Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Christ & Culture Revisited: Critiquing Niebuhr, Part 2

Carson argues that cultural engagement for Christians cannot neglect the key turning points in the Bible. He now sets out his non-negotiables of biblical theology and then he’ll give further critique of Niebuhr in light of these non-negotiables. What are the non-negotiables?

Creation and Fall
Every person is precious and created in God’s image. We were created innocent, but have fallen into sin. Sin isn’t just doing the wrong thing, but rebellion. The greatest commandment is love God; the second is to love your neighbor. Rebellion against God, idolatry its varied forms, has social consequences as well. We see goodness around us, not because we’re mixtures of good and evil, but because of God’s common grace.

Israel and the Law
The basic storyline is this: God chose His people and gave them a law that touched on every part of their lives, pointing out that God’s call applies to every bit of their lives. Carson says it “…turn[s] the fundamental idolatry into detailed transgression” (p. 50). While we get hung up on the laws for living, there is much more space given to the tabernacle and temple – the way God’s people stand before Him and have their sins atoned for. Israel is a theocracy. There’s no separation of church and state, but there is a difference between priest and king (contrary to most of their neighbors of the day). Finally, all of this is embedded in the larger story of Abraham and his seed, which is embedded within the story of fall and redemption.

Christ and the New Covenant
Jesus is incarnate. He is God in the flesh to dwell among us and He comes proclaiming the Kingdom of God. The kingdom is God’s reign as evidenced in the arrival of the King, His preaching, and the preaching of His disciples – and works of power. And yet it is has not come in fullness. There are still weeds among the wheat (Mark 4). The Kingdom has come, but it will still come in fullness when the King returns. Jesus’ death fulfills the OT sacrifices and is a ransom for many (Mark 10.45). This death establishes the new covenant in Jesus’ blood (1 Corinthians 11.23-26). When Jesus ascends, He sends the Holy Spirit and builds the community of the new covenant, the church. It is built with every tongue, tribe, and nation and has to deal with God’s and culture’s claims. The rest of the book is devoted to navigating this tension.

Heaven and Hell
God has called us to be responsible in the here and now, but Scripture speaks often of heaven and hell. Christ and culture issues, then, are not resolved simply on a temporal plane. We need to take eternity into consideration as we navigate these challenging issues.

Final Reflections on Niebuhr
Carson concludes this chapter with some more critique in light of these biblical theology non-negotiables. He says these need to be considered “simultaneously” and “all the time.” With this in mind, Carson disqualifies Christ Transforms Culture and almost disqualifies Christ of Culture (but not totally). But he is generally critical of rigid patterns of Christ and culture. Instead, context needs to be taken into consideration and all of these elements need to be considered “simultaneously” and “all the time.”

Finally, communities of faith must live in tension. Christ is sovereign over all, in one sense, but we also live in small communities committed to Him where His reign is realized more fully. We are both residents of the New Jerusalem and Los Angeles or Houston or Minneapolis. So we live in this tension all the time – at least until Jesus returns. The rest of the book looks, I believe, at living this tension in the different contexts Christians might find themselves in.

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