11 September 2008

Culture Making

Andy Crouch argues that American Christians adopted broadly four stances in relation to culture during the course of the 20th century, in each case taking an appropriate gesture toward certain elements of culture and inappropriately expanding it into a comprehensive posture toward the common culture in general.

While some cultural products (like sex trafficking) demand outright condemnation from Christians, a posture of condemnation fails to account for the goodness of culture, warps Christian testimony to hope and mercy, facilitates hypocrisy, and—particularly in response to artistic works—comes across as "shrill and silly."

Critique, by contrast, is an entirely appropriate response to works of art, the more so the better the art. But a posture of critique diminishes the delight to be taken in many good products of culture, and encourages a certain kind of cultural passivity that overemphasizes analysis and underappreciates participation and production.

A pot of tea, a loaf of bread—the best first response to these is savoring consumption. But a posture of consumption limits us to living "unthinkingly within a culture's preexisting horizons of possibility and impossibility."

Consumerism is capitulation to the existing culture at a deep level, allowing our very identity to be defined by what we can purchase. Copying from a culture is, at best, a recognition of "the lesson of Pentecost that every human language, every human cultural form, is capable of bearing the good news." But copying as a posture produces inauthentic, dated, and tame results.

Instead, Crouch says, the cultural postures Christians should adopt are those of cultivation and creation. Cultivators are "people who tend and nourish what is best in human culture, who do the hard and painstaking work to preserve the best of what people before us have done." And creators are "people who dare to think and do something that has never been thought or done before, something that makes the world more welcoming and thrilling and beautiful."

-- Gideon Straus, reviewing Andy Crouch's new book, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling, in Books & Culture, Sep/Oct 2008