The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Monday, February 25, 2008
Top-Down or Bottom-Up?
From an book-review essay in Comment by John Seel"

This strategy stems from a general acceptance that cultural change is top-down and guided by strategically placed gatekeepers. Infiltrating these gatekeeper networks has been one of the overarching objectives of these institutions. . . . Latent evangelical populism has resisted this overt elitism. Charles Colson writes, "I don't believe societies are moved as much by the social elites as they are by changes in the habits of the heart. I think you have to give people, the mass of people, a different vision to live by . . . John Naisbitt said that fads start from the top down, movements from the bottom up."

And yet, the reality-defining institutions of the academy, art, media, and entertainment, which are controlled by economic, social, and cultural elites, shape the "habits of the heart" of any given society. Having once worked for John Naisbitt, I can say with confidence that he was speaking about consumer trends, not cultural dynamics. The achievement of these institutions is to be applauded.

Readers of TNT will know that I largely reject the top-down approach to renewing culture. Working on the local level and on a smaller scale, and working and expanding from there - all the while remaining exclusively and distinctly Christian - is the way to grow a genuinely Christian culture. Compromise and cooperative ventures end up with a diluted product - losing most of its saltiness in the process.

What we need, I think, is a Christian subversive sub-culture and a patient, long-term, outlook. We also need at the same time to actively resist the mind-shaping effects of the dominant culture around us ("be not conformed...") and we celebrate the cultural offerings of the local Christian culture around us...