Let’s face it: You’ve hit a new level of cultural relevance as an author when one of the most popular rappers in the world mentions you in a song. For Andy Crouch, the shout-out in Lecrae’s 2014 single “Non-Fiction” is a byproduct of his years-long effort to encourage Christians to engage in culture in a way that is redemptive.
Crouch is the author of Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power and Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, which was one of the most highly acclaimed Christian books of 2008. His writing has also appeared in Time, The Wall Street Journal, and several editions of Best Christian Writing and Best Spiritual Writing.
There’s a world of cultural tension fomenting around marriage, singleness, and social media right now, so in this interview, I asked Andy to speak into those issues. A week after the interview, I’m still thinking about some of the compelling things he had to say.
1. Soon, the Supreme Court is going to issue an opinion on the constitutionality of gay marriage bans, and I’m sure there will be a fresh round of name calling, inflammatory status updates, and half-baked pontificating from all sides. What advice do you have for fellow believers who want to join in the discussion?
First, I’d recommend reading this wonderfully calm and clear article by John Inazu, one of the best scholars on the state of pluralism in the U.S. relating to the current marriage debate: “What to Expect After the Supreme Court’s Marriage Decision.”
To be honest, I’d recommend that most believers not “join in the discussion” online, especially in the heat of the celebration and recrimination that will accompany whatever decision the Court makes. It’s so much more important to have face-to-face conversations with our families, friends and neighbors than to stake out a position through the media, social or otherwise.
Whether in person or online, though, I think the most important thing is not to give in to three temptations: fear, grief or envy. Fear and grief lead to hyperbole at best — exaggerating what has been won or lost — and hostility at worst, demonizing and lashing out at our opponents. They are always temptations when it seems cultural trends aren’t going our way. Envy, on the other hand, leads to accommodation and assimilation when it seems like there’s a chance of gaining status and influence.
Whatever the Supreme Court’s decision, we have to see this as a multi-generational story of our culture trying to negotiate whether there is any significance to our creation as male and female in the image of God. That is not going to turn on a dime, and healthy cultural change actually never happens quickly. It’s worth remembering that Christians — both liberal/progressive and conservative, but especially the modernist Protestants who were then in positions of cultural power — created and sustained the ideology of racism that gained power in the 19th century, advancing the supposedly “scientific” belief, concurrent with the rise of Darwinism, that some races were intrinsically superior to others. And there were plenty of Supreme Court decisions along the way — Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson — that seemed to reinforce that arc of history. It took the better part of a century to reverse that profound insult to the biblical doctrine of the image of God, which was always meant to be expressed in human cultural and ethnic diversity.
If, as I believe, we’re in the midst of an equally mistaken denial of the image of God in human beings as male and female, that is not going to be undone quickly. So any contribution to the discussion about this month’s decision should take the long view. What is our hope for human beings, male and female, several generations from now? What kind of society do we want to leave for our children and our children’s children? The more that our contributions to the conversation can be hopeful — not necessarily optimistic in the short run, but hopeful in the long run — the more chance we have of helping our society turn the corner on these issues.
2. Unwanted singleness among Christian women is becoming more and more normal in the church. Based on your journalistic work in the church, you have a 10,000-foot view that most of us don’t enjoy. Do you see any way for us to turn this ship around and rescue a generation of families that we are losing as young men wait indefinitely to get married?
This is a really tough one. I don’t honestly know how quickly the ship will turn around, as you put it, and in the meantime there are going to be a lot of tough decisions, especially for young women.
I believe in developing and supporting strong women — I’m married to an experimental physicist! But at this moment, I think one of the most urgent tasks for the church is the evangelism and discipleship of men, helping them see how Christ can use and transform their inclinations toward competition, achievement, and the protection of the vulnerable. The key to changing the current patterns is to unapologetically call men to greater risk and sacrifice, including what is in many ways the greatest risk and sacrifice a man can make, binding oneself to one woman in marriage.
Frankly, given the disparities of available men and women in the church, I don’t think many men should question whether they have a “calling” to singleness or to marriage — I think that barring clear guidance otherwise from God and your community, you should assume that you are called to marriage and fatherhood and proceed as quickly as possible in that direction. And for God’s sake, stop playing video games. Spend that time getting to know a real woman instead.
3. You’ve written a lot about Christians and their obligation to engage with the broader culture. I don’t think it’s wise for us to shut out all media that doesn’t 100 percent agree with our values. But when do you think it’s a good idea to avoid a movie or music because it’s too violent, too sexually explicit, or too hateful?
I think this one is pretty easy. Don’t make the decision alone. If you’re married or in a relationship moving toward marriage, your spouse gets a vote and a veto in what you watch, listen to, or read. And take it to your community of friends in Christ. There’s no one line for everyone, but everyone should have friends who know us well enough to help us make these decisions.
On a personal note, while I’m really proud of the range of films our reviewers cover at CT, I have to admit that my own viewing choices are incredibly conservative. I neither enjoy, nor can I shake off the spiritual effects of witnessing, cinematic depictions of casual violence or sex, and I go out of my way to avoid them. And I’ve learned to trust and honor my wife’s instincts in these things, which are even more cautious than my own would be. But I recognize that the line will be drawn differently for different people.
4. You fasted from social media at the beginning of the year. What fears or anxieties did that bring up in you?
Forty days without screens — including social media — was mostly just delightful, honestly. I was surprised at how little I missed being constantly connected and how little I felt like I was missing. Given how much time I spend on social media and especially email, it was like being given the gift of several additional hours in each day.
But I will say this: FOMO — the “fear of missing out” — is a real thing. What I was most afraid of missing out on was not information but affirmation. I discovered how attached, or maybe addicted, I was to the small daily dose of reassurance that other people “like” me and “follow” me. I had a cover story in CT while I was away from screens, and it was surprisingly hard to resist peeking at what people were saying about it online, good or bad. Ironically, the whole point of the story was that social media are making us much more sensitive to issues of shame and honor — public evaluation of our worth. And indeed, there I was, yearning for some honor and afraid that I was being shamed. It was sobering how strong the pull was on me.
5. What advice do you have for young believers who are prolifically using social media as a platform for their creative pursuits?
Stay connected to the non-mediated world. Spend most of your time with people who actually know you in the flesh, in all your strengths and all your vulnerability, with no filter. All true, lasting creativity comes from deep, risky engagement with the fullness of creation, so don’t let your creative world become limited to the thin, mediated world. Get out in the glorious, terrifying creation and let it move you and break your heart. Then you’ll have something to offer in the dim mirror that is “social media” — and in the full, real world that demands the engagement of all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.