Christ and Cultural Influence

A few days ago I took began to explore the topic of Christ and Culture through Niebuhr’s typology, today I want to keep exploring the topic of Christ and culture by centering the discussion around a few questions:

The Question:

Is one of the roles of the church to impact culture (beyond evangelism)? Why or why not? In what way?

The Long Answer:

Even if you were to take a superficial look at evangelicalism you would see that one major area of conflict revolves around the notion of how much the Church should engage culture. Although there is certainly a conflict, there are certain things that most traditions agree upon. For instance, there is agreement that the Church should not conform to the idolatrous ways of the world. Yet what exactly those idolatrous ways consist of will vary from tradition to tradition. Also, most traditions will agree that God will restore and redeem creation at the eschaton. Disagreements will arise as to when God begins to restore and redeem creation. To sum things up:

Sin is bad, and God will one day fix his creation…

Disagreements tend to arise due to misunderstandings over one another other’s beliefs. For instance Stanely Hauerwas and Will Willimon end up advocating for Yoderian position of the confessing church, the visible church being an alternative polis, that is being something that the world is not and can never be (46). According to the two of them, the Church’s influence lies in it being “church” rather than actively trying to influence the world. This position is incompatible with somebody like Niebuhr’s position, exemplified by F.D. Maurice. Niebuhr and Maurice hold to a view in which the Church can effectively make the world a “better place.” I think that the disagreement between these two positions lies in the lack of bringing in the Big Biblical Story (the meta-narrative of scripture) to influence our view of church and culture.

If we take seriously the meta-narrative, as some authors like D.A. Carson does (see Christ and Culture revisited), we arrive at a position which sees that the prideful position that “people of the Church itself can change the world” (in agreement with Niebuhr and contrary to the Anabaptist position), is wrong and misguided. Yet, the church is still called to love the world because God loves the world, this love for the world will necessarily influence the world and seek to help the people of the world. For instance, the people of the church will help to alleviate the problem of the lack of clean water in Uganda (or lack of resources in LAUSD schools), not because the Church believes that it can solve the problem (the meta-narrative says that certain issues like this cannot be solved before the eschaton) but because the church loves the people of the world.

So the church can seek transformation, yet it must realize that complete transformation cannot be attained this side of the eschaton.


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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: