Christ, Culture, and College Students – A Reformed Perspective (Pt. 4)

Last time we looked at the concept of cultural transformation. Today we turn to our third subject: cultural transformation and the Biblical meta-narrative.


Transforming Culture and the Biblical Meta-Narrative

There are many Christians throughout the history of the Church who have held the view that God desires to transform culture; that God desires some sort of restoration. For instance Augustine and Calvin both held views like this. Recently (within the last 100 years) there have been several theologians who have advocated for a view of transformation that hopes that transformation can occur fully in the present. People Like Richard Niebuhr and F.D. Maurice have advocated for a view that eschatological restoration and shalom could happen in the present. This has led them, and others like them to expend great efforts in social and moral reform. People who advocate for this view often do end up working towards the ends that were mentioned in When the Kings Come Marching In. However the biblical drama makes the claim that this sort of transformation and restoration cannot fully occur in the present, it will happen in the eschaton. Thus a proper understanding of the Biblical drama is necessary for understanding our role in the transformation of culture. In Christ and Culture Revisted D.A. Carson points out how the Biblical drama can help us form a better understanding of Christ the transformer of culture. Carson begins by outlining the biblical meta-narrative. The Biblical meta-narrative contains some important “chapters” for understanding Christ and culture. There is the good and perfect creation, the fall, redemption, and new creation. Carson argues that any account of Christ and culture  must incorporate these “great turning points of redemptive history.”[1] If we end up overemphasizing one of these chapters over the others we end up with a skewed view of Christ and culture. Carson argues that this is what Niebuhr has done in advocating for a fully present transformation of culture. Carson believes that Niebuhr has elevated the good-creation chapter, and has failed to take into account the falleness of creation and the fact that sin permeates all of creation. Because all of creation is tainted by sin, the only hope for redemption and restoration is through an act of the grace of God. Niebuhr encourages and advocates for something that is impossible on this side of the eschaton because sin makes it impossible in the present.

This is an important critique of Niehbur’s understanding of Christ transforming culture, especially for college students. College students often believe that all the wrongs in this world could be made right if only people lived justly and lovingly. They often hope for transformation now. However according to the Biblical narrative this hope is unfounded. College students should still be working to alleviate and even prevent wrongs and social injustices, however they must understand that full transformation cannot happen until Jesus intervenes at the end of the age[2]. Keeping this in mind will certainly prevent frustration when college students are not seeing change or are seeing change too slowly. It will also alleviate stress because they know that the transformation is not ultimately up to them but it is ultimately up to Jesus the true transformer of culture.

[1] Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited, 44.

[2] Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited, 58.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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