As part of his Doctor of Ministry (DMin) in Ministry to Emerging Generations (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), Tom’s written a number of book responses and given several short presentations (personal and group). In this series he not only “shares the wealth,” but also looks forward to your feedback as he refines his project: An argument for vocational discernment for graduate studies in the context of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (Stay tuned to learn more!). Earlier posts on the program: Ministry to Emerging Generations and The Big Picture of Ministry to Emerging Generations.
Christ and Culture Revisited
In the “Preface to the Paperback Edition” of Christ and Culture Revisited (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2012), D.A. Carson affirms his “emphasis on a full-orbed biblical theology to frame Christian thinking about the relationships between Christ and culture” (vi). Furthermore, he “remain[s] convinced that the famous Niebuhr typology, as useful as it may be for some purposes, drives us toward mutually exclusive choices we should not be making” (vi). I appreciated Carson’s steadfastness in his positions and his acknowledgement that postmodernism, which receives significant attention in the book, is on decline without an heir apparent. Yes, we live in a time marked by “indecision” (vii)
As for Carson’s engagement with H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, I concur that each generation of the church returns to the question of self-understanding, contemporary communications brings to our attention the diversity of the global church, Niebuhr’s paradigmatic work cannot be ignored, the importance of biblical theology for Evangelicals engaging culture, and the continuing necessity of directly applying our perspective regarding culture on the realities of daily life in the 21st century. No doubt the Evangelical church today faces “the strongest hostility” from “Culture over Christ” (7) and must wrestle with the broad nature of Niebuhr’s framing not only of “Christ,” but also of “culture” (10-13).
Carson summarizes and critiques Niebuhr’s typology in an excellent manner. By doing such he sets up the importance of biblical theology as the lens for the Evangelical culture engagement. In his section on postmodernism, Carson returns to Geertz’s insightful definition of culture:
[a] historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic form by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about life and attitudes towards life (85).
He states, “[the] consideration of Christ and culture promises to be fruitful and revealing: it is a consideration of a different way of seeing, of a different vision, even when we are looking at the same thing” (87).
“The Lure of Secularization” opens a direct application of biblical theology in “Chapter 4: Secularism, Democracy, Freedom, and Power” (115). Carson’s exploration of the democratic tradition in the West “foster[ing] a great deal of freedom from Scripture, God, tradition, and assorted moral constraints” in contrast to “the Bible encourag[ing] freedom from self-centeredness, idolatry, greed, and all sin and freedom toward living our lives as those who bear God’s image and who have been transformed by his grace” is quite challenging (138). In “Concluding Reflections” of “Chapter 4: Church and State,” Carson writes, “From a Christian point of view, it is unhelpful to speak of ‘the Christian West’ or of ‘our Christian nation’ or the like” (195). The conclusion engages several competing views and underscores the difficulty of making “Christ against culture and Christ transforming culture” mutually exclusive (227).
Despite the superb “structure and direction” of Carson’s Christ & Culture Revisited, I find it an internal document for Evangelical engagement of “Christ and Culture.” So although Niebuhr’s typology falls short—so much so that “Christ of Culture” can be categorized heresy—the “structure and direction” offers a platform for broader conversation across faith journeys, i.e., within/between individuals, within the Body of Christ (locally, nationally, internationally), and across spiritualities/religions.
Let us “live in the tension of claiming every square inch for King Jesus, even while we know full well that the consummation is not yet, that we walk by faith and not by sight, and that the weapons with which we fight are not the weapons of the world (2 Corinthians 10:4)” (228).
To God be the glory!
About the author:
Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the Northeast Regional Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). For a number of years, the Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine was the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!
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