Christianity versus culture: Classic attitudes

How should Christ-followers engage their cultural context?

Christian faith and its relationship to the broader culture

"Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord" -- 2 Corinthians 6:17

How should Christians view the surrounding culture? Do we go to war with it? Do we insist that it be "christianized"? Do we live in an uneasy truce with it?

Two classic books can help us think through these questions. In 1951 Yale professor Richard Niebuhr wrote a book outlining five positions Christians have historically taken on the issue. Thirty years later, Fuller Theological Seminary missiologist Charles Kraft wrote a book to say that the religion vs culture debate was not unique to Christianity. He reduced Niebuhr's positions to four, combining two of the categories. Here's a listing of the Christ and culture positions presented by Niebuhr and Kraft.

Richard Niebuhr's 1951 book - Christ and Culture

  1. Christ against culture
  2. The Christ of culture
  3. Christ above culture
  4. Christ and culture in paradox
  5. Christ, the transformer of culture

Charles Kraft's 1981 book: Christianity in Culture

  1. God against culture
  2. God in culture
    1. God (or Christ) is merely a culture hero
    2. God is contained within, or at least endorses, one particular culture
  3. God above culture
    1. Deism and many African cultures
    2. Follow the requirements of both Christ and culture, but each in its own place.
    3. Dualism -- only real solution to paradox lies in the future. The Christian is like an amphibian living in two realms.
    4. Culture is corrupted but convertible.
  4. God above-but-through culture

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