Andy Crouch’s Favorite Letter

Sistine.jpgI recently read Andy Crouch’s new book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, a winding book on culture and how Christians can be cultivators of culture.

Andy’s favorite letter is “C” — and he’s got more C’s in this book
than any book I’ve seen. But, he’s not being cute. The C’s are genuine
and they make the book more useful. But I have to put my big impression
of this book up front: this book has too many ideas and not enough of
them settled. The best book I have read on this topic, surely for a
slightly different audience, is John Stackhouse, Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World
.


There are three parts to the book: culture, gospel, and calling. This
book attempts to take complex issues and simplify them for a more
general Christian audience. Hence, the absence of footnotes. My own
view here is that those who read books on culture
making
can handle, and want, footnotes — and more direct,
sustained, philosophical interaction with prominent thinkers. But Crouch’s approach makes the book accessible.

The whole book is summed up in the introduction: “What is most needed
in our time are Christians who are deeply serious about cultivating and
creating but who wear that seriousness lightly — who are not
desperately trying to change the world but who also wake up every
morning eager to create” (12).

Culture, Andy tells us well, is what we as individuals make of the world. We are
called to be creative cultivators of the creation where God has put us.
Part of making something of the world is interpretation, and here Andy
tips his hat to the linguistic turn but this is a theme
that simply isn’t developed to my satisfaction. Yet, I think he sets
himself up for it. Culture is more than what we make and more than the
sense we make of it; culture is already part of the world that we have
to make sense of. Here he is using the profound study of Berger and
Luckmann, and I think this theme is done reasonably well in this book
even if he could engage the entire complex of how primary and secondary
socialization mix into our culture making. Anyway, he’s into our making
of cultural artifacts — and he expounds his ideas by examining how omelets and highways work in our culture.

He comes up with five questions involved in our culture making:

1. What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world is?
2. What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world should be?
3. What does this cultural artifact make possible?
4. What does this cultural artifact make impossible or difficult?
5. What new forms of culture are created in response to this artifact?

Crouch’s focus is not on worldview, but on culture and he gets local:
“the culture of a particular sphere, at a particular scale, for a
particular people or public (ethnicity), at a particular time” (60).
This is good; postmoderns, too, embrace this idea. But this view of Crouch’s means more
deconstruction than he attends to. If worldview is too much about
analysis — and he has some good things to say about this  — culture making knows that
“culture helps us behave ourselves into new ways of thinking” (64). And that in itself needs to be examined carefully because everything becomes local.

“The only way to change culture is to create more of it” (67) — this
is very important idea and it deals with the “othercott” approach
instead of the boycott approach. Which leads him to his major C’s, or
our basic postures with respect to culture:

Condemning culture
Critiquing culture
Copying culture
Consuming culture

And Crouch advocates cultivating culture by co-creation. He sketches
how evangelicals have interacted with culture; he brings in Francis
Schaeffer, who played more of a role than many realize, but Crouch owes
it to his readers to point out that Schaeffer swiped his stuff on
cultural analysis from Van Til and Hans Rookmaker.

One of the highlights of this book is the section called “gospel” — it
is a sketch of the Bible through the lens of Story but his story is
shaped by “culture making” as inherent to what that Story is all about.
Crouch operates, as many of us today are doing, with a robust sense of
gospel, that God’s redemptive designs include the individual but are
much, much bigger. Overall, I liked this section but for some odd
reason Crouch simply doesn’t bring in “Israel” as a body politic or
social body or kingdom as a “society” Jesus forms or “church” as an
alternative society enough to let them take on separable chapters of
how culture comes into play at the level of
society
. Systemics, in other words. Yes, he brings up these
themes often enough but he doesn’t turn his lens toward analyzing them
as cultural products and how systemically they impact the culture
consumer and the culture maker. Or how they shape how we become culture-makers.

The book leans heavily toward
individualism. This all becomes clear when Crouch speaks of Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture and observes that Niebuhr did
not say “Christians” and Culture. Well, yes, I suppose … but … but
… but… what does it mean for us to say we are the Body of Christ
when it comes to Culture. He seems to favor a much more micro-level of
culture making — the individual working with a few others. Andy’s
sense of culture making shares too much with Thoreau for me.

One of his beefs is with the “change the world” industry, and he thinks
we ought to have our goals a little lower in that changing the world is
both too big and out of our control — we can’t predict what will fly
and what won’t. Instead, one of his major proposals is the 3:12:120
factors: create or cultivate culture in a small group of 3 and then
with a slightly larger group and then within a bigger group. This is
the heart of his chp called “community.” I doubt this can be found in
his Story of the gospel in the middle chps of this book but this section does offer
(for me) a kind of ecclesiology. I wanted this point to settle down into a pervasive point of view in the entire book.

We are called to be culture makers and that includes the intersection
of Christ and kingdom and Cross — and it means lifting the lowly and
lowering the exalted.

I seem to be out of step with some early reviews of this book; perhaps I’m wrong.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • T

    Scot,
    I’ve not read the book, though I’m thinking about it. I’m curious, though, about your beef with the book re: Israel and societies of God and how that relates to culture. I’m thinking of the view that Israel, at the time of Christ, could be viewed as a stump, out of which Christ (alone) grew. Or about how ‘the Servant’ in Isaiah is Israel, but that in terms of calling and ‘Israel-as-it-was-intended-to-be’ it has been whittled down to one man, Jesus. But Jesus, thankfully, seems to follow Crouch’s pattern somewhat through creating a new society/culture, not of thousands at once, but (thoroughly) with 3, then 12, 120, etc. Isn’t also relevant that Jesus always sends missionaries out (making culture?) in twos at least, never solo? Is this a factor in this 3:12:120 thinking? I’ve started to pursue such a pattern myself over the last year and I’ll tell you I think it’s better than trying to start with the big crowd all at once.
    I’m wanting/needing to read more on the 3:12:120 idea, but you seem to be saying it’s more of a kind of individualism rather than a type of society. Am I reading you right? Did Crouch think of it that way? If so, that strikes me as interesting.

