2. The Christ of Culture
Summary: Christians who take this view “seek to maintain community with all believers. Yet they seem equally at home in the community of culture” (Niebuhr, 83).
Exemplars (some partial): Gnostics, Abélard, culture-Protestantism, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Jefferson, Schleiermacher, Emerson, F.D. Maurice, Albert Ritschl, Protestant liberalism.
Example: “Formally, Abélard merely quarrels with the church’s way of stating the faith; in reality, ‘he reduces it to what conforms with the best in culture'” (Niebuhr, 90).
Counterarguments: “These cultural Christians have sacrificed too much of what is essential to Christianity…. They ‘take some fragment of the complex New Testament story and interpretation, call this the essential characteristic of Jesus, elaborate upon it, and thus reconstruct their own mythical figure of the Lord’ (109).” “Theirs is a moralism that understands little of grace, because it understands little of the need for grace” (19).
Carson adds in his critique in chapter two that this is not Christianity at all. Gnosticism wasn’t Christian; it was a later parasite on Christianity. And classic Protestant liberalism, despite its (now waning) influence isn’t Christian either.