An Assessment of H. Richard Niebuhr's Thought on Culture

In this book, Donald A. Carson overviews many of the issues Christians need to think about when considering their relationship with culture. Carson examines H. Richard Niebuhr's thinking on culture in light of biblical theology. He points out that Niebuhr presents his five approaches as ideal options in competition with each other.
An Assessment of H. Richard Niebuhr's Thought on Culture Helmut Richard Niebuhr (September 3, 1894 – July 5, 1962) is considered one of the most important Christian ethicist-theologians of 20th century America, best known for his 1951 book, Christ and Culture , often cited in discussions and writings on "The Christian Response to World Culture" . In his book, Niebuhr gives a history of how Christianity responded to culture. He describes five common views:
  1. Christ against culture. For the exclusive Christian, history is the story of a rising church or Christian culture and a dying pagan civilization.
  2. Christ of Culture. For the cultural Christian, history is the story of Spirit's encounter with nature.
  3. Christ above culture. For the synthesist, history is a period of preparation under law, reason, the gospel, and the church for ultimate communion of the soul with God.
  4. Christ and culture in paradox. For the dualist, history is the time of the struggle between faith and unbelief, a period between the gift of the promise of life and its fulfillment.
  5. Christ transforming culture. For the converted, history is the story of God's mighty actions and humanity's response to them.
However, according to Carson, this emphasis on choosing among different propositions does not correspond to a canonical reading of Scripture. He suggests that these possibilities are not options to choose or reject, but that they are part of a more unified and comprehensive understanding of the relationship between Christ and culture. Finally, the author demonstrates why no approach, even the most insightful, should serve as the ultimate reference, and he suggests returning to a global approach that allows for a wide variety of emphases. No matter where they live, Christians inevitably find themselves squeezed between, on the one hand, the claims of culture and its obligations, and on the other, their allegiance to Christ. The tensions between Christ and culture are both diverse and complex. There are different models of the relationship between Christ and culture, each seeking to describe how this relationship can be experienced in reality.
Contents :
  • Foreword
  1. How to Think About Culture: Remembering Niebuhr
  2. Niebuhr revised and corrected: the repercussions of biblical theology
  3. Refining the notion of culture, and redefining postmodernism
  4. Secularism, democracy, freedom, and power
  5. Church and State
  6. Contested programs, thwarted utopias, and continual tensions
  • Subject index
  • Index of proper nouns
  • Index of biblical references