  • Scot McKnight

    T,
    This has to do with how “culture” is defined and how “culture-making” is defined. What Andy says I most like; what he doesn’t say is where we need to go: to see that the culture God formed is a community-shaped culture and that culture-making, when it is not church-shaped community culture, is not the culture-making we are called to make.
    David Fitch wrote up a nice, approving post about Andy’s book but he does agree with me that there needs to be more focus on community.

  • Rebeccat

    Hmmmmm . . . I’ve just started reading this book. I’ve been a bit hesitant because it seems like one of those books whose summary says all you really need to know. IE “As Christians, we are called to create, often just for the joy and challenge of creating. This is part of God’s nature and ours as well and we need to embrace it rather than criticizing, copying and consuming what other people create.” (I’m very much a big picture person and not much of a detail person – can you tell?) But I bought it, so I suppose I’ll plow through.
    One thing I would be interested in seeing is someone look at scriptures themselves as a creative act. Kenneth Bailey does a bit with this by culling out the poetry which forms much of the gospels, but overall this is an aspect of scriptures which I think is under appreciated and which could further support the creative calling of the Christian life.

  • http://www.culture-making.com/ Andy Crouch

    Scot, thanks for these notes on the book. I appreciate your comments very much. I plead guilty without reservation to not having footnotes, though I think anyone who peruses the annotated bibliography at the end will find plenty further to chew on.
    On the deconstructive potential of acknowledging local culture, as a critical realist I’m not too worried about that. This is why I find the definition “what we make of the world” so useful. Culture is *not* just “what we make.” The world has its own reality and existence that pushes back on every variety of local culture. Culture is not ultimately self-contained, which is not to deny its profound diversity, variety, and even incommensurability in certain ways.
    On the matter of structures and systems, I concede that I probably did not spend enough time in the book on this subject. (Though I _do_ spend an entire chapter on Israel’s cultural function as a *nation,* with that point emphasized in many different ways. Of course there is always more to be said!) But I must say the word “individualism” seems unfair, or at least hasty. Throughout the book, from the first illustration of the baby acquiring language to quite literally the last page of the final chapter, I stress the corporate and communal nature of culture and culture-making.
    And while there is much more to be said about structures, systems, and institutions—and in fact my next book on cultural power will, God willing, tackle those issues directly—there is a method in my madness. Let me illustrate it this way:
    A few months ago I served on a committee evaluating applications to a grant program sponsored by one of the country’s largest private foundations. Six of us sat in the room and made decisions about which proposals would be funded—would become, in effect, cultural goods for a wide public—and which would not. Now it would be eminently foolish to ignore the systemic, structural, and institutional dynamics that surrounded us. They were the condition of possibility of our gathering, of our ability to make decisions, of the proposals themselves, and of the kind of rhetoric and reasons we could and could not deploy to evaluate the proposals. Likewise, there were surely powerful systemic reasons that every person save one in the room (that one being the program administrator, not a member of the jury) was a white male of European descent between the ages of 40 and 58. It would be just as foolish to ignore these structural dynamics as to suppose that as an individual agent I could somehow do the kind of culture making that we were being asked to do. We could only do it as a group, in an institutional context.
    And yet . . . for all those real structural factors, the ultimate cultural effect of our work came down to the choices that that absolutely small group of six made, and could make. We did not have direct access to the systemic realities that clearly constrained and enabled our efforts. **Nor did anyone else.** Those systemic, structural features are almost by definition beyond the reach of any single person or group. What *was* within our power was to act creatively *as a small group* within the possibilities and limitations of the structures we found ourselves in.
    And this is true at every level of the “systems” so beloved of many thinkers. The systems themselves are not accessible to or responsive to our agency. At every level of the system—even, as I point out in the book, at the highest levels like Hollywood executive suites and the White House—you find an absolutely and relatively small group that can and must act together. They do indeed have varying levels of power—our jury had less power, in certain senses, than the board of the foundation that sponsored the grant program. And yet, we had the ability to do something. And that was the only something we had the ability to do.
    This is why I am wary of excessive Christian focus on “society.” Margaret Thatcher may not have been entirely right, but she was half right at least. When we spend all our energy on “society” we quickly become either paralyzed or over-reaching. But when we consider the specific people God has given us to cultivate and create with—which, again, is the farthest thing from individualism in the usual sense of that word—we are at the scale of real agency. In fact, I would venture to say that real cultural agency resides neither in heroic individuals nor in the “structures” that are currently granted such potency in the sociological literature. (Christian Smith’s forthcoming book addresses this in a very compelling way.) Rather, cultural agency is in absolutely and relatively small groups. This should be of no surprise to Christians who worship not, _pace_ certain enthusiastic borrowers of the word, a divine Society (with the abstraction and breadth that word entails) but a Trinity. The original creative Three.
    So, again, thank you for your comments, but to be honest I believe a fair reading of my book is that it is anything but conventionally individualistic.
    P.S. John Stackhouse’s book is wonderful—I have a very positive review of it coming out in Books & Culture this spring—and well worth reading for those who want more on “society” and the usual topoi of Christ-and-culture reflection than I have provided. And also more (and wittier) footnotes!

  • Scot McKnight

    Andy,
    Thanks for writing in. Some of my critique, of course, is the sort of thing I’d like to have seen you address … which means, you didn’t say it and that’s OK, but for a more complete study it would have to be addressed.
    But … I have to push back now.
    Your response confirms my judgment. Where is the church, the People of God, as central to culture-making? How does the Church itself fit in your proposals for culture-making? You don’t mention it at all in this response as the singular place where God is culture-making in this world. My point is that the Story of the Bible is absolutely preoccupied with God’s People — Israel, Kingdom, Church — as what God is doing in this world and the agent of change in this world.

