In this post Jonny Woodrow, who has guest blogged a review of Culture Making by Andy Crouch , responds to comments on the link between cultural power and powerlessness. Here are his previous posts on the topic:
1. Christians shaping culture
2. Shaping culture by creating culture
3. Cultural power and culture making
Andy Crouch says that cultural power is the ability to successfully propose a new cultural good. This might mean simply knowing a language and being able to represent someone else’s interests in a context that renders them culturally powerless.
In this sense Moses has more cultural power than the Israelites. He has a relationship with Pharaoh that the Israelites don’t have. He doesn’t appear before Pharaoh as a Hebrew slave, but as an advocate. The story indeed shows us that it is God who pulls off the exodus but he takes the cultural power that Moses has and uses it for redemptive purposes.
In his book, Crouch sees a pattern of God redirecting the power of the relatively powerful in the service of the powerless, to bring people into His cultural renewal program called the new creation.
Jesus is the meeting place of powerlessness and cultural power in his death and resurrection. He becomes powerless, submitting to the cultural power of Rome, in his death, in order to initiate the ultimate cultural renewal program. So he is the perfect combination of powerlessness meeting cultural power in order to create something new.
The powerless can now take part in his new creation plan and the powerful can submit their power to him. Our own use of cultural power must be shaped by the cross. We submit ourselves to Jesus as the agent of cultural renewal, stepping back from attempts to become our own saviours, and we spend our power on the powerless with kingdom agenda in the power of the resurrection.
I think we need a concept of cultural power for two reasons. The first is because it is a fact of creation. We are all culture makers and cultivators (see previous post). We all have some ability to propose new ways of relating to the world and each other in our various social contexts.
The second reason is because we need to redeem the concept of power from the modern and post modern reduction of it to a simple competition between individual, arbitrary wills or influence. In his book the one the three and the many, Colin Gunton Shows how this modernist understanding of power comes from the churches failure to be thoroughly Trinitarian in our understanding of the way God relates to creation.
God uses his power to redeem and perfect his creation (including our use of cultural power) through His Son and His Spirit. Gunton argues that we have defaulted to arguing for the oneness of God over the threeness of God. The result has been that we understand God primarily as creator and forget that his will and power, in and over creation, are mediated through the Son and Spirit. Instead, power and creation are separated from the doctrine of redemption. God’s power is conceived as an arbitrary will and creation is left with no intrinsic purpose. Creation and mans cultural power have no eternal significance.
In a non Trinitarian view, God’s power, is disconnected from his plan for the creation through the Son and Spirit. It is ultimately a non relational power. We are left with an understanding of God’s power as an individualistic will, disconnected from creation and emptied of purpose. Power is reduced to strength of influence..
As God’s image bearer, Adam is given cultural power to propose new forms of culture. But with a non Trinitarian view of power and purpose, the idea of image bearing, becomes a dangerous concept. It becomes a call to grab arbitrary, individual power and ultimately to over come God’s will. Power is conceptualised as a battle of individual wills. A powerful God is rejected as a power hungry, self centred, non relational, arbitrary force, who has no purpose for creation. God’s power and, power itself are not good news to anyone. Christians either get embarrassed about having power or they get intoxicated by it in the name of establishing the kingdom on earth.
A Trinitarian view of creation brings the concept of power into a redemptive and relational framework. It over comes the purposeless and individualistic understanding of power. God’s power is directed through the Son and Spirit to the perfection of creation. His power is relational and purposeful at its foundation, emanating from, and controlled by, what Gunton calls a community of love. As a result creation (including the cultural power of humans) has an eternal purpose. Gunton says:
The will of God is realized through a kind of community of love, so that the centrality of the Trinitarian mediators of creation ensure the purposeful nature of the creation, its non-arbitrary character. The creation has a purpose: the world is made to achieve perfection through time and to return completed to its creator. (The One, the Three and the Many, 120)
God’s power is something he spends on us in order to redeem our own use of cultural power, as part of the creation.
Crouch’s idea that power is the ability to propose a new cultural artefact is a useful concept. It is a deeply creational view of power. It is a relational view of power and it is a redeemable view of power because power can be turned back to God’s new creation agenda. The central question is how do we steward power rather than throw it off as a bad thing or make a grab for it.
I think we need to explore the concept of culture power, especially in the context of missional churches who want to take culture creation seriously. In our attempts to impact culture I wonder if the ‘battle of wills’ idea has shaped our understanding of power and influence. The church either wants to withdraw from culture, setting up its own sphere of influence or it wants to take over the secular establishments. In social action programs we can become condescending to those in need. The concept of cultural power and stewardship forces us to think about partnerships with the needy in finding solutions with other agencies in our cities.