Culture Making Part XII: The Counterintuitive Key To Successful Culture Making


“Of all the creators and cultivators who have ever lived, Jesus was the most capable of shaping culture through his own talents and power – and yet the most culture-shaping event of his life is the result of his choice to abandon his talents and power. The resurrection shows us the pattern for culture making in the image of God. Not power, but trust. Not independence, but dependence.” – Andy Crouch

Last week in the Culture Making series we left off with the question,

How can we use our talents and cultural power for creating and cultivating with maximum and long-lived results?

The answer? Humility.

That’s the simple answer, but of course there is more to it.

First, we have to acknowledge the full extent of our limitations and realize those we think of as powerful are almost as limited as the rest of us are.

The Limits of Power

“All true cultural creativity happens at the edges of the horizons of the possible, so by definition our most culturally creative endeavors have a high risk of failure. No matter how much I try to gauge the changes of success beforehand, there is simply no way to tell except to try.”

“At the relatively small scale of my family’s life together, there are many ways in which I profoundly shape our shared world . . . Within the walls of our house, all four of us have real power to shape the very real culture we, and we alone, share.”

“My ability to make small changes in my local world is dwarfed by my dependence on the changes other people make at larger scales of culture.”

“The truth is that culture, precisely because it is world-sized, is simply too complex for anyone to control or predict. And this truth is cruelest to those who have momentary cultural success – the “survivors” toward whom the system is biased.”

“Our inability to accurately anticipate the direction of cultural change is one of the most commonly affirmed realities of human existence – and one of the most commonly ignored.”

“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” -Mark Twain

We can’t control our creations – we can’t even control ourselves!

“Indeed, over time, the unintended consequences of a given cultural good almost always swamp the intended consequences in magnitude, as people continue the culture-making process, making new culture in response to the changed horizons.”

“If there is one thing culture creators cannot do, it is to control their creations.”

“Changing the world sounds grand, until you consider how poorly we do even at changing our own little lives. On a daily basis we break our promises, indulge our addictions and rehearse old fantasies and grudges that even we know we’d be better off without. We have changed less about ourselves than we would like to admit. Who are we to charge off to change the world?”

“Beware of world changers – they have not yet learned the true meaning of sin.”

“Is there a way to change the world without falling into one of the many traps laid for would-be-world changers? If so, it will require us to learn the one thing the language of “changing the world” usually lacks: humility, defined not so much as bashfulness about our own abilities as awed and quiet confidence in God’s ability.”

A Warning For Christians

There’s quite a bit more in the book about the Christian perspective, but up until now I haven’t included much because I believe many of the principles remain the same.

This time I’ll share some of what Crouch has to say to Christians since I know many of my readers are Christians. If you appreciate this snippet, then go read the book! He has much, much more to say to us – and it is quite humbling and encouraging and includes a vision of what we might do for eternity in heaven.

“[W]ise Christian culture maker will abandon the hope for Christendom – a culture in which the gospel is at the center rather than at the margins of possibility.”

“But just as the gospel never is comfortably contained in the realm of the culturally possible, it also never disappears from the horizon altogether. God’s grace and mercy, his endless inventive capacity to respond to human waywardness, ensure that every culture can be reclaimed.”

“Culture – making something of the world, moving the horizons of possibility and impossibility – is what human beings do and are meant to do. Transformed culture is at the heart of God’s mission in the world, and it is the call of God’s redeemed people. But changing the world is the one thing we cannot do. As it turns out, fully embracing this paradoxical reality is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian culture maker.”

“[W]ether you feel powerful or powerless, you are exactly the sort of person that God has a track record of deciding to use.”

“When God acts in culture, he uses both the powerful and the powerless alongside one another rather than using one against the other.”

So the more complex answer to the question of how we can use our cultural power effectively lies in the idea of the powerful working alongside the powerless.

Next week, we’ll took at an inspiring example of the idea of the powerful working alongside the powerless and what that means for us and our culture making endeavors.

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