Here's some more overflow from Senionr Sem. Our topic this week was Anthropology and I thought I'd begin a conversation on Culture (mostly to sharpen my own thinking). So, once again, I have an excurses. I'd love your thoughts and I warn you ahead of time, mine still need some clearing up.
COMING SOON - the hot topic today was not culture, but rather the Imago Dei (did I spell that right?). I'm curious to hear some additional thoughts on what some of you think. I'll probably post my position tomorrow afternoon or Saturday. Though I thought I was advancing the view of Hoekema and Bavinck, it appears several of us may have accidently formulated a modification of it.
PS one more thing - I'd still like to continue the talk on Breaking fellowship. I'm planning on following up on my Italian Friend's comment (i.e. "Ciao Babe"), but I'm surprised no one else has yet. Check out his comments if you haven't read them yet.
XXVI. Excurses on Culture
1. Introduction. Similar to my excurses on breaking fellowship, this material is exploratory in nature. I have long been fascinated by the consideration of how Christ and Christians relate to Culture, but have never put any thoughts on paper. Therefore, this is not my final word on Culture, but rather a first step.
2. Niebuhr’s Definition and Distinctions. Though the existence of culture is an almost universally recognized reality, it is nonetheless difficult to define. The word culture does not appear in the scriptures, but the Bible is far from silent on the matter. Therefore, in order to evaluate any theological paradigm on the basis of Scripture, one must first articulate a paradigm. Richard Niebuhr’s work Christ and Culture has proved to be one of the most influential books on the topic written from a “Christian” perspective and has in many ways shaped the parameters of the discussion in recent decades. He identifies the following elements with the concept of culture:
· It is social – It’s bound up with man’s life in society.
· It is human achievement – It can be distinguished from nature by observing the evidences of human “purposiveness” and effort.
· It is comprised of values – That for which effort is expended and is done with a purpose is likely designed to serve a perceived good.
· It is concerned with the temporal and material realization of these values.
· It is concerned with the conservation or preservation of such values – since the material and temporal perish, much energy is expended to preserve what is made and accomplished.
· It is pluralistic – Not in the relativistic sense, but rather the values that a culture seeks to realize at any given time are many in number.
Some of the wording above is paraphrased; much of it is Niebuhr’s own wording. See pages 29-44. Though this description is not exhaustive, I do not find anything to object to and therefore deem it a good starting point. Perhaps more familiar is his five-fold list of typical responses to culture:
· Opposition between Christ and Culture
· Agreement between Christ and Culture
· Christ above Culture
· Christ and Culture in Paradox
· Christ the Transformer of Culture
The first two are obviously polar opposites, while he argues the latter three are different attempts to reconcile the first two. Though he takes significant space to develop each of these options and identifies individuals in church history who have advanced them, there is a statement in his conclusion that is very telling:
Yet it must be evident that neither extension nor refinement of study could bring us to the conclusive result that would enable us to say, ‘This is the Christian answer.’ Reader as well as writer is doubtless tempted to essay such a conclusion; for it will have become as evident to the one as to the other that the types (his five possible responses) are by no means wholly exclusive of each other, and that there are possibilities of reconciliation at many points among the various positions.
3. Conclusion. At this level, all of the observations seem satisfactory. While Niebuhr would certainly apply things differently, the structure of his paradigm is coherent. Some of his description of culture would overlap with what the New Testament writers refer to as the world (ko,smoj). The world, particularly in