Although it wasn’t planned this way, Joel’s article yesterday serves as a great lead-in for this one. If there was a take-home lesson from yesterday’s piece, I would venture to guess that it could be summed up by a quote that Gary North is rather fond of using: “You can’t fight something with nothing.” As Joel pointed out yesterday, Marxism is taking root in America because the Christian response—the very group that actually holds the irresistible answer in their church-going hands—is weak and ineffective. In much the same way, Christians have been waging a culture war (or at least talking about waging one) for decades and have very little to show for it. Two of the primary reasons for this failure are, first, Christians do not understand culture and, second, they have nothing to offer in its place. While Christians are quick to criticize and condemn the “culture” that they see surrounding them, they generally offer little more than puritanical platitudes as an alternative. You can’t fight something with nothing. Someone needs to write a book about this common evangelical misunderstanding and their noble but misguided efforts of “culture reclamation.”
Providentially someone has, and that someone is Andy Crouch. Andy’s new book, Culture Making, is a vitally important contribution to the “culture war” between the City of Man and the City of God. Few books of recent publication have contained the perceptive insight and practical wisdom that Crouch brings to the culture debate. He understands the real issues of the culture war and dives well below the surface level of most modern musings on the subject. His perch at Christianity Today International has given him a bird’s eye view of the culture and the various tactics that the Church has employed over the years. His book is divided into three parts: Culture, Gospel, and Calling. Because each of these sections builds on each other and because I believe that this book is the most important book this year (probably this decade) on the subject, we will look at each of his three parts with separate articles over the next three weeks.
To begin with, Crouch makes the concession that the very word “culture” is a very arbitrary and confusing word. “The literary critic Terry Eagleton observes, not reassuringly, that culture has been called the second most complicated word in the English language, after nature” (p. 10). This fact alone makes fighting the culture war doubly difficult because even the armies are not speaking the same language within their own ranks. Crouch takes pains in his first part to make it clear exactly what he means when he says “culture” and I think it is a valuable contribution in translating for the militant Church just what we should mean when we use the word. Crouch understands that culture, like government, has different spheres of influence and jurisdiction. Family, church, and civil governments all play a Part 1n the broad definition of government, just as family, church, and civil cultures play a Part 1n the broad definition of culture. However, each of the realms, both governmental and cultural in the broad sense, are ultimately rooted in individual persons. Proper self-government is the common thread to success in all realms of government, as proper self-culture is the common thread to success in all realms of culture. A culture that is not “self-cultured” correctly will never be “corporately-cultured” correctly. Culture, like government, begins in the heart.
Crouch notes the four typical responses to culture that modern Christianity has adopted: condemning, critiquing, copying, and consuming. None of these four are necessarily right or wrong or good or bad, but they do not provide an alternative, in and of themselves. I am reminded of the movie V for Vendetta, where the main character is determined to destroy the culture of corruption that he believes is controlling his city, but he has no plan to offer once the dust settles. Examining culture is an important and necessary step, but as Crouch makes clear, we cannot stop here. We must be ready and willing to offer an alternative. In fact, we should be building the alternative while we are condemning and critiquing.
Crouch further makes the point that culture is unavoidable. Not participating in the culture is still a cultural action. As the Rush song “Freewill” cleverly summarizes: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” With this in mind, Crouch discusses “gestures and postures.” Postures, like the way each individual carries himself or sits in a chair, are mostly inherent attitudes that we bring to culture unaware. “Our posture is our learned but unconscious default position, our natural stance” (p. 90). These are the unquestioned presuppositions that each of us have that inform how we naturally respond to the culture, either positively or negatively. Gestures are the actions that we have learned and make a conscious effort to put them into use, often for the benefit of others. Our gestures are how we attempt to reveal or conceal our postures. Crouch argues that much of what passes for Christian engagement with culture are actually gestures that hide a crooked posture. Christians have become so comfortable with the gestures of critiquing and condemning that they have tricked themselves into believing that this is the end of the matter. But, you can’t fight something with nothing. Even the most well-intentioned gestures cannot fix an improper posture. Christianity needs a spine-readjustment before it can have a towering presence in the culture, and this is where the Gospel comes in. We will discuss Culture Making’s second part next week.