I recently finished Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling and wanted to share some quick thoughts on the book. I had been wanting to get to it for quite a while and some of the discussions I’ve been in recently related to ministry and education gave me cause to finally dive in.
Essentially the book presents a theology and practice of creative stewardship and work. After an exploration into what “culture” is and how it works, there is an analysis of the many ways people engage culture. The most common expressions of how Christians engage culture are noted as condemning culture, consuming culture, critiquing culture, or copying culture. There are some similarities to some of the categories offered by Reinhold Niebuhr as well as to more recent work by Tim Keller. But Crouch’s focus is primarily on culture as it relates to creativity and calling (thus the title) as opposed to a full-blown theology and practice of cultural engagement that includes political and social engagement. The term cultural engagement doesn’t really even capture Crouch’s thrust – he focuses rather on “culture-making” instead.
Crouch, drawing on Genesis and the Scriptures, argues for two other paradigms that are more “Biblical” in nature. He names creating culture and cultivating culture as the two approaches to culture that are often overlooked by Christians, but that provide the greatest redemptive contribution to God’s purposes in restoring the world. He uses the metaphors “artists and gardeners” to illustrate what is involved. Cultivating refers to the work of stewarding the best of what humanity is and has created while creating obviously refers to the effort given to bring dreams into reality for the sake serving mankind and glorifying God.
I found the discussion incredibly helpful and enjoyable, especially because creativity and cultivation have long been overlooked. Creativity has had its champions, but I was intrigued by the role of “gardeners” in the church and in the Kingdom of God. I’ve been thinking about this and feel like it is a neglected aspect of the church’s engagement with culture. Maybe the historian in me is drawn to the idea, but it feels significant to me.
There’s a lot more in the book including content related to power and other topics that are of interest, but the thrust of the book is above – helping people understand the many ways they navigate culture and to consider that the best way to impact society for good and for God is through the creation of new cultural goods. The argument being that bad or insufficient culture isn’t transformed until something better comes along to replace it. One of the incisive criticisms Crouch levies at the church is noting how most efforts to bring Christian worldview to the table in relation to culture stops in the realm of critiquing culture, falling well short of creating culture.
My final note is that Crouch gives an insight in his introduction that really stuck with me. He notes the popular maxim, “Pray as if it all depends on God and work as if it all depends on you.” I’ve always understood the kernel of truth here and the call to diligent stewardship exercised in dependence on the Lord, but something never fully felt satisfying to me. Crouch critiques the application of this phrase, affirming that we need to learn to work as if it all does depend on God – because it does. Stewardship is implied, but the freedom of exploring vocation in the guidance of the Holy Spirit opens doors for creativity and inspiration.
I think this book gives a lot to chew on – not every person may be gifted or inspired to be a creator or a cultivator, but these are elements that every community would be wise to nurture for the sake of both worship and mission.