  • Andy Crouch

    @T — exactly, starting with the “big crowd” is never as effective as starting with the 3. I hope you’ll read at least my chapter on community—I think it will affirm the direction you’re going!
    @Rebeccat — thanks for even starting the book! I hope you find there is more than meets the summarizing eye . . . I tried to build in some genuine surprises, or at least gifts, toward the end to reward readers who make it that far. The book is not structured deductively, with the most important points first and then just explication after, but inductively, with the most important points at the end. So if you’re bored you could try reading backwards. :)

  • Andy Crouch

    Scot, it all depends on what we mean by Church, doesn’t it? I don’t find myself willing to limit God’s cultural activity to activities that can be identified with the Church. The Church was a part, a big part even, of the Civil Rights Movement and the end of apartheid, and yet some or much of what was good in those movements was, as best as I can tell, the result of God’s grace operating through secular agents. (I address this, I hope with appropriate caveats about discerning divine activity, in the beginning of Part 3.)
    I find myself, still and all, a Protestant, which is to say that when I capitalize Church I am referring to something not fully identifiable with human or historical structures. This is why, in essence, I am not Orthodox or Catholic. I am all too aware that this leaves me with what seems to many like a flimsy ecclesiology. My Catholic friends remind me of this often. :) This is one of the hearts of John Seel’s critique of my book—it is no accident that he is an Anglo-Catholic while I am a Wesleyan Anglican.
    To put it another way, I do believe God is at work in churches, and in the Church, in a singular way. But I do not believe that the Church is *the* singular place where God is at work. There are so many dimensions of human culture that are good in and of themselves—omelets, for example, and the rule of law in liberal democracies, to pick a less frivolous example—where it seems limiting or totalizing to try to say how “the Church” should or does participate in them. Yet Christians (not singly but in real, relationally rich communities) should and do cultivate and create in those domains. And the fruit of all that cultivation and creation will be present in the new creation where indeed the Church will be the one true final Society of the redeemed.
    In sum, I am neither Catholic nor Hauerwasian enough to grant “the church,” in its historical (=cultural) expressions (expressions which are, inescapably, plural not singular from the very beginning), quite the priority that you would want me to. At least not when I am approaching the subject of culture. Its eschatological significance, and its significance in history as an eschatological sign, is paramount and I can even agree that, in that ultimate sense, extra ecclesiam nulla salus est. But in the midst of history it seems to me there is more to be said about Christian culture making than can be said about “the Church (or the Body of Christ) and culture.”

  • Scot McKnight

    Well, Andy, I guess my point is not that I deny the presence of culture outside the church but that I’d like to see more Church/church/local churches in what culture-making is all about. Without denying the individual or the non-church stuff, for me culture-making is to take place within and in the context of the People of God.

  • Scot McKnight

    Let me say it another way: at the heart of the biblical Story of culture-making is the formation of God’s People.

  • RJS

    Andy,Scot,
    It seems to me that you two are talking past each other – and I’m having a hard time putting it together.
    Certainly small groups initiate creative product. As a scientist this bottom up versus top down direction is always at play – I’ve sat on many panels such as you describe Andy, although for governmental not private funding agencies.
    So Scot – what is the role of church (not institution, but body of Christ, Christian community) here?

  • RJS

    Perhaps this is the way to put it:
    Christian cultivation of culture should be church centered.
    What we do, what we create should be “for the church” the greater good of the body of Christ. It should be informed by and for the greater good of the people of God, directed toward the kingdom of God.

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS,
    You’re probably right; there’s some talking past one another and your words are good.
    One thing I’m saying is that Church is primary in what culture means; God’s work in this world is to create people who live out God’s will and govern his good world. Culture-making, in a Christian context, needs to be set in that context.
    Culture-making is not for the object but to express and enhance our love of God and our love of others and genuine culture must contribute to those. The eternal “culture” of the Trinity is the self-glorifying perichoresis and this makes relationality central to all genuine culture-making.

  • BeckyR

    What’s a cultural artifact? It sounds like what someone would find on an archeological dig.

  • Dayton Castleman

    Taking it another direction, a question. I’m curious to hear opinions or guesses on how artists, art historians, art critics, or art theorists (those of us who operate professionally within the institutional sphere of art) were intended to have interpreted the following paragraph:
    “By the same token, other ‘gestures’ toward art are almost always beside the point. Serious works of art are not made to be consumed- slotted unthinkingly into our daily lives- nor, by law in fact, may they be simply copied and appropriated for Christian use. Of all the possible gestures toward culture, condemnation, in particular, almost always ends up sounding shrill and silly when applied to art. If an attention-starved contemporary artist spatters dung on a portrait of the Madonna or slices up an embalmed shark, what harm is really done? These works are safely ensconced inside the walls of museums with hefty admission prices, not on the street or in the air endangering our children. Furthermore, it is difficult to think of a single instance where condemnation of a work of art has produced any result other than heightened notoriety for the work and the artist.” (p 92)

  • cas

    Scot, Can you explain WHY you believe this: “For me culture-making is to take place within and in the context of the People of God,” or, at least, expand upon what you mean?

  • Scot McKnight

    cas,
    Andy’s book goes through the Bible’s Story — Gen to Revelation — searching for clues about culture-making and saying that one of our central mandates is to be culture-makers. Fine, I say. That same Story is about God’s forming the People of God, seen in these three major words: Israel, kingdom, Church. My contention: all culture-making, then, from a biblical point of view, needs to be connected to what God is doing in this world: forming the people of God.
    Hence, … my statement in #12.

  • cas

    Thanks. That helps. I haven’t read the book yet, but you’ve both certainly peaked my interest. I was going to finish The Blue Parakeet first, but now, hmmm, I may have to double up.

  • cas

    … because, I’m not yet sure what to make of your statement in 12:
    Church is primary in what culture means; God’s work in this world is to create people who live out God’s will and govern his good world. Culture-making, in a Christian context, needs to be set in that context.
    Culture-making is not for the object but to express and enhance our love of God and our love of others and genuine culture must contribute to those. The eternal “culture” of the Trinity is the self-glorifying perichoresis and this makes relationality central to all genuine culture-making.

