Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Christ & Culture Revisited: Defining Culture

This series has been on hiatus for a little bit (almost a month!) – and it’s likely to be a bit spotty because blogging with consistency is difficult and Carson’s book isn’t a quick read. To get to the most recent post go this way or this way. To the issue at hand!

One of the critiques people have of Niebuhr’s book is that he doesn’t define culture and he actually changes his working definitions/assumptions based upon the perspective of Christ and culture he’s talking about. Carson doesn’t seek to define culture, but seems to argue that we can come to a fairly common understanding of culture even if we don’t agree on all the details.

By refining culture, Carson seems to just deal with a lot of questions that say we can’t do it. I’ll let you read the details, but he seems to settle on the fact that cultures share many commonalities even as people are part of different subcultures. For example, there is American culture, but within it there may be a New York city culture, a Midwest culture, and a Louisiana culture. There are distinctions, but there are also similarities that set it apart as a broad culture as opposed, say, to French culture. If we want to go the other direction, American culture and French culture may unite to create a broadly “Western culture” that is distinct from an Eastern culture that emanates from Asia.

And one can, obviously, be part of a culture and yet be distinct from it in certain ways. Because Christians are part of a culture, this does not mean they are absorbed into it with no distinction. Even though one can be fully American, this does not mean one cannot be fully Christian. The two terms will overlap, but they are not mutually exclusive.

There are helpful distinctions and analogies that clarified my thinking, but this wasn’t an area I felt terribly cloudy in to begin with. Maybe my “feel” of culture is similar to Carson’s – his may just be a little better thought out! :)

In closing for today, one helpful thought was the fact that, based on the non-negotiables of biblical theology, Carson recognizes that certain themes may be emphasized based on certain cultural situations. This isn’t to say the non-negotiables are negotiable; it is to say that certain emphases are appropriate at different times. Some may call this waffling, but I doubt that will be the case when we look next at Carson’s approach to postmodernism (I could be wrong, however. I haven’t read it yet!)

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