Arts & Culture

Understanding Our Vocations As Culture Makers

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As Christians, we know that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image, with a specific vocation for which we have been equipped with unique talents and desires. But for most of us, it can be difficult to feel like our work matter to God.

How can we know that our work is bringing glory to God when it doesn’t seem all that special?

Understanding Our Own Culture-Making

Because God made each of us unique, all of us will end up making different decisions in all areas of our lives—including professionally. Some people know from a young age that they want to be doctors. Others discover in college that they have a knack for accounting. In my case, I fell into a career in business communications and marketing. No matter what our vocation, we are all holding a tiny part of the whole economy. We are participating in what author Andy Crouch calls “culture making.”

In his popular book, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling, Crouch gives us a framework of five questions to understand and diagnose culture when you are only looking at a tiny fragment:

  1. What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world is?
  2. What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world should be?
  3. What does this cultural artifact make possible?
  4. What does this cultural artifact make impossible (or at least very difficult?)
  5. What new forms of culture are created in response to this artifact?

Crouch walks through this framework with the example of an omelet. An omelet tells us that in the culture we are observing, people like eating cooked eggs. There are chickens (or other birds) in enough abundance that produce eggs and there is a heating source able to cook them. To the fifth question, the existence of omelets means that a market might be created around cooking and preparing omelets which will signal to the omelet makers the demand for omelets.

We talk a lot about our call as Christians to make culture, to engage culture, and even to transform culture. In the on-going conversation started by Richard Niebuhr’s Christ & Culture, we often wonder what exactly culture is and how we make it? How does culture making play itself out in our everyday lives?

These questions are particularly acute in our professional lives as we almost always see small cultural artifacts, not large cultural movements.

Cultural Artifacts All Around Us

There are some places where it is obvious that culture is being made around us. For example, when I first saw the movie Interstellar, I greatly enjoyed the fact that the nearly 3-hour-long movie was driven by a compelling story and creative dialogue, rather than over-the-top action and space scenes. While this type of storytelling isn’t for everyone, and I’ve heard some call it “heavy-handed,” it does echo the thoughtfulness of the movie making. Some have criticized the movie for walking up the edge of saying something significant and then turning around.

Those who have seen Interstellar will know that the movie does fall short in this regard. But producer Christopher Nolan isn’t C.S. Lewis, nor does he even claim faith in Christ. He does, however, make excellent movies. Sometimes power isn’t just in the message, but also in the art.

IFWE alum, Gregory Ayers, wrote about Christian rapper Lecrae whose albums has garnered praise from religious and secular music critics. Lecrae has said that he wants his art to be accessible to people both within and outside of the church. Ayers writes,

Martin Luther once said that God is interested in good craftsmanship. For Lecrae, the Christian rapper does his Christian duty not by putting crosses on his albums (or scoring a high Jesus-per-minute-ratio), but by making good albums.

The mere fact that Interstellar is a well-made movie, gives us a glimpse at what good craftsmanship is. The people who made the film used their God-given skills to make something beautiful which gives glory to the original Artist even without their awareness. Watching the movie, and learning about how it was made, I can’t shake the thought that this is how movies should be made.

Our Call To Be Culture-Makers

As Christians, we know that while things in our world are broken now, Christ is working through us to reweave shalom—returning things to the way they ought to be. It’s easy for us to see how films and rap albums make culture and contribute to the reweaving of shalom, but what if you like to make omelets or work in communications? Does that really have the same kind of cultural impact?

Crouch’s helpful contribution to this conversation is that everything, even small things like omelets and press releases, are cultural. We make big cultural changes one small piece at a time, and often without seeing the big picture.

In part two of this conversation, we’ll unpack how culture making brings glory to God. Stay tuned!

Editor’s Note: Learn more about the value of all our work in Hugh Whelchel’s seminal book, How Then Should We Work: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work, now available on Audible!

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