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Friday, May 11, 2012

The Exhilarating Duty Of Making Culture

I seem to be on a book endorsement roll, so I'll keep the ball moving with an enthusiastic endorsement of Andy Crouch's great book, Culture Making.  

This 2008 volume earned a "starred review" from Publishers Weekly: "Those who have struggled with the sacred-secular dichotomy will find this book life-giving; every Christian interested in changing culture should read it." You can see why I think Crouch's book is so important.

The uniqueness of Crouch's contribution toward ridding the Church of  SSD (the "sacred-secular divide"), is that he draws a distinction between transforming culture and making culturemaintaining that the best way to transform culture to create new culture.

When we think of "transformation," we tend to think of "remodeling." Of course, much of our culture needs "remodeling." But Crouch suggests we come about this task from a different angle. "The only way to change culture," says Crouch, "is to create more of it."

He asserts that, "cultural change will only happen when something new displaces, to some extent, existing culture in a very tangible way." Using the example of his own young family being subjected to his frequent cooking of homemade chili, Crouch argues that "our dinner-table culture will only change if someone offers us something sufficiently new and compelling to displace the current items on our menu." Carrying this idea into broader applications beyond dinner-table culture, Crouch says, "...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 for our new proposal."

The ramifications of Crouch's thesis are profound, and far-reaching. He maintains that "if all we do is condemn culture...we are very unlikely indeed to have any cultural effect, because human nature abhors a cultural vacuum. It is the very rare human being who will give up some set of cultural goods just because someone condemns them. They need something better, or their current set of cultural goods will have to do, as deficient as they may be." 

Tim Keller says Culture Making takes "the discussion about Christianity and culture to a new level." I agree. 

The book is just one of the excellent offerings in the Seattle Centurions curriculum. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, come join with others in the exhilarating duty of making culture. Applications close May 31. Click here to get going. 

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3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review. Will have to read the book.

    Thanks for your focus and for your willingness to be yet another voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.

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  2. James Hunter (author of "To Change The World") may argue that Andy's view of culture is too narrow. While Andy makes a lot of good points about culture, and our role in and with it, his book doesn't address the institutional aspect of culture. Like the idealism of those who concentrate on worldview, this perspective disregards the way culture is embedded in structures of power. It is another "bottoms up" approach – which is the fundamental critique Hunter makes of most of the contemporary proponents of changing culture. Here is a direct quote from Hunter on this topic:

    "In sum, idealism leads to a naivete about the nature of culture and its dynamics that is, in the end, fatal. Every strategy and tactic for changing the world that is based on this working theory of culture and cultural change will fail - not most of these strategies, but all."

    From close sources it has been made know that Andy – like many others – may have grown to embrace Hunter's view, and if Andy were to write the book over again he may re-cast his view into this broader institutional and structural understanding of culture and change.

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  3. Hi, Ron. Thanks for weighing in.

    You are touching on a matter that has caused some “buzz” in the body of Christ lately. Namely, is culture changed from the “top down” or the “bottom up?”

    Hunter argues that even if half the population in America were “converted to a deep Christian faith,” it would probably not put a dent in the culture, unless the elites in the “institutions of formation” were to make changes in the cultural DNA that surrounds us.

    It is certainly true, as James Robison and Jay Richards point out in their book, Indivisible, that culture is “disproportionately influenced” by a small number of “elite” individuals and institutions. Many examples can be cited, even from the Bible, such as Moses (an elite from Pharaoh’s household). Look at the effects of William Wilberforce, a member of the British elite in Parliament.

    I certainly agree that to affect a radical change in the DNA of culture, having believers in “the halls of power,” about which Michael Lindsay wrote in the book I mentioned last week, is a huge factor. But wasn’t the general culture of ancient Rome dramatically affected over 300 years through the “culture making” of everyday followers of Christ, whose “different way of seeing things” [different “worldview”] resulted in different ways of doing, approaching social issues through the creation of a “new” [alternative] culture through daily choices? I think Dr. Glenn Sunshine, professor of history at Central Connecticut State University, would say so, based on his excellent 2009 book, Why You Think The Way You Do.

    Although Robison and Richards agree that culture is “disproportionately influenced” by the elite, they take strong issue with Hunter’s call for Christians to adapt a “postpolitical view of power,” and call Hunter’s call for followers of Christ to “be silent for a season,”an idea that is “deeply misguided.” “If we followed Hunter’s advice,” they say, “we would marginalize ourselves even more. It amounts to preemptive surrender.”

    As you can see, Ron, there is a bit of a debate at the moment around this topic. This conversation can be healthy, if done in a constructive way. But as you quote Hunter: "In sum, idealism leads to a naiveté about the nature of culture and its dynamics that is, in the end, fatal. Every strategy and tactic for changing the world that is based on this working theory of culture and cultural change will fail - not most of these strategies, but all," I can’t help but question the constructiveness of this kind of language.
    Why think of this matter as an “either-or” proposition? Why not see it as a “both-and” deal? Let’s go at it from both ends. I suppose Hunter would call me “naïve” for suggesting it. But then, perhaps, so were a lot of other folk I read about in the Bible who didn’t have the status of Moses, but affected a movement from the “bottom up,” like Christ’s twelve mostly uneducated disciples.

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