Culture Making Review Part 2

In case you missed part one of this review, you can go here and check it out. The purpose of this installment is to explore the way Culture Making‘s author Andy Crouch brings Scripture into his thesis that the way to “transform” culture is to add to it by making culture.

I ususally don’t skip reading introductions to books, but for some reason I skipped this books’ intro.  So, as I was reading along I became very agitated by what I was reading. In a generally first page to last order, I read lines like these:

  • The Bible is itself a manifold collection of cultural artifacts.
  • The [serpent’s] temptation takes the form not of an invitation to create but to consume.
  • The first human act after the consumption of the fruit is cultural, the creation of that basic cultural good called clothing.
  • Mercifully, God improves their culture. He gives them leather for fig leaves – durable clothes.
  • God’s response to the ultimate cultural problem [by this he means the fall] is a fully cultural solution – God’s cultural project, Israel.
  • [Jesus] would have studied the Hebrew Bible, immersing himself in his nation’s cultural project….
  • Jesus was first of all a cultural cultivator.
  • In order for the culturally creative movement Jesus sought to unleash to flourish, the brokenness of culture had to be faced head on. And so Jesus accepted the calling of the cross.
  • Who else had ever been a more faithful steward of cultural cultivation than Jesus of Nazareth?
  • What has not been so widely commented on is the way that the resurrection is a culture shaping event – in fact, arguably, the most culturally significant event in history. This is not primarily a “religious” matter. 
  • The resurrection shows us a pattern for culture making in the image of God.
  • The book of Acts begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome and along the way visits nearly every commercial and political center around the Mediterranean. . . Which means that Acts is about culture.
  • The very specific cultural story of Israel was never anything other than a rescue mission for all the other cultures of the world.
  • Jesus’ cultural creativity led him to a cross.

And on and on it went. I know that list seems a bit long yet what I have provided here is but the tip of the iceberg.  I quickly  became convinced that somehow Crouch had decided to use the topic of culture as an interpretive lens into scripture. I hadn’t gotten too far into the book before I figured out that this is the kind of book you get when you read the Bible through a lens that is not appropriate for the job. This is where my accidental skipping of the introduction comes into play. For there, lo and behold, are the following sentences. “I am by no means the first writer in recent years to recapture a cultural way of reading the good news. We believe that rediscovering the cultural context of the gospel does nothing to prevent it from being good news from above, before and beyond us, and is actually the key to it being fully good news for us.” [emphasis mine]

Crouch nowhere explicitly defends this thesis. Possibly he offers the entirety of the book that follows it as a defense by tsunami [I’d estimate the word ‘culture’ or ‘cultural’ appears upwards of 500 times in the book]. So I had to extract for myself what he might be using to defend his thesis.

Early on in the book, on page 23, Crouch lays some theological cards on the table when he says “Culture is, first of all, the name for our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it’s given to us and make something else. This is the original insight of the writer of Genesis when he says that human beings were made in God’s image: just like the original Creator, we are creators” [emphasis mine].

Further on in section two of the book, titled “Gospel”, he takes up this theme again. “But what is meant by these words image and likeness?” After offering some alternative options, “insights that bear some truth” (e.g.  male/female reflective of God’s non-singularity; our rational faculties, after Augustine’s view; and the parallel with ancient Near Eastern viceroys who would rule in the name of a distant king) Crouch continues with his own interpretation. “But what has been most abundantly clear about God in Genesis 1? . . . Of course, what we have seen most clearly is that ‘In the beginning, God created’. . . So, when human beings, male and female are created ‘in God’s image’ surely the primary implication is that they will reflect the creative character of their maker” [emphasis mine] pg. 103-104.

I contend that I have faithfully identified Crouch’s underlying thesis – that the key to a proper reading of scripture is  a “cultural way of reading the good news”. And I believe I have located the thematic passage on which he bases his thesis. 

In my next and hopefully final installment I will take up this move of Crouch and offer a reformed account of the doctrine of the imago dei. Having done this, I will be in a position to give a final thumbs up-or-down to Crouch’s Culture Making.

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15 Responses to Culture Making Review Part 2

  1. Zrim says:

    …his thesis that the way to “transform” culture is to add to it by making culture.

