A writer and cultural critic encourages Christians to not only embrace culture but create more of it.
What motivated you to write Culture Making?
One of the things that initially motivated me was thinking about how cultures change. As I read the work of academic sociologists like Peter Berger, I became really convinced that the only way that cultures change is when people make more culture. Which called into question a lot of the strategies that Christians think they ought to use to change culture, such as protest. There's lots that's worth protesting, in our culture and in every culture, but protest alone doesn't change culture, and analysis doesn't change culture, and withdrawal, which has sometimes been a strategy that Christians have adopted, doesn't change it. It only changes when you create something.
You're speaking about culture, too, in a way that it's not just the artists or the writers, it's the parents and teachers—you're including everyone.
Absolutely. It's not just about the arts. It's not just about the world of ideas or even politics. It's about omelets as well as interstates, it's about chili and soccer games on Saturdays as much as it is about movies. I think we sometimes don't recognize that these more concrete cultural goods actually shape us just as profoundly as the world of the arts does.
One of the things you talk about in the book is the idea that we can't change the world. What do you mean by that?
What I'm trying to diagnose and cure is this penchant for having big strategy, which I think leads us to an inflated sense of our own capacities. One thing that studying culture should do is make you humble. It has changed us more than we will ever change it—that's just how culture works. That can leave us feeling very small, but that's where the question becomes “Do we have a Christian view of this, a view that's really shaped by the gospel?” Because the gospel is all about small things. The whole story of scripture is about God taking things that seem not significant and over a very long period of time—thousands of years—disclosing their significance.
You believe that culture is not just important but even precious to God. Can you expound on that?
Culture is God's idea. It's not secondary. It's not accidental. It's not incidental. It's the original intention of God for human beings, to cultivate and create, beginning with the story of the garden and ending in this amazing recapitulation of culture at the end of the Bible, in Revelation 21 and 22. God doesn't just put up with culture or make the best of it. Culture is part of God's “very good” final act of creativity in the story of God's creation of humanity.