Review: CULTURE MAKING by Andy Crouch

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch  InterVarsity Press, 2008, 288 pages

crouch-culture_makingAndy Crouch, in his landmark book, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling, makes the case that the essence of humanity is that we are “creative cultivators.” This is rooted in his correct interpretation of the opening chapters of the Bible, where humans are created in the image of God, placed in the garden and given the task to “cultivate” (עָבַד) it (see Genesis 1:26-18 and 2:15)

But Crouch states that culture is not merely “a set of ideas” but rather “primarily a set of tangible goods” (p. 10). “Culture is what we make of the world” (p. 23). Therefore, “the only way to change the culture is to create more of it” (p. 67).

In a book about making culture, Crouch surprises the reader by actually providing a needed corrective to the human quest to change the culture (especially recent Christian articulations to “change the world”) by insisting that while we are indeed “culture makers,” “when we thoughtlessly grasp for the heedless rhetoric of ‘changing the world,’ we expose ourselves to temptation. We find ourselves in a situation similar to Adam and Eve’s in the Garden. ‘You will be like God, knowing good and evil…’ Is there a way to change the world without falling into one of the many traps laid for would-be world changers? If so, it will require us to learn the one thing the language of ‘changing the world’ usually lacks: humility” (p. 201).

“Culture Making,” according to Crouch, must not be about grand strategies to transform the world, for that is too large of a scale for finite and depraved humans to attempt. “The record of human efforts to change the world is mixed, to say the least…And the larger the scale of change we seek, the more mixed the record becomes” (p. 198). Therefore, Crouch advocates that we attempt to create cultural goods that offer positive contributions in smaller scales of time and place. The success of such culture making should be measured not by how influential they are in the larger cultural milieu, but in how they exhibit “integrity”: “We can speak of progress when a certain arena of culture is more whole, more faithful to the world of which it is making something” (p. 54).

Culture makers, therefore, should concentrate on smaller scales of influence, what Crouch calls the “3:12:120” – a close and dedicated small circle of three, a group of people (12) to make the cultural good come into existence, and a network of people (120) that will bring the cultural artifact into use. He states that every cultural innovation “is based on personal relationships and personal commitment. Culture making is hard. It simply doesn’t happen without deep investment of absolutely and relatively small groups of people. In culture making, size matters—in reverse… The almost uncanny thing about culture making is that a small group is enough” (p. 243, italics in original).

Crouch states that culture can be primarily understood as cultural goods or artifacts created by humans made in God’s image. If this is correct, then the question for culture makers is not the haughty one of “Can I change the world?” Rather, the question should be much more humble: “Does this thing that we have created meet the criteria of God’s intentions for his Creation and New Creation?” And, “Can I imagine this cultural artifact making it into the New Jerusalem?”

If God, in his sovereignty, decides to allow our cultural contribution to have an influence across the larger culture, then we thank him for that and pray for his will to be done with it.

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