A guest post today from Jonny Woodrow, a church planter with The Crowded House and a tutor with the Northern Training Institute which I head up. He’s going to post a short series reviewing Culture Making by Andy Crouch (IVP) .
Discussion about how the gospel is relevant to culture tends to assume that churches stand outside of culture looking in. So says Andy Crouch in his book, Culture Making. This, says Crouch, has left the church with four ways to approach culture; we critique, condemn, copy or consume. Some churches enjoy cultural analysis and want to critique ‘worldviews’. Others want to withdraw from culture, condemning it as ungodly. Others produce their own version of mainstream culture. Finally, some churches throw themselves into secular culture, uncritically consuming it. When one or more of these four stances define our relationship to culture, we have misunderstood the relationship between creation, culture and our calling to be image bearers.
Crouch commends two alternative postures toward culture, derived from a biblical understanding of cultural artefacts and our relationship to them. He calls us back to creativity (making new) and cultivation (managing creation). He illustrates with an omelette.
Making an omelette is a moment when God’s creation (eggs and heat) is taken up and ordered into something useful. The ingredients in omelettes include not only eggs and mushrooms, but technologies (cookers and pans) and social practices (cookery and meal times). An omelette is one way we order the creation through cultivation and creativity. So the humble omelette opens up all sorts of new cultural possibilities. You can have cheese omelettes, Spanish omelettes, bacon omelettes. You can create new combinations – a chocolate omelette perhaps. In one cook book on my shelf thin omelettes make it possible for dieters to have a chicken wrap using eggs instead of a tortilla. Omelettes, like the pizza, allow new forms of creativity. They add new realities to the world: from faster meal times to increased heart disease! Cultural artefacts, like omelettes, hold our world in order in ways that channel relationships and open up new possibilities for interacting with creation.
Culture is all about making the creation usable and meaningful. For Crouch it is essential to our image bearing nature. Humans are made in the image of God who creates and sustains. In a similar way, we are to create and cultivate the world. God gave Adam the task of cultivating a Garden already filled with rich resources for cultural shaping. Crouch says that at the moment when Adam names the animals, God steps back and lets his image bearer add to, and develop, creation. Names, like all cultural artefacts, mediate our relationship to creation, making it meaningful. Creating and cultivating are the two ways in which we shape our world as we produce cultural artefacts.
Culture is the process in which technologies and social practices come together with creation to make a small part of the world usable. Culture can’t be reduced to a ‘worldview’ that we can opt in or out of, or a set of products that we avoid, copy, critique or consume. We continually and unavoidably inhabit a creation shaped by cultural processes that operate through cultural artefacts and activity. Culture is something we all do all of the time. When a mother potty trains her children, she is engaged in cultural activity, bringing order, nurturing and releasing children into new possibilities and new assumptions about the world. Meal times, table manners and cutlery all shape and order our interaction with each other and the creation.
So our proper posture, as Crouch calls it, towards culture should be as cultivators and creators. The gospel calls us back to our image bearing identity as the people of God. The missional church should be on the forefront of creativity and cultivation in our contexts, modelling restored humanity. On the right occasion critique, condemnation, consumption and copying all have their place as gestures within culture, but only in the context of our efforts to cultivate and create. They can’t become our defining posture. Where they have done, we have shown the world a God who is separate from culture through a church that is separate from culture. In so doing we fail to show God’s design for creation, culture and humanity.