  • Andy Crouch

    Scot, I’ve been thinking about your further comments, and honestly I’m a bit perplexed. I have a whole chapter on Israel and how Israel as a people bore witness in the midst of the nations to the Creator God. I discuss the way that “kingdom of God” would have meant, for biblical people, a comprehensive cultural setting in which God’s will was done and God’s shalom was enacted. I have a whole chapter (“From Pentecost . . .”) on the church. True, at the center of it is a chapter on Jesus, who is treated more as a singular individual who fulfills Israel’s calling than as the inaugurator of the church. And then I jump to Revelation, which certainly leaves me open to the charge that I’m ignoring 17 centuries or so of church history. But it seems to me that the story I tell is very much about the forming of a people (I go into quite a bit of detail for example, given the space available, about the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, which is all about how the church can be a multi-ethnic community). Then when I bring that all into the realm of calling, the whole framework is suffused with references to networks, relationality, and community—albeit not, as discussed above, with much attention to institutions per se, and not restricted to the Church’s historical agency per se.
    I think we have different emphases, which is why you’re a biblical theologian (or theological biblical scholar?) and I’m a journalist, so it may just be that I didn’t use the language you instinctively look for clearly enough. Or perhaps you are more Anabaptist or Catholic in your leanings than I, as mentioned above. But as RJS said above, we’re clearly not really that far apart in our concern that culture be seen as communal rather than individual.
    Meanwhile, @Dayton Castleman, how do *you* react to that section? :)
    Grace and peace,
    Andy

  • Andy Crouch

    It is also possible that what you’re thinking, but too kind to say, is that my book is incoherent. :) Or, more generously, that the argument isn’t tightly wound enough around the key concepts of Israel, kingdom, church. Could be.
    But I still believe there are significant arenas of culture where it is more useful to speak of Christians’ (pl.) agency than of the Church’s agency. To be sure, the Church forms Christians who can cultivate and create in such a way that God’s shalom comes, partially and by God’s grace, on earth as in heaven. But those Christians then go out and collaborate with non-Christian neighbors on all sorts of culture making that, again partially and by God’s grace, seem to have their own intrinsic good (hence their presence in the new creation).

  • Scot McKnight

    Andy,
    My big question, so it now seems to me, to be this:
    How does “Church qua Church” manifest culture-making? Not how do Christians, who happen to be in the Church, manifest culture-making?

  • cas

    Thanks for your second paragraph in 20. You’ve expressed where my hesitation lay.

  • RJS

    Scot,
    But isn’t Church qua Church an inherently flawed mechanism of culture making?

  • RJS

    I have not read the book – although I did download and listen to the lectures Andy gave to the IVCF GFM annual staff meetings – and found it interesting.
    Individualism is an approach where Christians who happen to be in the Church, manifest culture-making. I also think the idea that Christians go out and collaborate with non-Christian neighbors on all sorts of culture making that seem to have their own intrinsic good misses the point.
    Perhaps individual Christians engage in culture making that has intrinsic good because it is step with the mission of God and the church of God. I am not sure if I am making sense here either.

  • http://www.film-think.com M. Leary

    “How does “Church qua Church” manifest culture-making? Not how do Christians, who happen to be in the Church, manifest culture-making?”
    And the attendant question to this, especially in a missional context, is: “How does the ‘Christian artist qua Christian artist’ manifest culture-making?”
    Even though I have more Hauerwasian leanings than Andy (I can cope with that), the book has made me a better critic. Its great historical merit will prove to be the way it recapitulates, retools, and updates the great evangelical culturati meta-discussion. But, in an obverse of Scot’s question, does it maintain the lack of focus on the practitioner that has plagued this discussion ever since Van Til?
    In my first experiences as a Christian artist, working with other Christian artists in a variety of local contexts, I had to unlearn a lot of theology. No one was as worried about concepts of “agency” and the typical topoi of Christ-and-culture conversation as they were about figuring out form and exhibition. The actual practitioner’s questions involve solving material problems, adjusting habituated systems of representation, finding the right form to give voice to a specific inspiration, and navigating the financial differences between church space and gallery space. It was an odd experience for Bontecou, Nauman, Cornell, and Paolozzi to become more theological formative on my development as a “culture-maker” (even in very Henrian evangelical ways) than Wolterstorff, Balthasar, or (gasp!) Schaeffer.
    Thinking at the level of the practitioner, which hasn’t ever really happened in book length form in evangelical circles, changes the landscape significantly. I don’t think Andy’s book is at all incoherent, it is just half of the picture.

  • Dayton Castleman

    Taking it another direction, a question. I’m curious to hear opinions or guesses on how artists, art historians, art critics, or art theorists (those of us who operate professionally within the institutional sphere of art) were intended to have interpreted the following paragraph:
    “By the same token, other ‘gestures’ toward art are almost always beside the point. Serious works of art are not made to be consumed- slotted unthinkingly into our daily lives- nor, by law in fact, may they be simply copied and appropriated for Christian use. Of all the possible gestures toward culture, condemnation, in particular, almost always ends up sounding shrill and silly when applied to art. If an attention-starved contemporary artist spatters dung on a portrait of the Madonna or slices up an embalmed shark, what harm is really done? These works are safely ensconced inside the walls of museums with hefty admission prices, not on the street or in the air endangering our children. Furthermore, it is difficult to think of a single instance where condemnation of a work of art has produced any result other than heightened notoriety for the work and the artist.” (p 92)

