Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 22, 2009

Culture Vultures Compare Notes

I read my friend author Dave Zimmerman’s blog today, in which he gently expressed the heresy (I’m being ironic here… relax) that perhaps an evangelical nonfiction book  had used “too much bible”. The book was Culture-Making by Andy Crouch (is this gospel singer Andre Crouch’s Gen-X nephew?). I have heard about the book, but have not read it.

Yet as I commented on Dave’s blog, I realized I was writing something I wanted to say to more people. So I’ve stolen my Blogger comment wholesale and dragged it over here. It contains a couple book reviews of my own, that I have been meaning to put up here at MT anyway. So here’s my extended commentary on Dave’s comments about cruise ships and Christian views of “culture”.

The tentativeness you express regarding the role of the Bible (and its “proper” usage) in Crouch’s book, in evangelicalism and in publishing is a healthy attitude. Church movements like American evangelicalism (and its somewhat conformist publishing industry) are subcultures also, complete with the temptation every subculture has to deal with–believing without question that their approach/identity is best, and taking themselves too seriously.

I’m a populist as well, always looking for universal themes and mutually ministering relationships(maybe in the woods, or at a bar, rather than a cruise ship). Didn’t realize how much of a populist/oddball I was till I read a good secular book _Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams_, by Philadelphia reporter Alfred Lubrano. His premise, about first-generation college attenders’ difficulty in learning the language of a new “white collar” subculture, helped put my discomfort in perspective. (I was an uncomfortable blue-collar kid at Northwestern, the Ivy League school of the Midwest by some folks’ appraisal.) Church movements have a similar language/style that determines who is an insider or outsider… not that Jesus puts much stock in our own self-involved distinctions.

Secondly, your review/post above made me think of an excellent secular novel I read this year: _The Good Life_, by Jay McInerney (author of Bright Lights, Big City).

It’s about pre- and post-9/11 Manhattan as a mecca and/or cesspool of high-falutin’ cultural norms. The two main characters struggle to alternately participate in their subculture, or else find meaning elsewhere– to create a more ethical space or to find exits from that subculture of self-involved liberal elitism which dominates in Manhattan (and which sets a national tone somewhat). The author’s voice & critique, though, is the book’s main strength.

Lastly, in my grad work in Education, the main theme drilled into me was that historically, American schools are more about transmission of culture (and assimilation) than about providing skills or information. As a teacher, I’ve found it to be true — not always in a good way, either. 


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