I’m giving a talk for Wheatstone Academy in a few weeks on the relationship between courage, theology, and the creation of culture.

I am still putting together my thoughts on the talk and trying to identify the specific angle I want to take.  My audience is Christian high-school students, but that has never limited me in any way.  I’ve always had the most success with high school students when set the bar high.

That said, here are a few sources that are influencing my thoughts on the topic, and that may shape the final product:

  • de Tocqueville on the “equality of conditions'” moderating effects on the emotional lives of the citizenry.  This raises a question about the relationship between the arts and egalitarianism.
  • Ellul on the stultifying effects of technocracy (though he really seems to just channel Heidegger on this critique).  Ellul contends that the entertainment industry has a self-propogating function that functionally lulls people to sleep.
  • This book by Paul Johnson.
  • The Theology of the Body.  The creation of culture and the creation of children share some similarities (Plato thought they were motivated by the same desire for immortality), which raises the possibility of talking about the body, death, and immortality with respect to the creation of culture.
  • Chesterton and Dickens:  after reading Chesterton for years, I’ve been reading his favorite author, Dickens.  The similarities between them have reminded me that cultural creation starts with wise consumption.  See also on this point George Steiner’s work.
  • Avatar and Twilight (I need to get a little more mileage out of them than I have to this point).
  • Galatians and Colossians:  the former for its critiques of envy (which seems to be grounded in an inability to delight the success of others) and the latter for its emphasis on Christ’s rule over all creation.

One of my aims is to avoid starting with the imago Dei, if only because anyone who has ever talked about the urge to create takes that as their starting point. I’d rather they not see me coming.

But I thought I would solicit help.

“The Courage to Create.”  What would you say?

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Thomas says that martyrdom is the principal act of courage. If this is so, what is created through martyrdom?


  2. The Church. (Is that too easy of an answer? It seems like it!)


  3. I don’t think martyrdom created the church, but maybe martyrdom was (is?) a co-creator of the church.


  4. Christopher Benson January 29, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    Matt: I like the topic for your message. I hope you will share your thesis, once formulated, with Mere-O readers. You solicited help, so here’s what I have to offer. I’m currently reading James Davison Hunter’s forthcoming book on why American Christians aren’t changing the world (culture). He said Christian culture critics and culture makers, like their secular counterparts, are beholden to the cult of genius and the myth of history as biography (Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Waldo Emerson). Too much emphasis is put on the individual as creator rather than the institution as creator. History reveals a complex web of culture creation through individuals AND institutions.

    American teenagers often hear a misguided but well-intentioned exhortation from their parents, teachers, and pastors: “You can do anything!” Sometimes the exhortation is modified: “You can do anything through hard work.”

    My pastor likes to disabuse adults and youth of their delusions of omnipotence by reminding them of these facts of life:

    1. Life is hard. For most of the world this is a self-evident fact. Growing up in the affluent West, most of my friends didn’t discover this till well into their thirties, and no one ever told them, or me, that this is the way life is. We live in a what theologians call a “fallen world” where bad things happen – even to good people. As Jesus said, “In this world, you will have troubles,” (John. 16:33).

    2. You are going to die. At eighteen, I was bulletproof. At thirty, I began to catch a faint glimpse of my mortality. By forty, that glimpse was becoming much clearer. Today, I feel quite vulnerable. In his Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker posits that the inability to come to terms with the fact that we are going to die is the basis of all neurosis. On a more positive note, once you come to grips with this fact, you can do what “highly-effective” people do (according to Stephen Covey) and “begin with the end in mind.” I sometimes wonder if the obsession with youth in the United States is not a form of fear of this fact.

    3. You are not that important. A young man needs to learn that the universe does not revolve around him. I wish it were not so, but one lesson I have learned in life is that most things I’ve been involved with seem to get along fine without me. Richard Rohr likes to say that you have to learn that you are “just a little s—.” I recently heard someone make reference to the need most of us have for a little “You’re not anybody special” training.

    4. You are not in control. This is a lesson that takes a long time to learn and seems to need frequent re-learning. I know that I didn’t learn it as a young man. It took marriage, kids, illness, and difficulty to begin to learn it.

    5. Your life is not about you. We live in an intensely individualistic culture. That may be one of the reasons we have forgotten how to initiate our young men. Initiation in most cultures is a tribal event. For a young man, it is the men of the tribe that come and symbolically take him away from his mother and lead him away to experience the “mysteries” of the male. Almost without exception, it was the tribe or group that took precedent over the rights and needs of the individual. For those of us who profess to believe in God, our life is to be about Him, not us. Jesus said it well when he taught the disciples to pray, “Not my will, but yours (God’s) be done.

    So, how does this apply to your message? If teenagers want to develop the courage to create, they must submit to the sovereignty of the Creator, who alone authorizes us to create (culture mandate). They must realize that solidarity is better than solitude. They must remember the Pauline metaphor of the body and stop living like amputated members. They must accept the freedom of finitude rather than fight against it. And they must acknowledge that all of their creations, however great or small, belong to “this world in its present form,” which is “passing away.” In my opinion, the most courageous act of creation is the double love of God and neighbor; only this act of repetition will persist in the new heaven and new earth.


  5. Christopher Benson January 31, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    Matt: Were my ruminations at all helpful for your talk?


  6. I haven’t read Andy Crouch’s Culture Making, but I’m guessing since the title is related, and you’ve posted a video from him, that you’re including some of his ideas too? I loved that video “Powers of three” a.k.a. Guy starts dance party


  7. Scriptures,

    Hah! That is a great video. And yup, I’ve definitely got that on the list (should have included it here–not sure why I didn’t).

    And Christopher, those thoughts are fantastic. I was planning on heading in a pretty similar direction, albeit from different sources (Theo of the Body).

    I’ll let you know how it goes. It happens in two weekends, and I’m pretty nervous about it as I haven’t talked in public much in the past few years.


  8. Matt

    I can’t remember if I posted this before, but it is worth posting again in any case:

    Since you’re trying to keep an audience interested – here’s a great article about writing good. i mean, well @ American Scholar Mag
    http://bit.ly/6Bagmg (via a tweet from my Christian artist / intellectual friend @etechne)

    I was captivated by the writing style described in the article; he highlights the simple beauties of Anglo-Saxon nouns. (If you want to cut to the chase, start reading at the paragraph that begins with “So what is good English…”)

    Honestly, I wish every piece and all types of writing followed his guidelines!



  9. Danny,

    Thanks for pointing that out. Zinsser’s book (On Writing Well) is one of my favorites, though I clearly implement it imperfectly (okay, badly!).

    Most of the time when I write for Mere-O, I’m just trying to get my thoughts out, which means it lacks the polish that it really needs. But hopefully my published essays are a bit more engaging (though I doubt it).




  10. Christopher Benson February 2, 2010 at 12:11 am

    As long as people are recommending books on writing, here’s a title I recently discovered from Reformed pastor and blogger Kevin DeYoung:

    WRITING TOOLS: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
    by Roy Peter Clark

    Here’s the blog from DeYoung:


  11. Christopher,

    Yup, I’m reading through that one slowly right now. It’s also very good.



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