  • Dayton Castleman

    @ Andy
    Well… since you asked nicely… :)
    I hate to get caught up in the details, but you had to know that artists (those of us that approach it as a serious discipline rather than a hobby) are a sensitive bunch. We’re at least as sensitive as theologians. Details, particularly those used to illustrate a point, are at best enriching, but at worst, they can turn off an entire population.
    You completely misrepresent the artworks, and the artists, you refer to in the paragraph I copied above. You refer to Damien Hirst’s, “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” as a sliced, embalmed shark. Is it a shark in a formaldehyde tank? Yes. Sliced? No. You confuse it with other works of sliced animals by Hirst. Then, Chris Ofili, an artist of Nigerian descent and devout Catholic, who uses a lump of dung on his painting “The Holy Virgin Mary.” It’s not splattered, and similar lumps are used in other paintings throughout that show. There’s also the comment about attention starvation, without any mention of the Young British Artist’s strategy of shock. It’s just much, much more nuanced than your paragraph suggests.
    Details? Yes. Nit-picking? Perhaps. Important? Well, I’m sure you’d have had some folks question your credibility if you’d referred to a seminal work titled, “The Chronicles of Christ and Culture,” and credited it to the prolifically “attention starved” author Karl Barth.
    What the paragraph does is warn against *public* condemnation, while slipping in a little barb, and implying permission for ill-informed *private* condemnation.
    I’ll end by quoting an artist friend of mine:
    “That’s just the basic formal issues of the art addressed in this paragraph. What about the rest? What about the role of the museum? Does it not shape and inform culture? Isn’t that why we build these gigantic complexes and fill them with stuff? You’re supposed to take kids TO the museum, not put stuff in there that you don’t want your kids to see. In one part of the book he is arguing NOT to distance yourself from culture and NOT to condemn. In one paragraph he manages to do both.
    Lastly, what’s the matter with some condemnation? I don’t mind it…if it’s intelligently handled and justifiable. Obviously Ofili didn’t need to be condemned. He needed to embraced and championed. He should be designing a chapel instead of Matisse. Hirst didn’t need to be condemned (and I don’t think he was). He need to be engaged and discussed and thoughtfully critiqued.
    When evil rears its head, you condemn it. The book makes this point prior to page 92. These two examples just happen to not be evil. Saying that condemning art is “shrill and silly” ultimately means that art isn’t powerful enough to inspire for the better or the worse. As if there has never been a work of art that has ushered change and so it’s just a waste of time to condemn it, ever. So why write this book?”
    I wish he hadn’t stopped reading at page 92, but I don’t think we are alone.

  • Andy Crouch

    Dayton,
    Well, you and your colleague caught me being sloppy. You are right that by misrepresenting specific details of those artworks and artists, I opened myself to all that you charge and perhaps more. Mea culpa!
    However, what you read in my sloppily constructed paragraph is FAR from what I intended, which was certainly not a critical engagement with either Hirst or Ofili. I actually am fairly interested in the work of Ofili (less so Hirst’s, I must admit) and I thought “The Holy Virgin Mary” was a fascinating exercise and well worth engaging. My purpose was actually to articulate exactly the sort of uninformed Christian blanket condemnation one often hears, which is exactly why I played fast and loose with the details and omitted the names. The intended effect (obviously not achieved!) was to say, suppose that all the worst that people think about contemporary art is true. What good is done by condemning it? Nothing. And what harm is the worst of contemporary art doing? Much less than its shrill critics suggest, in my view. (I realize that last point is not going to be welcome to some artists, but it’s the truth.)
    The fact that you read my intentionally shrill hyperbole in that paragraph as sincere rather than ironic obviously is a failure on my part. It’s always frustrating to see a reader walk away mad for reasons that were completely unintended and avoidable. I make enough readers mad for things I intend to say! Bummer, but grace will have to be sufficient for this one, neither the first nor last time I will make a mess in public.
    Grace and peace,
    Andy

  • Andy Crouch

    One other thought on Dayton’s friend’s comment. Yes, there is an implied claim here that contemporary art does not matter enough to warrant condemnation—that in fact if it was truly evil (though let’s grant that Hirst’s and Ofili’s work is not) it would be important to condemn it.
    This I do believe, as much as some will disagree with me. I do not think very much if any contemporary art rises to the level of importance that would be required to warrant condemnation. Contemporary art is simply too cut off in multiple ways from the broad public to be that culturally influential. To the extent that some of it is bad, and bad for us, it is nonetheless very marginal to our culture. That is my judgment and of course some artists will disagree (just as some musicians disagree when I say that Boulez, in particular, represents a dead end in music that is not going to “reproduce” culturally). And of course I may be wrong—perhaps art is more dangerous than I think! I almost wish that were true.

  • Dayton Castleman

    Thanks for the replies, Andy.
    I hesitated a great deal before even posting those comments. It’s why I asked the initial question. I wanted to test the waters. Being so close to something can create a difficulty in perspective. I puzzled over the paragraph, actually, wanting it to be ironic, but had difficulty believing that it was. The unfortunate inaccuracy in the details didn’t help, I’m afraid. As a tongue-in-cheek critique of ignorant, reactionary criticism, perhaps it was just *too good* a mimicry of rhetoric that causes genuine hurt and anger.
    Regarding contemporary art:
    That was a surprising statement!
    If I knew who Boulez was, I might be inclined to agree that he represents a cul-de-sac in the musical gene pool. But are you really willing to completely marginalize an entire cultural institution? I mean, I love you man, but come on… “Contemporary Art” is a pretty big category! I could just as truthfully and fervently say that I don’t think very much that any omelets rise to the level of importance that would be required to warrant condemnation.
    : – )
    I *seriously* hate cooked mushrooms, yet we should still make omelets, right?
    Andy, my man! Have you ever seen artist Jaume Plensa’s “Crown Fountain” during a Chicago summer? “Too cut off in multiple ways from the broad public to be that culturally influential!?” It’s probably the *only* place in the metropolis of Chicago where black, white and brown kids (hundreds of them) swim in the same water. Contemporary art.
    Or what of Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate,” which has been given the affectionate nickname “the Bean” by the people of the city, and the thousands and thousands of people who flock to it each year just to see their distorted reflections, and the reflection of the city, in its beautiful gargantuan form. Contemporary art.
    And you should see the hundreds of kids (including mine) on the free Target Family Days at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. (It’s free all day on Tuesdays, as well, although I do admit that Anna was not a big fan of the creepy Cindy Sherman self-portraits up right now. She’s recovering.) Contemporary art.
    Perhaps most of contemporary art is “too cut off in multiple ways from the broad public” to be very culturally influential, and therefore it is not worth the breath we’d waste on condemnation. But marginalizing it for this reason implies that cultural “value” corresponds directly to cultural ubiquity. So we should make omelets, but not crepes. I get it… Crepes are too thin, but nobody eats them, so who cares.
    Let’s tread a little more lightly as we declare the relative marginality of entire cultural institutions. So do you wish art were more “dangerous?” Or do you “almost” wish it? Because if you really wish it, I’d start by encouraging folks to participate in it, not telling folks it doesn’t really matter.
    Warmly (seriously),
    Dayton

