Christ and Culture Revisited: Carson’s Summary of Niebuhr’s Taxonomy (3)

The final three views in Niebuhr’s five-fold taxonomy are all forms of “Christ above culture.”

3. Christ above Culture

Summary: This view, which Niebuhr thinks is the majority position among Christians throughout history, believes that “Christ and the world cannot be simply opposed to each other. Neither can the ‘world’ as culture be simply regarded as the realm of godlessness; since it is at least founded on the ‘world’ as nature, and cannot exist save as it is upheld by the Creator and Governor of nature” (Niebuhr, 117-118). These “synthesists seek a ‘both-and’ solution. They maintain the gap between Christ and culture that the cultural Christian never takes seriously and that the radical does not even try to breech—yet they insist that Christ is as sovereign over the culture as over the church” (Carson, 21).

Exemplars: Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Thomas Aquinas..

Counterargument: “The synthesists simply ‘do not in fact face up to the radical evil present in all human work’ ” (Niebuhr, 148).

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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