Wednesday, September 21, 2005

cultural confusion

This past weekend, the Peoria Journal Star, our local newspaper, did a two-part series on a family that has decided to completely withdraw from the culture. They had been homesteaders in the purest sense of the word and then a few years ago decided that, as Christians, they were showing allegiance to the godless state by having social security cards and drivers licenses so they returned these items to the state along with money they had received through an earned income tax credit.

It all reminded me of an interesting article I saw a while back and happened to reread again this past week. It is so good that I think it deserves wider readership so I am offering a sampling to entice my blog readers to check out the whole article. For me, it has helped to define some of the subcultures that I have seen popping up within the past few years, subcultures that I think are having a great effect on the church today for good and for not-so-good. Check it out.

Authoritarianism and isolationism are often married. Christian isolationism endorses a “godly” subculture, encouraging separation even from other Christians who do not conform to the ideals of that subculture. Isolationist Steve Schlissel states, “The naiveté of modern Christians concerning the religious character of the so-called Culture War is astonishing. Culture, Henry Van Til taught us, is simply religion externalized and made explicit.…We have been raised to believe that culture is religiously neutral rather than religiously determined.”

Religion certainly does influence culture, but this all-or-nothing view sees nearly every expression of culture as a religious statement, either heathen or nonheathen. There are, however, other approaches to understanding how Christians relate, or don’t relate, to the culture in which they find themselves. Professor and author Michael Horton draws from H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture to explain five different approaches: First, Christ against culture holds that “the world is evil, but the realm of the Spirit is good; earthly things are inherently sinful, while heavenly things are inherently virtuous.”

Second, Christ of culture views Christianity as an extension of culture. Niebuhr states, “The movement that identifies obedience to Jesus Christ with the practices of prohibition, and with the maintenance of early American social organization, is a type of cultural Christianity… Christ is identified with what men conceive to be their finest ideals, their noblest institutions, and their best philosophy.”

Third, Christ above culture “suggests neither antagonism nor assimilation.” This is an attempt at neutrality toward culture and is directly opposite Schlissel’s view.

Fourth, Christ and culture in paradox sees the kingdom of God and the kingdom of humankind as “different spheres with different purposes.…Culture can never be an avenue of finding God.…But neither can culture be an object of disgust, since culture never promises to save or redeem.”35 In this view, while not all pleasurable aspects of life are spiritual in the salvific or godly sense, God is still present in them.

Fifth, Christ the transformer of culture is distinct from the Christ against culture and the Christ of culture views by holding that, “The problem is not the world, but the willful opposition of the world to God and His Christ. This frees the believer to participate in the world as a full-fledged citizen and to view it not as inherently wicked [or as an expression of false religions], but as a theater in which both God’s glory and human sin are displayed.”

Isolationists embrace the Christ against culture and also the Christ of culture views, and create their own culture, often based on ancient cultural practices found in the Bible. Horton explains that “there is great danger in mixing a ‘Christ against culture’ and a ‘Christ of culture’ paradigm…this mixture leads us to simply replace one culture with another and confuse the latter with God’s will and kingdom.”Christ against culture and Christ of culture are two sides of the same coin. A true transformer of culture does not seek to create a separate culture; rather, he seeks to transform the existing culture.


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