  • Dayton Castleman

    For a well researched, nuanced argument for the importance of modern and contemporary art in culture check out Daniel A. Siedell’s book “God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art.” Dan teaches modern and post-war art history at the University of Nebraska Omaha. He’d be disappointed to learn that it doesn’t matter, and probably a little (lovingly) feisty.
    http://www.amazon.com/God-Gallery-Christian-Cultural-Exegesis/dp/0801031842
    Also, Dan’s blog is very good: http://dansiedell.typepad.com/blog/

  • Rob Matthews

    Just using Boulez as a jumping off point since he was brought up, I’d like to use him as an example of how contemporary art might not appear to be important but ends up influencing the larger popular culture.
    Boulez was considered an influence of composer John Cage who was highly influential in his own right and it would be difficult to list the modern composers and popular musicians he has influenced. The most direct entry into pop culture would be Cage’s influence on John Cale who would not only play a pivotal role in shaping late 20th century music by his participation in the Velvet Underground but also his production work with Patti Smith, The Stooges, The Modern Lovers, Squeeze, etc.
    The better-known quote about The Velvet Underground is that they “only sold a few thousand records, but everyone who bought one started a band.” You can follow that line through popular acts such as R.E.M., Nirvana, The Pixies, the kids I saw playing a Velvet Underground song at a Paul Green School of Rock show last weekend, etc. I think it’s probably easy to measure the impact on culture that someone like Nirvana had. Boulez might not impact culture immediately but his influence does trickle down eventually.
    Dayton mentioned Cindy Sherman. Sherman’s late 70s work in which she assumed roles in her photography that loosely resembled female characters in movies would come to directly influence Madonna’s every shape-shifting persona in the 80s pop music world. (Returning the favor?) Madonna would eventually sponsor a show of Sherman’s work at the Museum of Modern Art. I could be rude and argue that Madonna never had an original idea but instead knew what to steal but that would be unfair to single her out. Like Picasso said, “If there is something to be stolen, I steal it.”
    According to this article:
    http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2008/06/21/waterfalls-ny-eliasson.html
    5 million visitors saw Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Central Park Gates project. 1.5 million out-of-towners. $254 million was pumped into the NYC economy. Beyond what small percentage of visitors were artisically influenced by that staging, the money being brought into NYC alone would have a cultural influence.
    Sorry this is just off the top of my head and that I can’t directly say “Artwork A ended up printed on Teenager T-shirt B (Warhols aside)” to show a more direct relationship between contemporary art and the world at large. The old example I used to show for kicks in my drawing class while teaching linear perspective would be to show that Guns-N-Roses Use Your Illusion album covers are not decorated with a random image of man, but instead they are decorated with a painting of man by Mark Kostabi who had reinterpreted part of Raphael’s School of Athens fresco. Of course that was a lot more relevant in 1992.
    I just write this to say that contemporary art’s influence does not necessarily make an immediate impact and end up on the cover of Time or People but if you have the time to pay attention to it, then you are less surprised about what eventually rears its head in the larger popular culture.

  • Andy Crouch

    Sigh . . . this is why it’s better to write books than blog posts . . . and even then, obviously I get things wrong! But writing quickly certainly leads to lots of opportunities to misstate things and be misunderstood.
    What I am trying to say (not very successfully) is that contemporary art’s role in our culture is not the kind of role that raises it to the level of importance and the *kind* of influence that should merit *condemnation.*
    I am not saying that people shouldn’t or don’t participate widely in contemporary art. They should! I am not saying that contemporary art doesn’t indirectly, even deeply, influence later culture. It does! I am not saying that people shouldn’t engage deeply, critically, intelligently with contemporary art. They should! I am not saying that it is not important for many people to cultivate and create art. The only kind they _can_ create, of course, is contemporary art by definition!
    But condemnation is a gesture that should be reserved for certain uniquely pernicious social systems and artifacts (in my book I talk about Nazism, trafficking in persons and pornography), and it is my own judgment that if art *ever* merited that gesture (I am not sure it did—perhaps Leni Riefenstahl?) I have a very hard time thinking of a work of art or an artist that does so today. Granted these are wildly wide categories—is Madonna an artist? is Steven Spielberg an artist? is the person who retouches the photos for cigarette ads an artist? Yes and no. But assuming that we want to demarcate art somewhere short of the cigarette ad retoucher, my instinct still is that art plays a different and *in certain respects less directly influential* role in our culture than it once did, and once may again (as the children’s days at the museum bear witness).
    Let the protests commence afresh, but maybe we’ve hijacked Scot’s blog post enough at this point. Feel free to immolate me on your own blogs. :)
    Andy

  • Dayton Castleman

    You’re a good sport Andy!
    We could argue semantics forever (what do we mean when we say “condemnation,” “contemporary art,” “popular vs. high culture,” etc…).
    But, here’s the rub, as I see it:
    As you well know, gazillions of people are going to read your book. The IVP machine is churning away…
    Some of us spend a great deal of time working in various ways to encourage others, including our brothers and sisters in the faith, to deepen their understanding of art in all its facets. The book just doesn’t help this cause. Granted, that it’s unlikely “evil” art rises to the level of the Nazis, and the type of condemnation fascism and genocide would warrant. So, don’t condemn art. Whatever. But your perception of art’s relative unimportance is implicit in the book. I do think it will broaden many folks’ idea of “culture,” and hopefully help folks see that our everyday actions are culturally formative. You’re just not able to perceive the pages of examples we artists could fill to argue for the cultural influence that high art exerts.
    I suppose I’m still just waiting for the Christian bestseller that takes art seriously.
    Hopefully we can continue the conversation at the Jubilee conference…

