Andy Crouch on Culture and Calling

Culture MakingThe mission of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding is to help parents, youth workers, educators, and others understand teenagers and their culture so that they will be better equipped to help children and teens navigate the challenging world of adolescence. Studying and better understanding culture is at the heart of what we do.

In his very important and influential book, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (IVP), Andy Crouch invites readers to consider a more holistic way of thinking about culture. He writes, “Culture is what we make of the world… We make sense of the world by making something of the world. The human quest for meaning is played out in human making: the finger-painting, omelet-stirring, chair-crafting, snow-swishing activities of culture. Meaning and making go together—culture, you could say, is the activity of meaning making.” One of the many advantages to thinking about culture in this way is that it implies responsibility. Andy asks, “What does it mean to be not just culturally aware but culturally responsible?”

In December 2012 Andy became executive editor of Christianity Today, where he is also executive producer of This Is Our City, a multi-year project featuring documentary video, reporting, and essays about Christians seeking the flourishing of their cities. A few years ago, for a different publication, I interviewed Andy about his book and its implications for parenting and youth ministry. I think Andy’s wise words are worth paying attention to as we consider how to pass along the Christian faith to young people:

CPYU: What motivated you to write Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling?

Andy CrouchAndy: It seemed to me that we needed a new vision for the relationship between Christians and culture. On the one hand, much Christian energy has gone into criticizing culture (and there is plenty to criticize, in our society and every other). On the other hand, many Christians simply consume culture fairly uncritically, absorbing the values of the dominant culture with alarming complacency.

Yet the biblical picture of human beings is of cultivators and creators of culture—neither critics nor consumers. Being “cultivators” means that we are meant to discern and preserve what is best in our cultures, and pass that along to the next generation. Being “creators” means that when our cultures are deficient in some way, we are meant not simply to complain or withdraw, but actually create new cultural goods and institutions. We’re meant to be culture makers.

CPYU: What can parents and youth workers do to help shape young people into becoming culture makers?

Andy: The first thing I would encourage is intentionality. There is nothing wrong with consuming culture, for example, but let’s make choices about what kind of culture we want to consume together, rather than just watching whatever’s on. The biggest fashion trend right now is not any particular brand of clothing, but customization. There’s tremendous energy for being culture creators among young people that we can recognize and encourage.

Then I would encourage us to model and teach the importance of disciplines, the practices without which we will always be cultural amateurs. We need to move beyond an “American Idol” model of creativity, which is just about well-intentioned self-expression, to the cultivation of skill and wisdom that would allow us not just to turn in one spectacular performance, but a lifetime’s worth of deep contribution to some arena of culture, whether that’s music, law, business, medicine, or creating healthy homes and neighborhoods.

CPYU: One of the chapters in your book is titled “Why We Can’t Change the World.” Why do you think it is important for Christians to be careful in describing their mission as “changing the world”?

Andy: Changing the world, at least at the level of grandeur that is usually implied by that phrase, is not an achievable mission. Human societies are so complex that no one can securely expect to change them. And most often people who set out to change the world end up changed by the world—implicated in the world’s broken systems of power and pride.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be bold in our culture making. But we are best served by a humility about our own role that “changing the world” doesn’t really imply. I deeply, completely believe in changing the world if the subject of that phrase is God, the one true world-changer. But if I am the subject, the agent of world-changing, I am putting myself in the place of God. I’d much rather we simply seek to cultivate and create great culture, and leave the world-changing up to Another.