General Category => Matters of Faith => Topic started by: _JS on July 03, 2008, 07:59:53 PM

Title: Christ and Culture
Post by: _JS on July 03, 2008, 07:59:53 PM
Protestant theologian Richard Niebuhr wrote of five possible relationships that man identified Jesus as having with culture. In this case the word culture is used to include both "high" culture such as potry, art, philosophy, etc and "popular" culture such as politics and the social life of the common man. The book, worthy of a look, is Christ and Culture printed in 1951. In a very real sense these views also relate to Jesus' dual, but singular nature as both man and God. In another way, Niebuhr really identified, though he did not do so intentionally, different types of Christian worldviews.

1. Christ Against Culture: Tertullian (see Apology) is the earliest proponent of this view of Christ's relationship with culture. The Biblical context is especially found in the First Letter of John. This view is extremely cautionary. The world is an evil place, filled with lies, hatred, murder, and lust. It is a dying world which is destined to fall away. Christian faith should never be compromised to the kingdoms of man, nor to his culture.

2. The Christ of Culture: Walter Rauschenbusch is a good example of a religious leader who espoused this view. This is the polar opposite of the above. Christ came not to pronounce judgment on the world, but to bless it and teach man the depth of God's love. Every culture and every age is represented by Christ as He preached a message for all cultures because He was of this world and united with it. Sin is overcome through Christian education, which will produce real justice and real peace.

3. Christ Above Culture: Clement of Alexandria and Thomas Aquinas were the principle proponents of this view. This view is also known as the synthesist approach as it basically finds the middle ground of the above two positions. Christ is at the same time above culture and of culture due to His two natures. This is a view that considers the first two to be extremes and extrapolates a middle position. Yes, the world does have the presence of evil - but that does not mean that the Christian should withdraw from it. On the other hand, Christians cannot simply overcome sin through education - Jesus' Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).

4. Christ and Culture in Paradox: This view is also known as the dualist view. The Apostle Paul and Martin Luther are the two most famous adherents. The best Biblical text to frame this view is 2 Corinthians 5:1-2. Luther basically rephrases that text and gives a longer essay on the matter. I'll try and summarize (it is a paradox, so stay with me :) ).

There are two kingdoms, God's kingdom of grace and mercy and the worldly kingdom (on which we know reside) of wrath and severity. We cannot confuse the two, lest we place wrath and severity into the Kingdom of God or mercy and grace into the Kingdom of Man. On the other hand, the two are closely related through creation. We must therefore affirm both in a single act of obedience to the one God. He is after all, the God of both mercy and wrath, the old and the new covenant. We cannot have a dual allegiance (first commandment).

This is not as illogical as it may sound - we know that life can be both tragic and joyful. One could celebrate a wedding and have a loved one pass on the same day. This is a dualist position because it basically combines #1 and #2, whereas the Christ Above Culture position took #1 and #2 as two extremes and found a middle ground instead.

5. Christ the Transformer of Culture: Augustine and Calvin are two examples of this view. History is the interaction between God and man. The Kingdom of God is being built as we speak. As opposed to the Paulist view of #4, this is considered to be a more Johannine view. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Christ transforms culture. Christ has come to heal and renew what sin has tarnished. God's sovereignty can be made manifest in the entire network of human relationships.

The Pros and Cons

1. Christ Against Culture: The witness of these Christians is generally very strong in both word and deed. The problem is that they condemn in action exactly what they affirm in words. Tertullian, for example, was very much a Roman and whether he liked it or not, he contributed to culture.

2. The Christ of Culture: These Christians have done a great deal of good work to help spread the Gospel (as well as basic necessities) to those who would otherwise never have them. Yet, they tread on dangerous waters by coming so close to denying the divinity of Jesus (indeed some have, just as some in the category above have denied His humanity). On the other hand, they have demonstrated God's love and that does a great deal to attract others to follow.

3. Christ Above Culture: In many ways this view mollifies basic human psychology. Let's face it, we love a good compromise. We had Arianism on one side and Monophysiticism (work that into a casual conversation) on the other side - so we said, "hold on now, we can work this out with a nice compromise." Well, it wasn't quite that easy...but most Christians follow the middle position. On the other hand, has it really worked so well? Some have argued that it created an idealized Eurocentric Christian Civilization which helped justify all sorts of nasty ideas regarding race, expansion, conquering, and yes - genocide. Was the safe path the best path?

