. Crouch writes that “[t]o be human is to have a cultural inheritance, to be apart of a tradition of making something of the world” (135). Christ, fully God and fully man, was able to transform culture in the most significant fashion because he was a cultural being.
Ministry. This next phase of Christ’s life represents a shift from cultivating, though his engagement with the world around him, to creating culture. Radically flipping the normatives of culture on their preverbal heads, Jesus tackled various skewed cultural institutions with compassion and fervency. In his sovereignty, he leveled the scale, opening the door of Salvation to anyone who believed, rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile. This new way of life built upon the laws and decrees of the past, yet introduced a wholly radical lifestyle.
His earthly ministry, seemingly short-lived, culminated with the cross. Christ hung upon it, bearing the full weight of humanity’s sin and rebellion. A representation of the “dead end of culture, the perversion and exhaustion of our calling to make something of the world,” the cross signified more than just a tool of social construct; it signified the tragedy that culture had embraced and created, notes Crouch (141).
But the death of Christ on the cross was not the end of his radical transformation of culture. His resurrection, three days later, “shows us the pattern for culture making in the image of God. Not power, but trust. Not independence, but dependence” (145). Christ submitted his will to the Father and rose victoriously conquering the cross and proclaiming a message of grace and forgiveness (146).
This radical example of cultural revolution is the framework for present-day culture making. There is hope, and despite the desire to “change the world,” and the temptation that may arise, in Christ (189, 200). This transformation, according to Crouch, is found along three avenues: power, community, and grace.
In relation to power, Crouch suggests that we “see ourselves, in relationship to the world’s Creator, as in possession of more power than we could ever dream” (227). Rather than latching onto earthly, selfish power, we must realize the ultimate power we have in Christ. This is the power that is able to harness creativity and channel it down avenues of restoration and shalom.
Community, another transforming entity, is highly influential in the work of renewing culture. It is essential in the life of every man, woman and child to be connected to people who can encourage and engage actively in similar goals and pursuits. That is why community is extremely important. It is the people we surround ourselves with who play the biggest role in the cooperative creating force.
The last transformational work is grace. The most vague of Crouch’s ideas, it has the most profound implications. When we recognize that the very fabric of our being is knit and known, then grace has taken root. It is grace that allows each cultural good we produce to be of any value (252). Grace is the ultimate gift of undeserved blessing. Yet it is because of grace that we are able to create culture. And “[t]he only way to change culture, is to make more of it” (67).
As one ponders the call to create and create culture at that, the culmination of essentials Crouch seems to bend so decisively towards is this: “that what we make of the world will last after the world itself has been rolled up like a scroll. When we are finally able to bear the beauty of God resting upon us, when our work and our worship are one, we will live in the eternal row of creators made in the Creator’s image. And, once more, it will be very good” (268). One day the melodious chorus of culture’s finest works will sing beautifully, stripped of all their imperfections in an eternal kingdom.