Christ and Culture Revisited; General Critiques of Niebuhr

In chapter 2 of Christ and Culture Revisited Carson offers some general critiques of Niebuhr which do not tie themselves to individual paradigms in Niebuhr’s five-fold taxonomy. Here’s one line of critique Carson gives:

  • Niebuhr wants to see various biblical authors as advocates, wholly or in part, of individual paradigms (e.g., Galatians and 1 John advocate the “Christ against culture” position; John’s Gospel is more partial to “Christ transforming culture”). But he’s assuming the liberal view that the Bible is not consistent, that it only gives us the boundaries surrounding the allowable options (40-41).
  • Individual Bible writers have individual personalities and emphases, and “exactly how the different parts of Scripture cohere has always been a matter of considerable dispute,” but “once such matters have been resolved, at least to the satisfaction of a particular Christian group, so that we see how the Bible hangs together, we may talk about what the Bible ‘says,’ not just about what one part of the biblical tradition says” (42). So we should speak not of individual, viable options for Christian interaction with culture but of the one holistic view which the Bible teaches. This one vision needs to be flexible enough to fit Washington, D.C., and Darfur, Sudan, but it is one vision.

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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