Friday, January 9, 2009

Living for Jesus: Cultivating an Eternal Perspective

"Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)

Here is an excerpt of an interview by Trevin Wax with Andy Crouch about his book "Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling." To read the entire interview, Click Here.

Trevin Wax:
You critique our emphasis on “impacting” the culture. What is the harm in speaking this way?

Andy Crouch: “Impact” is a terribly misleading noun masquerading as a verb. As in, “I want to move to New York and impact the culture.” This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how cultures work. Human cultures are designed to absorb and deflect impact. There is nothing a culture resists so strongly as “impact.”

Peter Berger and others have made a very persuasive case that one of culture’s essential functions is to ward off the “impacts” that threaten us from the outside world—the unpredictable calamities of nature, the threat of other tribes and nations, and the ultimate perplexity of death. So if you want to provoke a really effective immune response from a culture—if you want to ensure that every cultural resource will be mobilized against you—set out to “impact” it.

Trevin Wax:
If seeking to “impact” the culture is not the way that culture changes, how does cultural change take place.

Andy Crouch: When cultures change in beneficial ways, it is almost never the result of “impact” but rather patient and long-term cultivation, measured in decades or centuries. I am very dubious whether “impact” is the right word even for such a dramatic effort as William Wilberforce’s campaign against the British slave trade, given that it took quite literally his whole lifetime to accomplish.

The best example of cultural “impact” I can think of in our lifetime is the 9/11 attacks. They created impact, all right. But did they create anything good? No. And think about how remarkably quickly, in retrospect, our whole culture mobilized to regain its sense of normalcy, to resist any real change in our values, priorities, and lifestyle. On September 12, 2001, I never could have imagined how quickly we’d be back in shopping malls. But that’s how cultures work. The only way to change them—in beneficial ways—is over a very long period of time. . . .

Trevin Wax: You warn your readers to “beware of world changers - they have not yet learned the true meaning of sin.” How does your view of sin chasten your expectations to “change the culture?”

Andy Crouch: Given my record of “transforming Andy,” I am very wary of grand talk about “transforming the culture.” Whenever I hear overheated rhetoric calling Christians to cultural transformation, I want to ask them: How is your project of personal transformation going? I don’t mean that in a snide or sarcastic way. When I consider my own growth in Christlikeness (especially if I consider what my wife would say about it!), I can only conclude that whatever halting progress I have made in becoming more Christlike is entirely attributable to God’s grace, not to any particularly impressive strategies I have pursued. Why should we expect anything different for the culture?

Whatever good may happen in our cultures, especially at the largest scales, is assuredly out of the grasp of any single human being or even any large and motivated group of human beings. That does not mean, of course, that we stop seeking to cultivate and create good things in the world. It just means that the ultimate change or transformation that may come from our efforts is truly not our responsibility. If we think that we have somehow gotten our hands on the levers of power and we are now set to “change the world,” we have not even begun to come to grips with how fragile our own capacities are to ensure that what we create does more harm than good.

Trevin Wax: What is the significance of Jesus’ resurrection for those who would seek to be culture-makers?

Andy Crouch: The resurrection of Jesus was and is the most culturally significant event in history. It has changed more than anything else before or since. I think that is not just a religious statement but an empirically verifiable one. If you don’t believe in the resurrection, substitute “whatever the heck happened just after the Passover in CE 33,” because “something” happened that year that changed the world—and that’s not a phrase I use lightly.

Having said that, there are some remarkable things about the resurrection that challenge many of our tacit assumptions. Its cultural effects were the very opposite of “impact.” On Easter Monday, nothing had measurably changed in the surrounding culture, at all, in any way. One hundred years later, reports of an obscure sect begin to show up in the memos of minor Roman functionaries, but that’s about it.

And yet by 350 perhaps half the Roman Empire are Christians. That is not “impact.” That’s what Jesus described as a mustard seed—starting off all but invisible, yet eventually growing into a tree where the birds can nest. (By the way, that would be one unusual mustard plant, but I think that was part of Jesus’ point. Not only does the Kingdom begin so small you would never notice it, it becomes larger and more hospitable than you ever would have imagined.)

Second, the resurrection was a response by God the Father to the passion of the Son. “Passion” means suffering. It is the opposite, in its Latin origins, of “action.” Jesus’ most significant cultural act was to entrust himself to God on the cross. Without that act of radical trust, it’s very likely that his teaching and healing would be of no more cultural significance than any other itinerant preacher’s collected sayings in first-century Judea.

This suggests to me that for all our proper focus on what we cultivate and create in the midst of our cultures, the most important thing, by far, that we will do as Christians in culture is to pursue a life of deeper and deeper faith in and faithfulness to God.

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