Monday, February 2, 2009

Christ and Culture: Christ Against Culture, part 1 (Biblical Support, Historical Proponents)

Niebuhr starts this section by noting it has some strong biblical warrant and the support of the early church. He sweeps through 1 John and notes the importance of God’s love for us, our love for God, and then the importance of loving our brother. But the emphasis is on our love for our brother in the faith. In contrast to this love, we need to stay away from the world that corrupts. The most popular early church writings agree with this interpretation of John – Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, & others. He also notes how Tertullian had strong opinions about how culture was how we were corrupted. Niebuhr argues that Tertullian basically believed a baby would grow up innocent if not for the corrupting nature of culture. Tertullian, much more than he put into practice, argued for a withdrawal from the world’s institutions and largely had contempt for philosophy. Tertullian is the epitome of the anticultural Christian.

In modern times, this would show up in groups like the Mennonites and Society of Friends who withdraw from public institutions, according to Niebuhr. His personal model of this, however, is Leo Tolstoy who, after his conversion rejected almost all of his previous literary accomplishments as bad art, along with all other art that didn’t align with Christian beauty. He essentially embraced some key points of the Sermon on the Mount, focusing on nonresistance, and entered into a rigorous life of trying to adhere to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. He had no use for government or churches because they were corrupt with the pursuit of power rather than trying to live what Jesus taught. His rigor, according to some, lacked the internal fire and love for Jesus that early proponents of this perspective exhibited (Tertullian and the early church).

What’s compelling about this perspective? What’s wrong with it? The next post will have Niebuhr’s critiques.

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