Book Review: Christ & Culture

Christ & Culture is a classic book that continues to shape the discussion of the interaction between Christians and culture. Written by H. Richard Niebuhr over 50 years ago, Christ & Culture continues sneaking it’s way into colleges and seminaries across the country.
The discussion of Christ and culture is nothing new; Christians throughout history have had to wrestle with the question of how to be “Christian” while engaging with or withdrawing from the culture around them. The responses have varied. There has not been one overwhelmingly “Christian” response to culture, but rather several. H. Richard Niebuhr identifies five distinct ways that Christians have engaged with culture throughout the past 2000 years. The five perspectives are Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ and culture in paradox, and Christ as the transformer of culture. (You might hear more about these in future posts, so at this point, I will not develop any of these motifs).

In my opinion, Niebuhr’s models are a very helpful foundation to build upon. His models are in no way complete and he has not exhausted the topic. But for those new to the discussion, they provide a starting point, like a child learning to swim in the shallow end. One shortcoming of Niebuhr’s model is the simplicity he portrays this debate to possess. He did mention the difficulty in classifying somebody as strictly one stereotype, but I did not feel as if flexibility on the reader’s part would be welcome. I see the categories as being very fluid, easily merging into the others. The distinctions between the groups are blurry at best. If we think that Niebuhr holds the final answer, we are gravely mistaken. Niebuhr was not unaffected by the cultural influences in his day either. He was writing this book for his contemporaries.

I must reiterate though that I think Niebuhr’s models provide a fantastic beginning point. At the same time, I agree with many of the helpful critiques offered by scholars such as Stanley Hauerwas, especially in regards to the Christological and ecclesial concerns. Both of these topics were extremely lacking. I feel as if these needed to be addressed in a deeper manner (I also recognize that Niebuhr cannot write everything and answer every concern in a single book). Overall, a very influential book and until there is a seminal work to replace it, it will continue to hold implications for all discussions about Christ, the church, and culture.

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This entry was posted in Book Review, Culture, Ecclesiology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Book Review: Christ & Culture

  1. Dave says:

    I’ve been thinking about Christ and Culture for years now. Thought you might be interested in reading some of my thoughts too.

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