  • Albert Pedulla

    At the risk of colluding with the artists to further hijack the discussion, I would like to push a little further at the art and culture issue. But I first want to say that the project you took on is ambitious, sweeping and impressive, and such a project will inevitably lead to generalizations that specialists are going to take issue with. You are a brave soul!
    As a “specialist” I have a couple of problems with how you talked about art and would certainly argue with you about the importance of Cage and Boulez (as stand-ins for the High Modernists), yet I would concede that their assumption of radical human freedom and the resulting drive toward individualism is a serious problem. But the real problem I have is not about your critique of art, but with some of the inferences you draw. For me this is encapsulated on the top of the next page (p.107) where you write “We can only introduce so many products, write so many laws, paint so many pictures. The best creativity involves discarding that which is less than best, making room for the cultural goods that are the very best we can do with the world that has been given us.” (my emphasis) Who gets to judge what is less and more “best?” The best for the United States may not be the best for Mexico, but since there are more US citizens do we win the vote? Although you speak differently about this in other sections of the book, this mechanism seems to assumes a monolithic culture with a discernable scale of quality. I once heard a museum director say “I have been challenged many times by people about the art that we show at the museum, but it is simple. We merely pick the best art that is out there.” YIKES! I guess she has the secret decoder ring.
    Your notion of “discarding that which is less than best, making room…for the very best” is not necessarily wrong on a macro time frame. After a century or two we come to see that Bach’s music is timeless while his contemporaries thought of him as a successful church musician. On the other hand, how many timeless artist’s work is forever lost because the political powers vanquished them? The history of art was not just written by the victors, it was also over-written by them. That is, some things are written out of the narrative for political purposes. Hitler tried real hard, and Stalin was pretty successful. And that is in the modern age with the rule of law!
    Furthermore this linear best/less-best axis compresses a much more nuanced reality into a two dimensional reality show. Which artist are we voting off the island this week? Which laws? We have a new batch arriving and we have to make room. An earlier post mentioned Brian Eno’s famous quote about the Velvet Underground’s first album. Eno said- only 100 copies of the album were sold, but all 100 people who bought the album went out and formed a band, and those bands were the punk scene. And now Target adds have a knock-off Velvet Underground sound track.
    With experimental art (like experimental physics), it is exceptionally hard to tell what is going to be really important while the work is going on. Years in the studio (or the lab) may result in a major award or a major disappointment. Only in hind sight do we gain clarity. With art there is not the clarity of mathematical proof, so judging the results is much more challenging. The judgments about quality are very complex when it comes to art. I believe we need complicate these discussions, not simplify them.

  • T

    Way late getting back to this . . . but the interchange b/n Scot and Andy is interesting to me. I think the answer to Scot’s question about how the Church as the Church does culture making or about how Andy deals with the forming of God’s people **might** lie here, where Andy’s describes a difference between himself and another friend with the same critique as Scot’s:
    “it is no accident that he is an Anglo-Catholic while I am a Wesleyan Anglican.”
    How does a Wesleyan see culture-making really happening by the Church, or how does a Wesleyan see the people of God being formed–where is the action really happening? Essentially the action is in highly committed small groups. I think that Andy thinks of the 3 that get together to make serious progress in discipleship to Christ (in perhaps a methodical way) as the most basic form of Christian community (church). That gives me two questions: 1. Andy, is this in the ball park? :) 2. If so, Scot, do you not see this kind of effort (3:12:120) as Church doing the things you are asking about? Given Jesus’ own pattern, why not?
    And Andy, thanks. I will be putting your book on my “to buy” list.

  • Scot McKnight

    T,
    I think you are right; Andy sees culture-making primarily by the individual in consort with the the 3/12/120 pattern. Yes, fine, I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with culture-making like that. I don’t think the two or three gathered, to get close to this (?), as “church” but as the fellowship dimension of the larger dimension that is church.
    But, what I want to know is this: If God’s primary work is the formation of the People of God as heralds, worshipers, and stewards, then how is the church as church to be seen as culture-making? If God is the Three-in-One, perichoresis, etc., then how is “community-forming” part of “culture-making”? That sort of larger question is what I’m getting at.
    I agree that Andy’s point that he’s not Catholic or Anabaptist is the point I’m making (he tacitly agrees to some degree with my major criticism). I’m not sure, though, how being a Wesleyan Anglican makes it that much less ecclesial, though. I do think his sense of a spiritualized ecclesiology is at the heart of his proposal and it is at the heart of how we would differ on the meaning of culture-making and “church.” And here I am as a low-church anabaptist wanting to see more ecclesiology. It’s my running concern.

  • RJS

    Scot and T,
    I don’t see church qua church as culture making – and here I think I am with Andy to an extent, especially in the 3-12-120 type pattern. But an end goal of all culture making as Christians should be a contribution to the community. Culture making should be community forming. How can I be the best I can be at what I do in a way that is “for the church” (a concept that Scot has gotten me thinking a lot about). But there is no “intrinsic” good in a cultural product if it does not contribute to the community.
    Now though I can get to Albert’s point (I think). Ultimate value, even value for the church isn’t measured in the short term by a specific set of criteria. We have to think big and long term and allow and expect experimentation and evolution. Creativity isn’t governed by mechanistic plan from above. Experimental art, experimental science, experimental culture building in general is long term, and in some ways outside the box – to be judged down the road.

  • RJS

    Ok – I stopped abruptly and didn’t really make my point.
    Church as church is not capable of culture making – church is the community of God in which we are enmeshed and from which all creativity should flow – but it will flow through the individuals in the community not from the community.
    So Scot, I am at a loss to see how we can have a higher ecclesiology at work here and what it would look like.

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS, I’m not sure why you say church as church is not capable of culture making because I think most would say that institutions have a culture-shaping influence as institutions. If this is the case, the church is both made into culture by Spirit and people together and that institution then influences our perception of truth and reality. (Would you say that a university is a culture-making and culture-shaping institution?)
    One thing I’m getting at here is that culture deals with and embodies relationships and church is about relationships.
    By “higher” I would mean seeing church culture itself as central to what Christian culture-making is about.

  • cas

    Scot, With the help of various enlightened contributors, I finally see what you’re getting at, but let me offer an example and ask a simple question.
    While this discussion was going on, my father and son spent a day taking a class on how to make knives, fish hooks, etc. from animal bones. They came home with beautiful products. They met interesting people, communed together, shared their creations with us. Everyone took joy in it. Does this have no higher meaning?

  • Scot McKnight

    cas,
    My whole point has been to push against Andy for the absence of the church as a culture-bearing and culture-shaping institution, not against the value of the creation mandate — for all and in many ways — that summons us to be culture-makers.

  • cas

    Okay. I finally got that you were saying what Talal Asad said at Princeton not long ago, and what both Dallas Willard and JP Moreland have talked about with me in interviews.