4. Christ and Culture in Paradox: This view has a definite downside, though it is also very popular for it has a strong theological basis. Just like above the proponents were some incredibly intelligent folks. Yet, when taken as a whole the dualist view shows sin to be ever-present in individuals, communities, institutions, and laws. This has led many Christians to hold these things in complete disdain. Therefore they rest content in their political, economic, and social life - knowing that it is all transitory anyway. All of our temporal work is basically spitting into the ocean.

5. Christ the Transformer of Culture: The positives here can be the greatest of the five. Christ has called us to help Him re-create and renew his creation. Both Augustine and Calvin saw this as a positive role for political and social institutions. On the other hand the negatives of this view are perhaps the worst of all the five. Calvin's Geneva was never known as a utopia to anyone except perhaps Calvin himself.

Title: Re: Christ and Culture
Post by: fatman on July 04, 2008, 10:49:35 PM
An interesting interpretation of differing theologies.  I'll have to check out that book.

Did you write that summary JS?

Title: Re: Christ and Culture
Post by: _JS on July 05, 2008, 05:37:19 AM
Thanks Fatman! I borrowed a little from Richard McBrien's overview, but most of it is my own. I tried to make it a little more accessible and a little less ivory tower if you know what I mean.

McBrien's book is called Catholicism and is also a great book, but a bit of a read (1200 pages or so).

Reinhold Niebuhr was a very interesting Protestant theologian. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of his students.

There are quite a few Christologies out there. It is one of my favorite aspects of theology. My personal favorite author, in a life-changing sort of way is Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez. But there are many others - Fr. Jon Sobrino wrote Christology at the Crossroads, which I have read and it is very good. Anne Carr wrote Transforming Grace, Walter Kasper wrote Jesus the Christ, Edward Schillebeeckx wrote Christ, the Experience of Jesus as Lord. Probably the most famous and the one having the most impact on Christian thought (Catholic and Protestant) in 20th Century history was Karl Rahner. His work Foundations of Christian Faith is the standard.

Let's see...on the Protestant side there is Bultmann's Jesus and the Word. Cullmann's Christology of the New Testament, Pannenberg's Jesus: God and Man, Moltmann's Theology of Hope, and the Russian Orthodox Church provides a real classic with John Meyendorff's Christ in Eastern Christian Thought.

Of these I've only read Gutierrez, Sobrino, Schillebeeckx (I have no clue how to pronounce that). I've read some of Rahner's works. I've read Meyendorff. So, I'm not certain of the others, but I know that they've all made an impact on Christian thought along with people like Niebuhr, Bonhoeffer, and many others.
Title: Re: Christ and Culture
Post by: fatman on July 05, 2008, 03:29:50 PM
Have you read the classical theologians, Aquinas and Augustine?  I've always found myself more aligned with Aquinian teachings than Augustinian.
Title: Re: Christ and Culture
Post by: _JS on July 05, 2008, 11:17:27 PM
Have you read the classical theologians, Aquinas and Augustine?  I've always found myself more aligned with Aquinian teachings than Augustinian.

Yes. I studied a lot from both of them back when I was in university.

Saint Thomas Aquinas basically set the standards for the modern Catholic Church. Many of the principles are Thomist in origin. Mind you, in his day he was considered to be on the fringe and was close to being excommunicated.

Saint Augustine simply wrote at a different time. I tend to prefer him, primarily for the Confessions. There's something so human about the guy and his path to God. It is amazing how someone from the 6th century had the same drives and motivations to sin as someone today. Augustine faced a different time than Aquinas. Christianity was really "up for grabs." While he was Bishop of Hippo the Ostrogoths (or the Visigoths, I forgot which) took over North Africa. They conquered Hippo a day after Augustine died...he died during their siege. They were Arians, so they promoted Arianism (the belief that Christ was simply a great man). For him every fight was for what would eventually become most of what we believe as Christians.

He was also heavily influenced by Neo-Platonism, and some people believe that Christianity went down a negative path from then on. But that is another topic!