A new series for this blog in 2017 will be Book Thoughts. A while back a friend and I began sharing the best quotes and thoughts we had from our personal reading. The idea was to give one another greater access to books without having to read as many. If I read a book, my friend could benefit from reading the quotes I pulled out and any thoughts I shared. For 2017, when ever I read a book I’ll share quotes I like, as well as any major thoughts I have about the book.
The first book is Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson. In 1951 Richard Niebuhr wrote what has become a Christian classic, Christ and Culture. The book plotted 5 different viewpoints on how Christianity relates to the world (culture). Carson gives Niebuhr an update and advances Niebuhr’s original thought, slightly.
The greatest contribution I took from this book was Carson’s admonition to balance my view of the relationship of Christ and Culture across the great turning points of salvation history (Creation, the Fall, Call of Abraham, the Exile, the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Church Age, Second Coming and Restoration/Consummation). For example, a view that focuses too heavily on the Fall without also focusing on the Resurrection will tend to hate the world as an evil/irredeemable annoyance. This results in isolationist Christians.
Two other insights I found helpful are these:
- The church can be so involved in the political process that it ceases to be a prophetic voice challenging the process.
- Pastors must work hard to distinguish between the mission of the church and the individual commands given to Christians who are citizens of human cities/nations.
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
Niebuhr is not so much talking about the relationship between Christ and culture, as between two sources of authority as they compete within culture.
First, an evaluation of a culture depends on a set of values— even as that set of values is in turn shaped by the culture that informs the evaluation… Second, from a Christian perspective, everything that is detached from the sheer centrality of God is an evil… But third, equally from a Christian perspective, God in his “common grace” pours out countless good things on all people everywhere… Fourth, as Christian revelation certainly insists that there are degrees of punishment meted out by a good God, we must assume that some cultural stances are more reprehensible than others.
The worst abuses of Christians against the broader culture have taken place when Christians have enjoyed too much power.
that stance is most likely to be deeply Christian which attempts to integrate all the major biblically determined turning points in the history of redemption.
Romans 13 does not so much tell believers how to govern well as how to be governed.
As for democracy, if we promote it, we do so not because we take it to be an absolute good, still less as the solution to all political problems, and not even because it is an ideal form of government, but because, granted that the world is fallen and all of us are prone to the most grotesque evils, it appears to be the least objectionable option.
It would be more realistic to acknowledge that the founding of the nation was borne along by adherence to some Christian principles and not others.
Let me know if you’ve read the book, or Niebuhr’s original. I’d love to discuss the topic in the comments.