Shaping culture by creating culture

Here’s the second instalment of the review of Andy Crouch’s Culture Making (IVP) by guest contributor, Jonny Woodrow, together reflections on how Jonny’s household church are living out the call to create and cultivate culture.

Too many churches stand outside culture looking in. Even churches that see themselves as culturally engaged are often merely responding to culture. Andy Crouch argues that we need to cultivate and produce cultural artefacts if we want to change culture.

Other people understand the relationship between culture creation and change. My local residents association campaigned for years to have a piece of scrub land turned into a park.  Now we have a community-wide picnic in the park with games each year. We are hoping to use the space for a multicultural festival of food and music, celebrating the ethnic diversity of our community.

Those who show themselves to be proficient culture makers earn a voice in the public square. The leaders of my residents association are consulted on town planning issues. They are invited to take part in further culture creation. On the BBC’s current affairs discussion programme, Question Time, authors and comedians sit on the panel. Why? Because they have shown proficiency in taking up the world and handing it back to us in new cultural forms (literature, comedy, art) that open up new horizons. They stand out as people who understand the world because they can shape it through cultivation and creativity. Crouch’s book challenges the church to recover this calling.

Crouch shows how God’s plan for the redemption of the world includes a cultural agenda from beginning to end. The gospel is the story of a God who, in reconciling all things to himself through the blood of his Son, is putting creation back in order. The Garden of Eden finishes up as a garden city whose architect is God incorporating the wealth of the nations (Revelation 21:24).

In Crouch’s view the new creation will be populated with redeemed cultural artefacts. All culture is potentially God honouring, both Christian and non-Christian, because it echoes God’s nature as a creator and cultivator. So we don’t need to avoid partnering with secular agencies attempting neighbourhood renewal and we don’t need to tack on an evangelistic message to make culture-creation legitimate for Christians.

Our church has tried to take Crouch’s call seriously through food. God’s future is a meal in the new creation.  That meal is prefigured in the meals of Jesus and the cultural life of the church in the world. Cooking and meal times are cultural events for celebrating and sustaining life. They bring people together.  We have Christians and non-Christians swapping recipes with friends from different nations and teaching each other to cook. On Sundays there is often food provided by Christians and non Christians from different cultural backgrounds. A Pakistani friend teaches people to cook pakoras. A Kurdish friend brings lentil soup.

By celebrating food, the church has opened up a new set of relationships and the potential for further cultural development. It has brought people into contact with God’s gospel agenda for culture and creation. In the context of those relationships we get to share the gospel. Where there is no united community into which to plant churches, we are attempting to create one through simple, everyday, culture creation with gospel intentionality.

Jonny is a church planter with The Crowded House and a tutor with the Northern Training Institute which I head up.

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  1. Pingback: Cultural power and powerlessness « Tim Chester

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