Monday, July 21, 2008

Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson (Chapter 6)

In the final chapter of Christ and Culture Revisited, D.A. Carson investigates "Disputed Agendas, Frustrated Utopias, and Ongoing Tensions." Essentially, he summarizes various traditions' approaches to Christ and culture and critiques each one. (Think of it as a mini version of Niebuhr's book.)

First, he addresses the fundamentalists (Christ against culture?). While Carson appreciates the passion with which they do what they do, he thinks that they are better at combating what they don't like than they are at promoting what they do like. Further, they tend to be selective about the evils they oppose.

Second, he addresses Luther (Christ and culture in paradox?). While Carson appreciates Luther's wisdom in recognizing that it is no use forcing Christian ideals on non-Christians, he says that this model inevitably marginalizes Christians from the public sphere.

Third, he addresses Abraham Kuyper (Christ above culture?). Similar to Aquinas, Kuyper sought to identify what was good and true in culture, and was remarkably successful in making political progress where Christianity and culture overlapped. However, Carson points out that as time when on, the difference between "creation" and "redemption" waned, and his system decayed into something comparable to the "Christ of culture" model. (This is the same critique Niebuhr made of Aquinas and the Christ above culture model. Though the model has some strengths, practically it usually sees the distinction between Christ and culture fall apart.)

Fourth, Carson addresses "Minimalist Expectations," those like Frederica Matthewes-Green who argue that culture is a shifting sand and that it is pointless to try to impact it. (Matthewes-Green is Eastern Orthodox and places a high value on tradition over trend. "There is nothing new under the sun" seems to be her mantra.) Carson points out that Matthewes-Green ignores the significant advances that Christianity has made on the structure of our society (i.e. Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery).

Fifth, Carson looks at "Post-Christendom Perspectives," interacting with Yoder, Hauerwas, and Craig Carter. Carter points out that all of Niebuhr's categories assume a Constantinian view of Christ and culture--that Christians should try to influence culture by "force." Carter instead is a pacifist, arguing that we best influence culture through non-violent modeling. Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu, Mother Theresa, and William Penn did more to influence culture than the Crusades did. However, Carson points out that Carter's view is reductionistic, boiling the whole Christ and culture question down to pacifism.

Finally, Carson looks at persecution, pointing out that Niebuhr's categories are silly to those who live in a culture that persecutes people for their faith.

D.A. Carson's main accomplishment in Christ and Culture Revisited is to destroy the validity of Niebuhr's categories. (Perhaps this was done before Carson, but this is my first exposure to it.) Carson rightly argues that a biblical theology should determine our view of Christ and culture--especially a biblical theology that takes appropriate consideration for the major "turning points" of creation, fall, and redemption. Further, Carson points out that there is no "one size fits all" response to culture. At times, the church is called to be against culture. At times, the church is called to redeem culture. Different situations call for different responses.

As I've stated all along, my only beef with Carson is how narrow he has defined orthodox Christianity. Not that I disagree with his views on creation, fall, or redemption--I just question whether these are fundamentals or merely Shibboleths. So, while Carson's book is an excellent response to Niebuhr for those who fall in Carson's camp, it be a mere frustration to those who disagree with him.

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