07 March 2006

Well, Then, Lutheran It Is.

As you might have guessed, I have been reading Christ and Culture by Richard Niebuhr. The configurations he suggests are insightful. Interestingly one's position on the issue is often rooted in Trinitarian and bibliological concerns. If Christ is the Son of God, the Creator of all nature, and if the Scriptures are the Word of the same God a strict "Christ against Culture" paradigm seems destined to self-contradiction and failure. Yet the content of the Word as well as the life and teachings of Christ keep us from strictly uniting Christ and Culture. Hence "the median types" of configuring Christ and culture: Christ above culture (synthetic or architectonic; e.g. Aquinas), Christ and culture in paradox (dualistic or oscillatory; e.g. Luther), and Christ reforms Culture (conversionist; e.g. Calvin).

Because I reserve Christ's final reformation of culture for the eschaton, I end up (with most historic Baptists) in an oscillatory position (at least that's what I think today). Most Americans know this position as "separation of church and state," but it is really an entire philosophy of life and ministry. The arts, the sciences, philosophy, and politics are all areas in which Christians must express their worldview to the extent that they have contact with these areas. God invented these things and the world organized against God audaciously uses them against Him. Only the Christian uses them legitimately. However the mission of the church is distinct from these areas. The Christian mission is a self-perpetuating call to follow Christ, a call to apostatize from the world system and become a pilgrim.

How exactly that plays out I am still thinking through. There are still tensions here that I have to work out, but this is where I am so far.


kevin mcfadden said...

Pitts, have your heard Snoeberger's commentary on this book. Doesn't he form his own Christ/Culture relation?

Jeremy Pittsley said...

He does: Christ discredits culture. Niebuhr admits that his categories do not fit anyone perfectly. Even the examples he uses like Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin do not fit the categories exactly, so sixth categories abound. Most American (Western?) evangelicals fit into or between the Lutheran and Calvin categories (though Geisler claims to follow Aquinas on a number of points). Compare Snoeberger's suggested sixth category to Bock's.