    So he still has an eye toward transforming culture. This seems little different from Carter’s theory where we go about our natural vocations (“make culture”) and somehow things will become (magically) transformed. Not only does this passive-osmosis idea of sort of “backing into transformation” make little sense to me since something which requires active-deliberate effort simply cannot be achieved by passivity, but when you think of it, transforming culture is way harder than simply making it. It’s easier to make a snowman than transform it. Or am I just suspending too much belief when I watch “Frosty the Snowman”?

    Broadly speaking, Crouch still seems like he is to the cult/culture question what Emergent is to evangelicalism. Each puts its finger on plenty that ails but neither has shaken off completely their afflictions.

  2. Bruce S. says:

    Crouch avoids making this move (and the language of transformation in general) other than by suggesting that culture making brings about improvements over time. I’ll prolly not be touching on it much in the review but he stakes a big claim for culture by insisting that our cultural efforts survive into the eschaton – and he does it via his reading of Rev 21:24ff. His treatment of that text is one sided and doesn’t engage any of the other possible interpretations. I think that by wading into the book of Revelation, he makes a big mistake since if his view of 21:24 is literalistic what must his view of the book be as a whole.

  3. Zrim says:

    So, Bruce, what is the basic message of this book? It seems like it may be, Human beings make culture. That doesn’t seem very profound.

  4. Bruce S. says:

    Exactly. You’re hitting the nail right on the head. Not really profound but actually quite interesting as long as he sticks with what he’s good at – which is recounting cool tales of cultural developments, theories and the like. It’s when he attempts to bring in the Bible and make some kind of Christian message out of it that I got really confused.

  5. Zrim says:


    Putting Christian interpretive spin on something already perfectly clear, eh? That sounds like at least 98.7% of all religious enterprise in the western hemisphere. I think I’ll let sociologists be sociologists and theologians be theolgians; those are two great tastes that don’t go so great together.

  6. RubeRad says:

    [I’d estimate the word ‘culture’ or ‘cultural’ appears upwards of 500 times in the book

    There are only 285 pages in the book, and Amazon’s “search inside this book” reveals that 249 pages contain “culture”, and 210 pages contain “cultural”. Many of those pages will have both words; and a quick scan reveals that the word(s) do not apear but once per page; so I’d guess that 500 is a low estimate.

  7. Bruce S. says:

    Yeah, my 500 estimate is certainly low. I don’t know what happened to my arithmetic. I think it’s realistically around 2000 times in the book.

    FWIW, Crouch has a rather broad all-encompassing definition of culture and probably not incorrect at face value. However, Crouch does a pretty bold bait-and-switch. In the beginning of the book, his discussions of culture center around the normal kinds of stuff as I mentioned in the first installment. But at the end of the book Crouch shifts the emphasis from things like interstate highway systems and their impacts on culture to things that are really more along the lines of social work. He spends a great deal of ink discussing mother Teresa as an exemplary culture maker. The drift is a plea to good works under the guise of good works being nothing less than culture making.

  8. B says:

    You should do a word count of how many times the author of your favorite book on the covenants uses that word or a cognate of it per page.

  9. Bruce S. says:

    Quite right. That would be tough though. Maybe I could give RubeRad that task.

    I do know this. The word covenant(s) appears in the Bible 299 times. Add to that the count for diatheke as it appears in the Greek NT. I also know that the word culture or cultural appears in the Bible zero times.

    The point, I think, is how well one defends one’s assertion that this thing or that thing is a lens into scripture and then to assess what it is you end up with when using the lens. In Crouch’s case, he didn’t defend his lens at all, and what he ends up with I found to be wildly at variance with what God reveals to us in scripture.

  10. B says:

    Did you see that Culture Making won CT’s best book award in the Christianity and Culture category?

  11. Bruce S. says:

    No I didn’t. And wouldn’t have. Thanks for the info. Did they list the competition it beat out?

  12. Bruce S. says:

    CT prizing Culture Making and the negative review at the Confessional Outhouse just goes to show once again that “It’s lonely out here.”

  13. B says:

    But if CT gave a prize to Horton’s book (over N.T. Wright, no less), it can’t be all that bad!

  14. Bruce S. says:

    Another good point. Was Horton’s prize winning book People and Place?

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