Niebuhr, Christ, and Culture (Pt. 2)

Last time I briefly surveyed a few of Neibuhr’s “Christ and Culture Types.” I explained that the understanding of Christ and culture that I am most drawn to (at this point in my life) is the understanding of Christ as the transformer of culture. However all of this is tempered by an understanding of the now/not yet reality of redemptive history….

How would you talk to people in backgrounds similar to the one you describe about engaging more with culture?

I think that talking to Christians who tend to see Christ and culture being completely incompatible is a difficult thing, namely because they tend to see your desire to correct them as coming from a position of worldliness. Some would assume that trying to convince them that Christ is not against culture is actually an attempt to tempt them back into the world. However in helping them to change their stance I would emphasize two things.

  1. God’s creation is good. I would likely take them back to Genesis or Revelation. Secondly I would emphasize the big picture story of scripture, that God creates, the fall happens, God sends his son to rescue the world, and that God restores and redeems this world in the eschaton.
  2. This world is indeed fallen but this is the same world that God intends to redeem. Because God desires to redeem this world, including the cultural aspects of it, we cannot take a position of hate against the world. In illustrating this I would likely use Christians as an example. Christians were once idolatrous people who stood in opposition to God, yet God choose to redeem and restore us. God did not hate us he loved us enough to draw him back to himself. Our stance towards God is analogous to cultures stance towards God, it stands in opposition to God until God restores it. There is continuity/discontinuity between the world in sin/the world restored and the non-christian/christian in this example.

Is it important to try to change other Christians’ attitudes in this area?

I certainly think it is – primarily for the sake of mission. Its important because our view of culture greatly affects what we understand to be our mission. If we believe that Christ is against the world, then how will we be motivated reach out and engage in meaningful ways withthe world. I think the “Christ as Transformer” view offers the best tools for mission; it emphasizes the dual nature of Christ’s stance towards the world. Christ does not love its idolatry, but Christ does love the people of the world. Christ does not love cultural idols, yet he loves cultures. Because Christ loves the people and their cultures he wants to restore and redeem them and their culture for his purposes.


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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