Review: Culture Making, by Andy Crouch

Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008), 282 pages.

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Culture-Making_book IVP’s decision to re-release Andy Crouch’s Culture Making as a paperback edition makes it a great, affordable recommendation for a Christian layperson or a required textbook for the Christian college student. The book indeed spans the gap from church to academy. It would make a good text for introductory classes on Christianity and culture, on vocation, on Christian worldview or an introduction to the gospel, or even classes in sociology/anthropology from a Christian perspective (for example, Wheaton College’s HNGR program). I plan on using it as a required text for a class in the theology and vocation of education.

A number of things commend the book for a wide audience. Crouch is able to summarize a number of complicated points from sociology and cultural anthropology in a simple, helpful way. This allows the book to be neither simplistic, as so many Christian books on culture are, nor overly bound to the shifting, technical theories of the academic guild (the choice not to include footnotes but have notes on further reading in the back aids toward this end). It reads well in part because of Crouch’s good analogies and memorable labels for certain positions. The first section of the book (“Culture”) is the most dependent on sociology/anthropology, for it is here that Crouch seeks to define culture and also outline how Christians have viewed culture in the 20th century. Arguably, the most helpful points in this section are his distinction between “creation” and “cultivation,” “gesture” and “posture,” and his typology of Christian gestures toward culture: condemning culture, critiquing culture, copying culture, consuming culture, and creating culture.

Of the book’s three sections, the second section (“Gospel”) seeks to narrate the biblical storyline in terms of culture. Crouch begins with a thorough exploration of the Genesis mandate in terms of his previously stated categories of culture. He then goes on to note the cultural reality of Israel and Jesus’ role “as a culture maker.” The point here is to show Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as having cultural force rather than as an a-cultural escape to heaven. The story then goes on to the culture of the early church and final vision of Revelation as a picture of redeemed culture. It is this section that helps root the work in biblical theology and that would merit its inclusion in classes or Sunday schools on Christian worldview (though Crouch doesn’t really like that term).

The last section (“Calling”) focuses on the practical steps that Christians should take in light of his analysis of culture and the Bible’s narrative. Here Crouch spends time arguing for an active but modest vision of Christians engaging in culture. In a chapter entitled “Why We Can’t Change the World,” he criticizes overly optimistic and expansive—and also shallow—aims of Christians who seek to be “world changers.” Crouch emphasizes the complexity of culture and the discipline of faithfulness in immediate surroundings. Other themes in this section include seeing God’s work through nonbelievers, the trick dynamics of power in seeking to change culture, and the importance of community and God’s grace.

Perhaps the key to Crouch’s entire book is his point that “the only way to change culture is to create more of it” (67). The recent popularity of “Christian worldview analysis” draws Crouch’s friendly criticism throughout. Though nothing is inherently wrong with “worldview” as a category, Crouch believes it fails to explain culture as a material phenomenon and not simply an “idea.” Thus the highest Christian calling is to “create” culture and not simply to critique it. As the subtitle of the book suggests, Crouch wants Christians to see their vocation in creative terms, with a healthy dose of humility as well.

Without taking away from above praises, there are a few criticisms I have of the book. One is an overarching suspicion that Crouch’s modern sociological theories are the cart pulling the horse. This is especially noticeable in that the heavy cultural anthropological work comes before the section on the gospel in the biblical drama. No doubt Crouch and others might point out that everybody in fact does this. Perhaps, but the determining place of Scripture in at least Protestant theology should critique the naturalistic assumptions of modern sociology. The soft “determinism” of modern cultural theory is seen most in his points about the impossibility of the gospel being embodied in culture.

Another point worth mentioning is Crouch’s acceptance of modern anthropology’s account of human origins. This is clear from the book’s beginning but is made explicit in a 3-page interlude (“The Primordial Story”) in his exposition of the Genesis account of beginnings. He reads not only the age of the universe but also the description of Adam and Eve and the Fall into sin as “more complicated and less sudden than Genesis would have us believe”—“less a finely documented history than a story that invites our trust” (118, 120). This will probably not unsettle certain readers, but it does seem out of place and unnecessary in the larger point of the book. Crouch certainly doesn’t deal with any biblical and theological objections to his view; it is only advocated as his personal approach.

Overall, Culture Making represents a fine addition to the growing literature on a Christian theology of culture, the church’s interaction with culture, biblical frameworks for cultural life, and a doctrine of Christian vocation.

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About Robbie Crouse

I completed my PhD student at Wheaton College with Dr. Daniel Treier in 2016. My doctoral research was on ecclesiology, Christ and culture, and Christian political theology.
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