Christ and Culture Revisited


Christ and Culture revisited by D. A. Carson is considered to be one of the most important books on social ethics which is written during the modern times although the disbelievers are not sure of its judgments and categories. The author urges that all categories of Niebuhr are practical and should be seen as part of the overarching visions of Bible. He also argues that the Christians should maintain an act of balancing which becomes more unstable as the culture disappears from the roots of its Judeo-Christian. Unlike the other books on the Christianity culture, this book has a good approach of the biblical theory. The study below is a review of the book Christ and Culture Revisited - D.A. Carson 2008.

Review of Christ and Culture Revisited - D.A. Carson 2008

D. A. Carson is a professor and a researcher of the New Testaments at Trinity Evangelistic School, Deerfield Illinois. He has written many books concerning various aspects of Christianity; for example, The Gaffing of God; How Long, O Lord? Christianity Confronts Pluralism; Reflections on Suffering and Evil; Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church and Christ and Culture Revisited among the others. Christ and Culture is an inspiring book which contains principles of guiding Christians in development of the ethical issues. In the writing, the author considers the five options of Christ-culture expressed by Richard Niebuhr in his book "Christ and Culture" (Carson, D. A, 2008 p. 213-242). 

Carson states that all the Christians are called to be in the world but not because they are expected to belong to the world. This becomes a difficult balancing act which becomes further difficult as the church becomes more entangled in this culture. Although in his book, Carson indicates that the categories of Niebuhr are helpful, he insists that they should not be given all the principle force because they are likely to lead the Christians into total confusion. His approaches on Biblical-theological aims to enable the Christians unravel the current messy debates associated with living in the world. The work of Carson is well reasoned, thoughtful and a times convincing; his interests are the main relationship between church, Christ and culture. His summaries are however not very clear for the understanding of any one who is not familiar with Niebuhr's work.

In reference to how the Christians should view the relationship between them and their culture, from the writing of Niebuhr, Carson suggested five possible ways of modeling the interface between culture and Christ. First Christ against culture, this shows that Christ is completely opposed to culture and emphasizes on the unrealistic aspects of the world and the possible needs for the believers to adapt to achievement and values of the society. The second way is the Christ of culture which considers a more calm relationship between Christ and culture. The cultural values are seen as an expression of the forthcoming presence of God in the minds of all men. The unique thing about Christ is the ability to minimize the occurrence of sin in the culture. The third factor is Christ above culture; this acknowledges the uniqueness of Christ although it approves the link between Christ and Culture as expressed in the theology of Thomas Aquinas.

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This philosopher sought to combine philosophy and theory, gospel and law in one large system. The forth aspect is Christ and culture in paradox; human beings are corrupted by sin although the world belongs to God in Christians who are called to live for his glory. The paradox attitude leads to the conservation of culture. The sins like robbery or slavery are assumed as signs and symptoms of unavoidable tensions between culture and Christ. The last aspect is the Christ the Transformer of culture, according to Niebuhr, the options keeps with certain strands of teachings of the Bible. The original author of the information assumes that universal transformation of culture is controlled by the power of Christ. The problem with this assumption is that the distinction between the church or the Christians and the rest of the world (Carson & Naselli, p. 10)

Carson discriminates the five models approach of Niebuhr based on a number of factors. All the considered approaches apart from aspect number two are based on the scriptures.  Each has a distinguished meaning which is not related to the other aspect but each has a competing options. Also some of the approaches that he states may be more applicable than others especially in certain cultural situations. Carson realizes that the real issue about Niebuhr is not how much Christianity relates with culture but acts as two sources of authority which come in to compete within the society. Carson also notes some weaknesses with the writing of Niebuhr although he took time to analyze the five approaches but sometimes the truth, for example, some of the approaches might fit in the cultures while others might not be applicable as recommended.

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There are many crucial issues which face the society concerning the relationship between the church and the gospel to the contemporary culture. The treatment of Don Carson towards the issue is found to be the most balanced because he carefully listens to the scripture and brings us in the end to a sophisticated simplicity about these matters.  He writes carefully, clearly and helpfully concerning the timely topic of how Christians should engage culture. He exposes and carefully analyses egregious reductionisms which he concludes that they mostly trouble Christians (Driscoll & Breshears, p. 141).

