Some important definitions and cautions about… – Creating Culture, Part 2

In his book Culture Making, Andy Crouch suggests that “the only way to change culture is to create more of it.”[1]  If he is right, the Christian approach to changing culture is to create new culture. So in this post, let’s take a look at some definitions and cautions to help us think Christianly about creating culture.

First, Crouch provides a helpful caution suggesting that Christians, when they have resorted to condemning, critiquing, copying or consuming culture, have failed to produce the human flourishing envisioned by Christian theology. 

That brings us to our first definition: what is Christian theology?  It is defined in many ways, and for our purposes this week, I am going to suggest that Christian theology is “ideas about God that are in line with the heart and mission of Jesus, so that they result in people living lives in line with the heart and mission of Jesus.”

Second, Crouch cautions us by noting that “the only way to motivate a large enough bloc of [people] to act in a way that really shapes the [culture], is to create an alternative.”[2]  So if we want to change our culture, we will fail if we try to battle our culture in a culture war.  Instead we should create new culture. 

And that leads to our second definition: what is culture?  Culture is defined many ways.  For our purposes, I am going to refer to culture what culture should be, not what it always is.  Culture is humans working together to create a world where humanity can flourish. 

Flourishing?  I’ve used that word a lot in recent years.  Now for our third definition: what is flourishing?  It’s a word from nature, and we see it all around in spring time.  Flowers with healthy roots, access to water, sun, and nutrients in good soil will thrive and blossom.  Fruit trees will produce. 

For humanity, Jesus referred to flourishing when he taught about the abundant life (John 10:10).  Paul described it with the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  When we think of creating culture that is flourishing, we should think of people who are growing the Fruit of the Spirit in their lives.  We should also think of a society where injustice is being eradicated.  The Old Testament Hebrew has a wonderful for this, shalom.  It means “peace,” but it’s a wider, deeper peace than we normally think of.  Shalom is being a peace with ourselves, with others, with nature, with God.  That’s the kind of culture of human flourishing we Christians are called to create. 

That flourishing culture leads us to another caution. When we think of creating culture, most often we envision individual artists, painting, sculpting, designing, building, making music, drama or writing works of literature.  Individuals can create important cultural artifacts, but substantive culture change happens best by groups of Christians working together.  Churches, for sure.  But other Christian groups as well. 

Here is a fourth caution: Christian communities are normally seen as having different purposes than creating culture.  A church is for making disciples, right?  A church is for loving God and loving people.  But this week I’m going to try to convince you that Christian communities also need to see ourselves as people who must work together to create culture for the purpose of human flourishing.

Another caution: to create culture for human flourishing we must guard against seeing ourselves as custodians of culture.  A custodian of culture sees its mission as maintaining the status quo or tradition.  Certainly we should keep or preserve traditional aspects of culture that lead to flourishing.  Healthy marriages, healthy families, healthy church families.  But not all traditional culture has been healthy culture that led to human flourishing.  We do not want to be custodians of culture.  We need to be honest about which parts of our tradition and current culture are not helping people flourish. We will need to exercise patience and sensitivity during the process of creating culture. 

A final caution: churches would do well to review our mission statements, and the way we strive to accomplish that mission. My own church is like many churches that have a mission statement involving some version of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22:34-40, that the greatest commandments are loving God and loving people. At Faith Church we try to focus on loving God and people by worshiping, fellowshipping, making disciples of Jesus and reaching out to share the good news of Jesus in word and deed. My guess is that most other Christian churches do the same.

How many churches, though, would understand their primary mission as a theological mandate to create culture?  What we will see is that there is a clear Scriptural vision, fully in line with God’s Kingdom purposes, so that churches must see and express their mission as creators of culture.

With these cautions and definitions in hand, we can return to the question we’re seeking to at least begin to answer this week: “What is a uniquely Christian approach to changing culture?”  The answer is found in looking at Jesus.  As we will see, he created a new culture in which people flourished.  In the next post, we’ll learn how Jesus’ new culture had it’s roots long before he became a human.

[1] Crouch, Andy. 2008. Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. Downers Grove, IL: IVP. Page 67. There are those who disagree with Crouch, such as James Davison Hunter in To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. We’ll talk about Hunter’s work in a future post.

[2] Ibid, 72.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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