Friday, March 14, 2008

Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr

Well, I finally finished Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr, and I took the Christ and Culture test on David Zimmer's blog. I was very surprised by the results of the test, but the more I thought about it, the more the results made sense. I tested as Christ above Culture, which surprised me because I usually disagree with Thomas Aquinas (the poster child for Christ above Culture). But I no longer think that the test was that far off of the mark.

First, I grew up in a conservative Baptist tradition that was very Christ against Culture. I have a lot of respect for people who hold to that view because, having grown up with them, I know that they believe what they believe out of a sincere love for God. Many sacrifice a lot to live the life that they feel God wants them to live. They taught me that there are real forces of darkness at work in this world that are hostile to the kingdom of God. (The Christ of Culture model is not an option for me.)

Second, I have seen the darker side of the Christ against Culture model, and so I have reacted strongly against it. The Christ against Culture model often becomes "Christ against your Culture," whether it be the long-haired culture, the rock music culture, the hippie culture, or worse yet, the Hispanic culture, or the African culture, or whatever. I think we need to be in the culture (plus, we are in it a lot more than many of us would like to admit). So, the Christ against Culture model is out for me.

Third, I was trained theologically in the reformed tradition, and I react strongly against any attempt to force non-Christians to behave like Christians. I think God changes someone's heart before He changes their behavior. Further, I have since rejected the dualism found in Martin Luther that the Christian is simutaneously justified and a sinner. I don't think he takes seriously enough the spiritual change that takes place in a person when God regenerates them. (So, the Christ and Culture in Tension view is out for me.)

That leaves the two I am torn between--Christ above Culture and Chist the Transformer of Culture. Initially, the second sounded more appealling. However, there is that part of me that sees "The World" as hostile to God. There are parts of our culture that cannot be redeemed (the global sex slave trade, unfair global markets, racism, tribalism, etc.), but need to be rejected outright. To take the global sex trade for example, I would not approach the issue asking the question, "How can we redeem this for Christ?" but "How is this a symptom of our failure to understand God and ourselves or of our rebellion against Him?" To me, God has created a right way to have sex, and using sex slaves is a corruption of the divine intent. To change the culture, people need to understand who God created them to be and how their actions are falling short of the divine intent. Then, they need a work of the Holy Spirit to live the life they were created to live.

I guess that makes me a Thomist. Never saw that coming.

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