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.

Published by cwoznicki

Christ Follower. PhD Student in Systematic Theology at Fuller Seminary. UCLA Philosophy Grad. Former college minister at The Church at Rocky Peak. I'm into theology, philosophy, the Gospels, culture, and mission.

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