18 September 2006

Christ of Culture

Socrates and Jesus: What's the diff?At the opposite side of the spectrum from the Christ against Culture view, Niebuhr outlines the view he calls “Christ of Culture.” This view understands the Christ who is recorded in the Gospels to be the author of human civilization. The claims of Christ are neatly equated with the best humans have to offer. (As we will see later, “best” is evaluated according to the ethics of the zeitgeist.)

Three historical examples elucidate. Niebuhr understands the Gnostics of the 2nd century and Peter Abelard of the 12th century to represent this view historically. As he notes of the former, “what they sought to do was to reconcile the gospel with the science and philosophy of their time.” Abelard wrote, “We find the way of life of the pagan philosophers [specifically Socrates and Plato], as much as their teaching, expresses evangelical and apostolic perfection very strongly indeed; they differ from the Christian religion in nothing or very little.” At the turn of the twentieth century, Protestantism was plagued by the same mode of thinking. Liberalism incorporated all the discoveries, methodologies, and presuppositions of the Enlightenment and Industrial Ages into their interpretation and evaluation of the Scriptures. The result was a denial of almost every basic doctrine in the Scriptures, except for the existence of God himself.

The mission of believers, under the Christ of Culture framework, is to accentuate what is good in society. There is no real message of depravity and redemption. There is only a message of personal responsibility and social improvement. Therefore proclamation entails an exposition of the new law of Christ as understood by the prevailing ethical sentiment of the day. Social work and improvement (again the standard of improvement is the spirit of the times) is central to the believer’s obligation, and the gospel ministry is indistinguishable from the obligation to improve society.

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