After reading the September’s Christianity Today and Joel’s most recent blog, I just had to write a response. Both dealt with, among other topics, the concept of Christian culture makers, a buzzword for the idea that Christians ought to use their positions in society to remake our culture. CT’s cover piece explained and celebrated the movement, while Joel’s blog discerningly denounced it. Christian cultural shaping is considered redemptive work in itself, and while it’s often admirable in its social effects, I heartily agree with Joel that it cannot be the way forward for believers who wish to fulfill the Great Commission.
The cover of CT this month announced “The New Culture Makers” as its premier feature and the editorial explained that the cover article was excerpted from CT editor Andy Crouch’s new book Culture Making. Crouch is also partnering with a sociologist to “explore how increased graduate education among evangelicals has created a new reservoir of culture influence.” Naturally I’m all for education but after reading this, institution was the word that flashed into my mind. Christianity doesn’t need more degrees; it needs more disciples.
The first page of “Creating Culture” was illustrated with ironically and typically bad CT art depicting a guy in overalls with a linebacker’s neck painting an unrecognizable black blob on a tree branch. “Our best response to the world is to make something of it,” read the called-out quotation. Is that so? I thought our best response to the world was to “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded You” (Matthew 28:18-20). I thought our response was to love.
“Making something of the world” cannot be done through social services, artistic endeavors, or political programs alone. These undertakings can make some difference in the quality of life for some, but what about the quality of the afterlife? Neither this life nor the next should be ignored when we attempt to impact the world. Christian culture-making shouldn’t be an end in itself. It’s an end we’ll hopefully experience when more Christians (including new ones) learn to love the world as Christ did.
To be clear, I’m not advocating withdrawal from the world. Commands like “Go” and “Love” don’t make much room for huddling together, trying to decide on the style of worship music or color of felt banners for fellowship hall. I like that Andy Crouch argues against the condemning posture Christians have assumed on a too broad a scale, which can easily result in removal from the world.
I’m also not suggesting that we ignore the suffering and evil in the world. If this were the case we wouldn’t be volunteering at an inner-city after school program and praying about global problems at the missions prayer meeting. The Bible calls us to “be kind to the poor” in sacrificial and substantial ways.
Lastly, I don’t mean that Christians shouldn’t pursue careers, education, and hobbies. God created us in His image with the abilities to accomplish, think, and create. I’m an art-lover myself, and by that I mean an art-dance-music-word-drama-lover. But we shouldn’t pursue these areas before or in place of God’s Kingdom. We should “seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness,” and His Kingdom is built through relationships.
Crouch’s excerpt has more good than bad points, but I’m wary of lines like “the church is a culture-making enterprise itself, concerned with making something of the world in the light of the story that has upended our assumptions about that world.” Historically, when the church has made culture it’s ended in bloodshed, biblical ignorance, and legalism.
One last observation: of the five “culture makers” profiled in CT, only one was obviously trying to fulfill the Great Commission. He was doing inner-city ministry in Chicago because the Bible says to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Right on. The others may be evangelizing and discipling, but those goals weren’t evident in the profiles.