  • cas

    actually, I’m thinking of Moreland’s last book, not an interview.

  • RJS

    Maybe this is the problem – I think of Church as an authoritarian top down institution. High ecclesiology meaning submission to elders, to an episcopal (or other) hierarchy.
    A university is a culture-making and culture-shaping institution because it is not top down – it is bottom-up. The professors create – administration enables and rewards.
    Now before anyone out there rides me – I admit that no University is perfect – but this is the intent of the model. Creativity is squashed when a university tries to invoke a top down model.

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS,
    And I see the church, too, as much a bottom-up as top-down institution. That’s, in part, what the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Cor 12-14 and congregationalism have always sought for.

  • RJS

    A discussion of church – as a bottom-up and/or top-down institution – would be interesting. I wonder what some of the pastors and others who read and comment here would say.

  • Your Name

    Scot (& RJS),
    I see in 1 Cor 12-14 both the intent of a bottom up kind of communal life, but also a church dynamic that is simply not experienced by most in the West, chiefly because we prioritize a larger (top-down) gathering that simply makes the kind of mutual participation described there very difficult or impossible. Most must be spectators, perennially. I don’t think most church-goers experience church as bottom up, precisely because we are trying to do community building and culture making while keeping ‘the 120′ as our priority and focus of our energies.
    Relatedly, Scot, you mentioned that you see groups of 3 as the fellowship part of church (only). That surprises me. I don’t think it’s fair to those of a Wesleyan mindset (or history) to say that fellowship is the only church function that can or is intended to happen in these groups. I have personally experienced (as many have) the equipping of the saints, training for service, practice in giving and receiving of the kinds of service mentioned in I Cor 12-14 and elsewhere, confession, healing, mutual prayer, evangelism, shared adoration for God, correction, prophetic gifts, and on and on in groups of just 2 or three ***and within the context of committed and deepening relationships***. Even the OT wisdom literature testifies of the difference b/n an individual effort and two or three together.
    I guess, to answer your questions in #37, community-forming and culture making happens simultaneously along the 3:12:120 pattern (at least that’s what we’re currently pursuing at our church plant by prioritizing micro-groups with plans for progress as our chief communal practice). Personally, I’ve found much more individualism in the larger groups, by necessity and opportunity. Emphasizing small groups of 2 or 3 is the opposite of promoting individualism, it’s a plan of confronting and overcoming it, and I’ve yet to see a better one. I’m curious for your feedback; I may have not seen the sweetspot of your concerns, and I agree that these are important issues.

  • Scot McKnight

    Your Name (“T”),
    Good come back because, apart from Andy’s book, I see why you take it this way. The “3″ can clearly be a small group, a teaching group, a discipleship group, … etc…, but I’m using it as the smallest group of culture-making as Andy does.
    Indeed, too, good point about individualism in large groups — like a megachurch. How true.

  • http://www.groshlink.net Tom Grosh IV

    What a conversation!
    How do the gathered people of God in a particular community go about culture-making not only by commissioning/sending forth their members as a leavening influence (each and every member, not just their missionaries), but also as a worshiping community which is used by God as salt and light in the neighborhood? Three stories to share:
    1. “How often has your pastor come to visit you in the workplace?” — one of the questions asked by Michael Lindsay, sociologist at Rice University, to the 360 Evangelical leaders whom he interviewed for the research which became “Faith in the Halls of Power.” What’s your guess?
    Only 1. And this businessman could remember what he was wearing, what his pastor was wearing, their conversion, their factory tour, to whom he introduced his pastor. Why? The affirming nature of the visit had such a significant influence on his life.
    Michael challenged his pastor friends to take time to visit their members in their workplace environment. By-the-way, I have a older pastor friend who (along with his associate) largely work out of a small town diner mixing it up with employees, community members, those with whom he has appointments day after day. He has members who work at and eat at the diner. What a blessing he has been to community!
    Note: Lindsay’s illustration from “Powerful Faith,” InterVarsity’s Following Christ 2008, http://www.intervarsity.org/audio/
    2. This fall a fellowship group in our local congregation began sponsoring “Take your fellowship group to work days.” (Note: Fellowship groups are aged based with about 15-20 members. They meet for 20 minutes of prayer, news, and sharing each Sunday. Their time is in addition to Sunday School and morning worship. They also sponsor social events and provide a good context for developing close, interpersonal relationships which include providing meals, childcare, home maintenance, moving assistance, etc for those in need. Although providing some deaconal/pastoral care, this structure has not replace deacons, pastoral care, or small groups).
    The workplace visit begins with a meal and then dives into Lancaster County, PA … a pregnancy check on a draft horse mare, driving in a caravan of Cub Cadet and Kubota utility vehicles, traversing an underground tunnel network, viewing Lancaster City atop a Medical facility, and walking through a dairy operation.
    One member commented, “In addition to expanding our knowledge base (we always have lots of questions), we gain an appreciation for the skills each member brings to his or her chosen occupation.” I would add that such visits provide opportunities to provide support in the workplace, make connections, be a witness, and prayerwalk through a workplace. As the workplace visits have now caught onto our fellowship group, I’m hoping to have a shared meal with the Christian Medical Society at Hershey Medical Center — a fellowship with which I’ve been connecting. It’s comprised of nursing students, graduate students, medical students, faculty, physicians, spouses/kids. …
    3. A local congregation, of which I was a member while I lived in Pittsburgh, by not moving out of the city and being committed to serving the community has spun out quite a number of cultural structures including: a cafe, a coffee shop, a medical center, a car repair/donation ministry for those with limited financial means, counseling, financial counseling, a Christmas Store with reduced price inventory for those with limited financial means in an urban area, an urban youth ministry. … not to mention the relationships in the North Side of Pittsburgh and renewal caused by renting/renovating property for additional children’s ministry space. Note: the pastors live in the neighborhood, but members lived both in the city and in the larger suburban area. For more visit http://www.acac.net

  • http://www.groshlink.net Tom Grosh IV

    Note: the local congregation in referred to in the second illustration in #50 is Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ, http://www.etownbic.org


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