Christ AND Culture, OR Christ IN Culture

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Our culture has numerous divisive issues, but the two that seem to create a more firm line than the issues of abortion and homosexuality. So it should not be surprising to see a lot of division between “Christians” and those who support Proposition 8. However, what is surprising is the growing division that is continuing to occur within Christianity itself. It is my hopes that this article will add to the ongoing conversation that is taking place within our culture, and in particular the Christian sub-culture, on this issue.

 

Proposition 8

Chances are if you are reading this article you are aware of this symbol that has been floating around the internet – primarily on Facebook. The symbol, which means equality, is the product of the Facebook Human Rights Campaign initiative.

Defining The Issue

We should begin by briefly summarizing the issue at hand. The current debate in front of the Californian Supreme Court is the constitutionality of Proposition 8. Proposition 8 legislation was passed in 2008 which essentially defined marriage as between a man and a woman. This, of course, excludes homosexual couples within our culture. Proposition 8 proponents argue that the ruling essentially denied homosexual couples their basic civil liberties based solely upon their sexual identity. You can read more on the arguments related to the proposal here.

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The Great Divide

Although this has been the case in the past, it’s not entirely fair to characterize this as an issue between Christians and non-Christians (although I am not as confident in denying the political divide that exists between conservatives and liberals – another article for another time perhaps).

The divide that exists among Christians is becoming quite large. However, there seem to be two significant reasons for this divide. First, there is a lack of clear understanding about the role of the Christian within the secular society; second, there is a significant theological incongruity growing within Christianity, which is perpetuating the former.

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Christ AND Culture OR Christ IN Culture?

Christ and Culture This idea of Christ and Culture was a very popular pronouncement for 20th century Evangelicals (although ultimately, this was an unfortunate consequence of the Reformation). The basic idea is nicely summarized by H. Richard Niebuhr in his book titled “Christ and Culture”. In his book, Niebuhr proposes this mindset stems from the bible’s instance in being other-worldly (or not of this world). In other words, how does a Christian, who is expected to live by a certain moral code, exist within a secular society, who may not abide by that same code?

However, Niebuhr’s solution seems to miss the mark as it simply tries to justify this type of belief from a liberal (or Chicago School), worldview. Perhaps the solution is not best achieved by simply talking about it differently (Niebuhr’s linguistic suggestion) or parsing language until we reach justification. This method is much too abstract and as demonstrated by our current culture ineffective. Christ AND Culture is probably more accurately understood as Christ AGAINST Culture.

The inevitable consequence that arises out of this “anti-culture” view is this notion of Christendom (Kierkegaard is rolling in his grave right now). Christendom in a very broad cultural sense that refers to the adherence to Christian ideals within a society. This has been most prominently displayed in history during the medieval and early modern period when the Catholic (and later some Protestant churches) church acted as the state church.
In our current American culture, we see the same idea but packaged differently. Christendom now manifests itself in the language of “America is a Christian nation” or, “America was founded as a Christian nation”. For some reason (despite hundreds of years of history which demonstrates otherwise), those who move this direction believe that having a Christian nation is what is best for this country.
Let me suggest that this is not what Jesus taught. Radical – I know.

Perhaps we should consider our “perspective” relative to culture, instead of our language about culture when trying to understand our role within culture. That is, understanding the Christian existing within a culture and the perspective that is able to provide (Christ IN Culture).
The perspectivism approach seems to make sense. Below are some examples to help illustrate how the two understandings differ from one another:

 

 

Christ AND Culture Christ IN Culture
Evangelism means telling culture about an ideal. Evangelism means demonstrating an ideal to culture.
Humanitarianism is demonstrated through what I (and my interpretation of Christ) think the culture needs. Humanitarianism is demonstrated through what the Culture says it needs.

 

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Theological Incongruity

Theological incongruity seems to be the second most significant reason for the current division among Christians. As is common within the Church, change is a very slow process. Perhaps this prevents us from jumping into the latest greatest new thing too soon. Or, maybe we need to give more theological freedom to our seminary professors instead of always requiring them to toe the theological line of their particular denomination?

You often hear this idea that there is a great disconnect between theology and the local church. And yet, particular brands of theology are sold to each pastor who is trained at his/her denominations seminary. Perhaps it’s not brands of theology that is the problem, but instead the lack of critical thinking skills that most pastors seem deficient in (unless at some point they decide to think for themselves). Why is any of this important you ask? Simply put: Denominations fund seminaries, who indoctrinate pastors, who in turn indoctrinate their people (which include those who make decisions related to our country).
The next logical question seems to be, where is the incongruity? There is a theological divide that currently exists as it relates to hermeneutics (how we interpret the bible). There is no doubt that an absurd amount of articles could be written (and in fact have been written) on this topic. In an effort not to reinvent the wheel, I will offer this crude synopsis for those unfamiliar with the issue.

The divide is between those who hold a Modern and Postmodern worldview. Although some see these two worldviews as being antithetical, I think they have much more in common than they do in opposition to one another (again, for another time perhaps).

The Modern worldview is the more traditional and most familiar with most within the Protestant church. It has how the Church has done theology for the last 100 years or so. The modern hermeneutic is systematic in its approach to theology.

The Postmodern worldview is much newer and less familiar for most of those within Protestant churches. Although postmodernism literally means “after modernism”, its worldview might be best understood as a response to modernism. The postmodern hermeneutic is narrative focused on how it approaches theology.

Below is a chart that helps distinguish between the two groups (again, I apologize for the crude demonstration):

 

Modernism

PostModernism

Biblical AuthorityThe bible is without error in its original form and is therefore absolute truth.The bible is the sacred text of the church and is therefore necessary for all areas of faith.
InspirationEmphasis on metaphysics through God's experience of man.Emphasis on humanity through Man's experience of God.
TruthAbsolute, because it is from God.Relative to the individual, who is attempting to perceive absolute truth from his subjective state.
Theological ApproachSystematic/Propositional.Cultural-Linguistic Narrative
Part 2 Below:
Part 2

 

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