Christians must interact with the culture they live in, unless they choose to sequester themselves in a monastery or a homogenous commune setting. And the interaction is a give-and-take proposition for both sides, as Christians will both impact culture and be impacted by it. But what role will your faith play in the interaction? And does your faith inform your ethics? These are some of the questions that H. Richard Niebuhr set out to answer in his classic Christ and Culture.
To answer the questions, Niebuhr chose to develop five types to describe how Christians in the past had interacted with their respective cultures, and how Christians are interacting with their cultures in the present. Fifty years after Niebuhr developed his five types, they are still just as relevant. Niebuhr's five types are: Christ against culture, the Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ and culture in paradox, and Christ the transformer of culture. Most of the types are fairly self explanatory, but several do need additional information to be understood properly. For instance, Christ above culture refers more accurately to a synthesis of Christ and culture, while Christ and culture in paradox implies a sort of dualism in which one strives to change the culture while accepting that it might not change until the return of Christ.
It should be noted that Niebuhr did not mean for his types to stand as hard and fast rules for how one must act if they are classified as a certain type. Nor did he mean that an author quoted in support of a particular type always fell into that type, which is, in all likelihood, true for modern readers as well. Though you, the reader, may generally fit the parameters of a particular type, you will often act in a manner more descriptive of a different, perhaps even contradictory, type. This does not mean that the types are invalid, or that classification of yourself as a certain type is wrong. It does mean, however, that it is the interaction between faith and culture that is important. And this book will help you understand that interaction better, even if you don't agree with all of the types. This book may even help you to change the nature of the interaction in a positive manner. Christ and Culture is a classic book, likely to retain its relevance fifty years from now. At the very least it will open your eyes to the very real interaction between Christ and Culture.
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