There’s nothing like finishing an engrossing and highly intelligent book on culture from the third story of an old apartment in the arts and culture capital of the states. I read this book and then walked down Park Ave. through a river flow of people, past a parade of museums, and the words of this book were an exhilarating rhythm pounding in every thought and step.
What is culture? There is this rut in my mind into which all my ruminations on “changing culture” get stuck. I tend to perceive “culture” as this nebulous force that dwells in cities, drives moral decisions, and is the arbiter of the arts world. From my tiny perspective the idea of culture can often seem like a thunderstorm stalking the horizon; gigantic, ominous, entirely beyond my control, and sure to catch me in its deluge. So I loved it when Andy Crouch opened his enlightening book by declaring that culture is simply what I as a human, in the company of other humans, make of the world. Literally. Culture is (in Crouch’s example) the making of an omelette, the stewing of chili, the crafting of a house, the jotting of a poem. It is nothing more and nothing less than the meaning and creation that each person on earth brings to their daily world.
With this concise and incredibly clarifying definition of culture (the whole world brought to the level of my doorstep), Crouch goes on to explain that from the beginning of the world, God made us to be involved in the crafting of a culture that reflected every facet of His possible goodness. Crouch covers the many possible “gestures” with which people (specifically Christians) encounter culture (and he does it with charming alliteration): critiquing, condemning, consuming, and copying. Each, he says, is insufficient as a life “posture” to culture and he proposes instead that we posture ourselves as creators (co-creators made in the image of God who create new beauty out of the created world) and cultivators (stewards and protectors of the valuable and worthy culture already in existence). The only way we can change culture, he claims, is by creating new culture.
This book has got my pulse racing and my mind on adrenaline high. I’m a dreamer, I’m constantly feeling dissatisfied with the world, ceaselessly yearning to “change the world”, “take culture by storm”, and here this guy is saying that to do it I need to be a creator. That storming or ideology or head-shaking or the right system isn’t the answer, but instead, new creation. Creating art, music, and literature that pictures redemption. Creating life and encouragement for broken people, creating practical solutions to social problems. I love this current of energetic life, this idea that we ARE made to change culture, but not by some power play or perfectly appointed system. By loving creation. By redemptive action. By tender stewardship of all that is good, beautiful, and true.
Go read this book. Please do. The above is just a smidgen of the excitement you will find in this highly intelligent, but conversationally written book. Crouch surveys God’s activity in culture throughout Scripture, talks about what earthly culture will be present in heaven, and contemplates what it means to live creatively in our time. I usually have a reservation or argument in my head on any given book. I don’t have any on this one. I’m just excited. You should be too.