It can be hard for Christians to think clearly about culture. That's because we're soaking in it. But that's no excuse for not seeking to change culture.
For more than two decades now, one of the most important voices on the subject of Christians' relationship to culture has been Andy Crouch. From his work editing re:generation quarterly to books like "Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling," Crouch has helped countless evangelicals navigate the shoals where faith and culture meet without running aground.
And that's why I'm a bit puzzled by what he recently wrote about the subject of culture over at Christianity Today.
The piece had the provocative headline, "Stop Engaging 'The Culture' Because it Doesn't Exist."
Now, as any writer will tell you, they usually don't come up with the headline, so they shouldn't be evaluated on the basis of it. But in this case, the headline did convey the gist of Crouch's arguments.
As he wrote, "A nation of 300 million people, especially one as gloriously diverse as the United States, does not have one monolithic 'culture.'" While it does have a "national ethos," that ethos "is constantly being contested, challenged, and reimagined by different groups within the nation, and ignored or actively resisted by others."
Now, overall I agree with this analysis, with a few caveats I'll get into in a moment. As recent events in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas painfully remind us, there are very real differences in people's experiences and perceptions of American life.
I even largely agree with Crouch when he says that the best use of our limited time and resources is to "love our neighbor," by whom he means "real people in a real place" and "living faithfully within our particular cultures and trusting God to weave out of our faithfulness the cosmic redemption he has promised and accomplished through his Son." Absolutely.
Where I take issue with him is that this isn't an "either/or" proposition. We can both love our flesh and blood neighbor and actively, strategically, and systemically oppose what Crouch calls the "systems of ideology and influence that operate independent of God."
I am not sure what else our choice is, in fact. Not only can we walk and chew gum at the same time, sometimes we must. Crouch's analysis understates the impact of culture. While it's true that American culture isn't monolithic — after all, what culture is? — some ideas, trends, artifacts, and practices rise above the various subgroups that exist in our society and become part of our collective lives together. Here's an example in two-words: Pokemon Go.
What's more, as we have seen in the case of same-sex marriage and gay rights more generally, ideas and practices once associated with subcultures and small minorities, can, with the support of elite opinion makers and major television networks, become mainstream at astonishing speed.
Once these ideas and practices become mainstream, real people are expected to conform in real-world ways, even if the ideas and practices contradict their deeply held beliefs. Loving our neighbor requires identifying these ideas early enough to mitigate their impact wherever possible.
To state it simply, loving our neighbors requires cultural concern, analysis, and maybe even action. There's no such thing as loving individuals without engaging the larger cultural trends that may adversely affect them.
As I said, I don't disagree with Crouch so much as I thought, after reading his piece, that some clarifications were needed.
Obviously, "engagement" will take on a different meaning depending on your circumstances. For some, it'll be a concerned awareness coupled with prayer. For others, it'll be a more "hands-on" approach in the marketplace of ideas, recapturing our creative calling and actually creating culture — again coupled with prayer.
And for all of us, it must be something we do for the real flesh and blood people around us — loving them in the midst of the real places and real situations where God has placed us.
Originally posted at breakpoint.org.