It's like sending a child off to college," says Andy Crouch, wringing his hands and giving a nervous laugh. "You just hope you've done everything right." Andy, who is too young to know what sending a child off to college is really like, is nevertheless the proud papa of a brand new book. And after the final manuscript revisions and the printing and binding, the book is on its own. Its creator can no longer shape it. It is what it is.
Andy's offspring is christened Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. And it has the potential to be not just another book. Since 1951, the Christian discussion of culture has been uncomfortably squeezed into five boxes created by H. Richard Niebuhr's magisterial Christ and Culture. Generations of pastors and scholars have analyzed their church traditions using Niebuhr's categories: Is my denomination an example of "Christ against culture"? What should it be? "Christ and culture in paradox"? As someone who found the Niebuhrian categories a frustrating dead end, I was delighted to find that Andy managed to write about culture from a Christian perspective for about 200 pages before turning briefly to Niebuhr. Culture Making subverts and reorients the whole discussion.
"I wanted to undo two things," Andy told me. "I wanted to cure us of talking about Culture with a capital C or 'the Culture,' to move away from such abstractions, and focus instead on concrete cultural goods. I also wanted to put the task of transformation back on God's side of the ledger. Sure, Niebuhr talked about Christ transforming culture, but that very quickly translated into Christians transforming culture. That's the wrong ambition."
To understand what Andy believes to be the right ambition, be sure to read the excerpt from Culture Making and the interview with Andy. Then read the five brief profiles of people who have moved beyond abstraction and are busy creating cultural goods.
Andy spends most of his time working with Christianity Today on the Christian Vision Project. But with Culture Making out the door, he is feeling a bit like an empty nester, and is beginning to conceive his next book.
"The three great areas of blessing and temptation," says Andy, "are sex, money, and power." There's no shortage of Christian books on sex and money, but relatively little good Christian reflection on the stewardship of power. Especially "soft power," he says.
Christians have reflected on coercive power, says Andy, but soft power, cultural influence, power that is completely detached from the enforcement or encouragement of the state, is largely unexplored. Unlike sex and money, which you can record and tot up on a spreadsheet, you don't really know how much cultural influence you have, and that makes it much harder to be a good steward.
In a related move, Andy and his friend, Rice University sociologist Michael Lindsay (author of Faith in the Halls of Power), are beginning to explore how increased graduate education among evangelicals has created a new reservoir of cultural influence. Identifying the size and scope of that reservoir and making evangelical scholars aware of it will go hand in hand with serious thinking about faithful stewardship of that resource.
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Crouch discusses responses to cultural artifacts in "Creating Culture," an excerpt from his book.
Culture Making is available from ChristianBook.com and other retailers.
Crouch spoke with CT about culture making on a local scale.
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