Niebuhr, Christ, and Culture (Pt. 1)

Niebuhr’s book Christ and Culture is a classic book on the history of the interaction between Christianity and the culture around it. Over the next few days I’m going to share some thoughts I have on this book….

Are his five types accurate?

I think that Niebuhr’s typology pretty accurately represents my experience interacting with other Christians and their views on Christ and culture. However I would say that most Christians that I have interacted with would not classify the types of stances in terms of five categories, rather they would classify them in three. These three would be: 1-Christ against culture, 2-Christ affirming culture, and 3-Christ and Culture in some complicated blend of the two. The churches that I grew up in always tended to see Christ and culture as two incompatible things, however now I do not see things as being so simple. (Thankfully the church I am currently at also sees it as a complicated matter.) Life tends to be difficult to break up into dichotomies like Christ against or Christ for culture.

Am I drawn to any of these types?

The understanding of Christ and culture that I am most drawn to (at this point in my life) is the understanding of Christ the transformer of culture. However, I really do not want to go as far as Niebuhr does in affirming the liberalist project as it is displayed in the work of F.D. Maurice. I agree with Niebuhr in saying that one day culture will be “converted,” however I thik D.A. Carson brings up a good point in Christ and Culture Revisited when he speaks about the conversion of culture needing to be understood in terms of the larger narrative of Scripture. I believe that it is a misunderstanding of The Kingdom of God as taught by Jesus that leads to Liberal Protestantism’s (as well as Fundamentalism’s) hope that culture can be converted now. A proper understanding of the Kingdom of God affirms that one day culture will be converted, but since we live in the now/not yet of the Kingdom, the conversion of culture will not occur until the eschaton. One extreme example of the now/not yet conversion of culture that I have witnessed is in the area of politics. When it comes to the difficult issue of homosexuality, some Christians campaign for the conversion of culture to a biblical understanding of marriage as being between a man and a woman. Although I believe that this is the biblical definition of marriage, it is difficult to say why culture around us ought to act in a biblical manner. It seems to me that the desire to convert culture to a Christian understanding of marriage is hoping that culture is converted now. This is a failure to understand the now/not yet aspect of the conversion of culture.

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