Over at Christianity Today, Andy Crouch confronts modern society’s increasing skepticism toward institutional structures, arguing that without them, all of our striving toward cultural transformation is bound to falter:
For cultural change to grow and persist, it has to be institutionalized, meaning it must become part of the fabric of human life through a set of learnable and repeatable patterns. It must be transmitted beyond its founding generation to generations yet unborn. There is a reason that the people of God in the Hebrew Bible are so often named as the children of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Like divine intervention in history, true cultural change takes generations to be fully absorbed and expressed.
Indeed, the best institutions extend shalom—that rich Hebrew word I paraphrase as “comprehensive flourishing”—through both space and time. Take one of my favorite institutions: the game of baseball. It is a set of cultural patterns that has lasted for several generations now, played at a professional level on several continents. A great game of baseball is mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing and fulfilling in the way that all deeply human endeavors are. It embodies the playfulness and competitiveness that reflects our God-given creativity and ambition for excellence. It is an institution, larger than any individual player.
But alas, such suspicion exists for a reason. As Crouch goes on to note, a competing temptation often prevails — that of “succumbing to institutionalism,” wherein we seek the perpetuation of institutions as ends in themselves. “If the biblical language of principalities and powers is taken seriously,” Crouch says, “it seems that human institutions can become demonic, opposed to the purposes of God.” (more…)