Saturday, January 31, 2009

Christ and Culture: The Enduring Problem

The intro post from a week ago covers the end of this chapter, but there was plenty before it. Niebuhr spends the bulk of this chapter explaining what he means by Christ and what he means by culture. Since he is attempting to include the broad spectrum of Christianity, the definition of Christ is broad, but his summary statement might help (and it might not):
The power and attraction Jesus Christ exercises over men never comes from him alone, but from him as Son of the Father. It comes from him in his Sonship in a double way, as man living to God and God living with men. Beliefr in him and loyalty to his cause involves men in the double movement from world to God and from God to world. Even when theologies fail to do justice to this fact, Christians living with Christ in their cultures are aware of it. For they are forever being challenged to abandon all things for the sake of God; and forever being sent back into the world to teach and practice all the things that have been commanded them. (p. 29).
Niebuhr’s definition of culture is not precise, but he speaks of the elements of it: civilization, human achievement, values, the focus on the good for man, and the temporal and material realization of values.

This leads to a few great sentences before he sketches the options:
Given these two complex realities – Christ and culture – an infinite dialogue must develop in the Christian conscience and the Christian community. In his single-minded direction toward God, Christ leads men away from the temporality and pluralism of culture. In its concern for the conservation of the many values of the past, culture rejects the Christ who bids men rely on grace. Yet the Son of God is himself child of a religious culture, and sends his disciples to tend his lambs and sheep, who cannot be guarded without cultural work. The dialogue proceeds with denials and affirmations, reconstructions, compromises, and new denials.
Working through these is the content of the rest of the book. Chapters are long so it may take a while to get through this, but I think it will be fruitful work…

1 comment:

David said...

You identified the two most controversial and fundamental points of the book- Niebuhr's Christology and definition of culture.

From my reading one's doctrine of Christ distinguishes you between the "radical" and "centrist" perspectives. If you have a low doctrine of Christ (focusing on Christ's humanity) you will tend to be Against or Of culture. If you have a higher doctrine of Christ (human and divine) you will be more centrist (Above, Paradox, or Transforming Culture).

One of the big limitations of Niebuhr's book is his definition of "culture." He takes it for granted. This is where Carson's critique is valuable- and Neibuhr betrays himself as a man of his day. Niebuhr only can think of White, American middle class Christianity in the 1950s.