Dr. Dallas Bock recently interviewed Andy Crouch on The Table. Andy recently came on staff at the John Templeton Foundation. Previously, he was the executive editor of Christianity Today. He is also the author of a number of books including Strong and Weak, Playing God, and Culture Making as well as the forthcoming The Tech-Wise Family. The focus of this interview was an outstanding editorial Andy wrote for Christianity Today titled “Stop Engaging ‘the Culture,’ Because It Doesn’t Exist.”
Andy is concerned with the inappropriate use, and at times overuse, of the term culture, particularly in Christian circles. He finds the word is not helpful because it has come to mean one thing which in reality is referring only to “mass culture” or “mediated culture.” First, what we refer to as the culture is just one part and not the whole. There are other cultural realities that affect our lives more (and that typically do not manifest as requests to follow on Twitter.) Second, we typically use this term to refer to realities where we have little to no agency to effect change.
I think for us to fixate our attention and even our analysis on things that in fact we have no ability to shape undermines our attention, and analytical kind of attention even, to the parts of culture that actually we have a lot of agency in and we actually could shape. -Andy Crouch
Our engagement should be more focused and personal, rather than broad or diffuse. Andy presents the idea that a better English translation of the Greek word cosmos (which sometimes crops up in these discussions) may be “world system.” This world system has us “in its clutches” to some extent and is opposed to God’s purposes in the world. I John 2:15a could be translated, “So, do not love the world system or the things embedded in the world system.”
But the people who indeed are kind of prisoners of that world system, although we ourselves are also, in some ways, imprisoned by it to a certain extent – yeah, to sort of flatten them into only representatives of the world system, as if my neighbor just represents the culture, is to miss, actually, everything that makes my neighbor redeemable, because the world system I don’t think is redeemable. -Andy Crouch
. . . the image of the ambassador, which I actually think is the core cultural engagement image of the Scripture, that we represent God as members of the kingdom in the midst of a world that pulls people’s allegiances in another direction. And that operation of being an ambassador is person specific. -Darrell Bock
As we integrate our faith into the work we do each day, whether paid or not, we are making culture: contributing to the flourishing of a broader community and culture where God has placed us. The way we engage with that culture should be incredibly intentional and nuanced. We have many different ways to engage that culture and the choice we make will determine the resonance and relationship we have to that culture:
And the very human act of culture is part of the expression of the image of God in many respects. Like the things that the peoples of the Earth create are working out that image-bearing in relationship to creation as they discover the possibilities within creation. -Andy Crouch
If you are interested to learn more about cultural engagement, I would refer you to an excellent white paper by pastor, scholar, and theologian Greg Thompson titled The Church In Our Time. The concepts from Thompson’s paper are developed and brought to the screen in a seven-part film series called For the Life of the World, which you may have run into by now. 🙂 In addition, please check out a series of blogs here at The Green Room by Greg Forster where he explores these themes further.
Andy mentioned that his next book will discuss work vs. toil and rest vs. leisure. Please join me in keeping an eye out for it. We’ll be sure to review it here.