Carson summarizes his review in various chapters based on the topic of discussions: chapter 1 reviews Christ and culture. He brings together the wide information that Niebuhr uses and represents them in simple and short sentences. In chapter 2, he applies biblical theory by considering the strengths and weaknesses of Niebuhr, assignment of the historical figures, handling of scripture and understanding of canon.       

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Chapter 3 is found to be complicated to the readers who are not familiar with the writings of Niebuhr; it is also easier only for those who follow the work of Carson because they are able to understand what she means. Many of the ordinary readers assume this chapter because it mostly deals with the technical presentation of culture and postmodernism however it is found to be the best for the learners interested in acquiring technical issues and possessing firm background in the database surrounding the terms used. In chapter 4, he quotes the major forces which impacts or affects the understanding of the role of Christ in the development and culture.

The four considered forces are the mystique of democracy, the lure of secularization, the lust of power and the worship of freedom. Chapter five is designed to deal with one of the major issues in Christ and culture and he relates it with the church and state. In the first part of the chapter, the author considers the disclarity concerning the most important terms in the topic like, church, religion and state followed by the discussion of the relationship between state and church. In the chapter six, the author summarizes the analysis with three steps: argument of the whole book, some of the disappointed agendas and aggravated utopias of different groups of Christians.        

Weaknesses of Carson's review

He does not consider enough argument into the biblical theology and considering the historical redemptive story. Considering effective argument would guard the readers from drawing poor and faulty conclusions of the information because of the enhancement in understanding. By merely looking at his writing, it is not easier to tell what Carson intends to communicate especially in the explanation of the categories. It would have been better if he explained more of Niebuhr's categories for the understanding of those who do not have ideas of what Christ and Culture in Paradox means.

The author uses more technical language which is not easily understood by the layman or those who do not have much knowledge of the area being discussed.  Carson is not direct to the point of communication thus many of the readers find it difficult to understand the concept of his writing. Having a hypothesis or questions to work on would enhance better coverage of the content. Such questions like: should the Christians be less or more involved in the culture, can a Christina join politics and should the society and church try to transform culture with the art of Christianity or withdraw homeschooling the children. What are the duties of the local church in regards to christi9anity and formulation of thecultures (Drunen, p.2).

Strength of Carson's writing

Carson simplifies the work of Niebuhr by compressing the information written in long passages and analyzing them in short paragraphs for the readers to easily access the most essential information.  For example, the approaches of Niebuhr are summarized into five and reported approaches as a summary of the chapters in the writing of the original author. He also bases most of his arguments in biblical theories so as too relate what Christianity of the church wants or expects of the culture. The author also emphasizes much on the eclectic view since the writing of Niebuhr was considered to be reductionist. According to the writing, Carson has an idea or sufficient knowledge of theology and various cultures of the societies.

This also shows that he is a modernized learner who has an understanding of the perception that the society has towards Christianity and other forms of cultures in the society. The changes in the lifestyle are affecting the people's perception of Christianity and other forms of cultures like traditional activities. Christianity is assumed to be having most of the influence in the way people behave or believe in things which are beyond their control like Christianity or religion (Grudem, p.123-132).


D. A. Carson is a professor and a researcher of the New Testaments at Trinity Evangelistic School, Deerfield Illinois. He has revisited the work of Niebuhr of Christ and culture which concerns on the formulation of culture under the influence of Christianity or how Christianity affects the cultural activities of societies and state. The intention of this author is to simplify the work of Niebuhr by analyzing the long passages used to communicate some messages into short and simple paragraphs. His work is considered to be the best by the readers who have good knowledge of the field of discussion and those who are used to his writings thus they are able to decode the encoded information.

Carson has both strengths and weaknesses in his writing. While encoding some of the information from the original author get distorted that the intended meaning is not relied to the receiver. Some of the chapters are too shallow for the understanding of the ordinary or new reader who may not have an idea of the contents reading. By simplifying the messages to short and simple paragraphs it is made easier for the readers to access the intended massages without wastage of a lot of time and energy, this also makes the work to appear more organized.

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