In and of the World: How Culture is Transforming Protestants
- Tuesday, April 07, 2009
The explicit reason Crouch avoids high culture is that culture itself is larger than any particular cultural tradition. Christian efforts to come to grips with cultural life, Crouch argues, have paid too much attention to only one slice of culture—high, pop, ethnic, or even political. Culture is more varied and more basic than any of these particular expressions. It is the fundamentally human activity of making sense and making something of the world. "Meaning and making go together," Crouch writes, "culture, you could say, is the activity of making meaning."  He makes this definitional move because culture, the word, is too abstract. "We don't make Culture, we make omelets," Crouch asserts. "We tell stories. We build hospitals. We pass laws. These specific products of cultivating and creating . . . are what eventually, over time, become part of the framework of the world for future generations."  This expansive view of culture, valuable apparently because it avoids abstraction, leads Crouch to describe almost anything human beings touch as culture. Again, the reason stems from human beings as creatures whose natures are essentially cultural. "The beginning of culture and the beginning of humanity are one and the same because culture is what we were made to do." 
This is a frustratingly simple definition of culture that seems to reflect the desire of a large slice of contemporary evangelicalism that is fundamentally opposed to hierarchies and norms in evaluating and transmitting culture. For good reasons Crouch wants to go beyond simply analyzing culture for the sake of what it does to children or for whether it is appropriate for Christian consumption. He prefers the postures of cultivating and creating culture to critiquing, copying, or consuming. Crouch does suggest that some forms of culture may have more integrity than others. A cultural endeavor achieves integrity when it is "more whole, more faithful to the world of which it is making something."  But the limits of this conception are evident when Crouch puts omelets, highways, and software programming on a par with some of the West's greatest achievements. Is it really possible to suggest Interstate 95 has as much integrity as Thomas Eakins' Gross Clinic? When Crouch ventures his own list of "cultural artifacts" that represent the "glory and honor" of the cultural traditions he knows—Bach's B Minor Mass, Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Arvo Paert's "Spiegel im Spiegel," green-tea crème brûlée, fish tacos, bulgogi, Moby Dick, the Odyssey, the iPod, and the Mini Cooper—it appears that his understanding of culture is well positioned to justify a middle-class baby boomer's tastes, income, and education. But what Crouch thinks about declining cultural standards in the West or how Christians might respond to that problem is not on his radar.
To be sure, the advantage of this approach, and the astute recommendation that evangelical Protestants need to develop postures of cultivation and creation in cultural endeavors is its recognition that human beings cannot escape culture (the fundamentalist temptation) and that simply imitating culture (the Jesus Rock temptation) is inferior to creative expressions of worth. In fact, Crouch even ups the ante for his fellow evangelicals when he turns from culture-making as basic to human identity to culture-making as a biblical duty.
In the second section of the book, Crouch decides to take a relatively quick tour of the history of salvation recounted in the Old and New Testaments. Not surprisingly, in a book devoted to not simply the legitimacy but also the necessity of culture, Crouch sees cultural life writ large throughout the pages of holy writ. This strategy can become tedious. Creation in Genesis 1 is culture. Adam and Eve were given the task of creating culture, specifically, agriculture. As a nation, Israel was political culture, while its cultural insights in the religious sphere replaced henotheism with monotheism. Jesus was a cultural figure in his training and work as a carpenter. He died on a cross, a cultural instrument of torture. The apostles took the message of Christianity to cities, arenas of great cultural significance. Pentecost overturned Jewish culture and gave Christianity's blessing to cultural diversity. Finally, the new heavens and new earth in the last book of the Bible reassert the import of the city and cultural life. According to Crouch, culture is "the furniture of heaven."  He adds, "human beings, in God's original intention and in their redemptive destination, cannot be separated from the cultural goods they create and cultivate at their best." 
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