Christ and Culture

In the midst of the modern-day culture wars, where debates rage over politics, social values, and identity, understanding how our faith intersects with the world around us is more important—and more confusing—than ever. The struggle to understand how Christians should meet and engage with the world is nothing new. It’s rooted in the ancient history of the Church and revealed even in the pages of the New Testament.

This topic was explored by H. Richard Niebuhr, a renowned American theologian, in his 1951 book “Christ and Culture.” Niebuhr identified five main approaches that Christians might take when dealing with culture. Some of these will resonate more with you than others, but keep in mind that all five ways have been employed by followers of Jesus in various historical contexts.

The Five Types of Relationships

  • Christ Against Culture: This approach sees Christ and culture as completely opposed to each other. People who follow this view think that Christians should separate themselves from the world to remain pure and faithful to Christ.
  • Christ of Culture: Here, Christ is seen as being in harmony with culture. This view suggests that Christians should embrace and celebrate the best parts of their culture, seeing them as expressions of Christ’s teachings.
  • Christ Above Culture: This perspective holds that while culture is good, it needs to be completed by Christ. Christ is above culture, offering divine guidance and improvement to human achievements.
  • Christ and Culture in Paradox: This view recognizes a tension between Christ and culture. It suggests that Christians live in a dual reality where they are part of the world but also hold higher, divine values that sometimes conflict with worldly ways.
  • Christ the Transformer of Culture: In this final approach, Christ is seen as a force that can transform culture. Christians are called to work within the world to change it according to the values of the Kingdom of God.

Finding Biblical Foundations

One or two of these may seem “more biblical” to readers than the rest, but know that all five draw support from various Scriptures and have informed different Christian responses to the world. Let’s look at some verses that can help us see where Niebuhr was coming from:

  • Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This verse speaks to the idea of transformation, encouraging Christians to change the world rather than be changed by it.
  • John 17:14-19: Jesus says His followers are “sent into the world,” but are not “of the world.” This supports the “Christ Against Culture” approach, emphasizing a separation from worldly values, but also touches on all five in some way.
  • Matthew 5:13-16: Jesus calls His followers the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This passage suggests that Christians should positively influence culture, aligning with the “Christ the Transformer of Culture” approach.
  • Philippians 3:20: “But our citizenship is in heaven.” This aligns with the idea of living in paradox, where Christians are part of this world but ultimately belong to another.

What Does This Mean for Us?

So, how do these teachings affect us today? Niebuhr’s insights remind us that there isn’t just one way to be a Christian in the world. It’s normal to assume that “our way” is the “best way.” But the Body of Christ has related to culture in different ways at different times. Sometimes we need to stand apart from harmful cultural trends. Other times, we can embrace and celebrate the good in our culture. Often, we’re called to be agents of positive change, transforming the world around us with the love and values of Christ.

In your daily life, you might see these approaches playing out in various ways. Maybe you decide to skip certain movies or shows that don’t align with your values (Christ Against Culture), or perhaps you find ways to use your talents and passions to reflect Christ’s love in your community (Christ the Transformer of Culture).

Final Thoughts

Understanding the relationship between Christ and culture helps us navigate our faith journey with more clarity and purpose. It encourages us to think about how we can best represent Christ in the world around us. So, let’s take these ideas to heart and consider how we can live out our faith in ways that are meaningful, impactful, and true to the teachings of Jesus.

Thanks for reading, and may you be inspired to make a difference for Christ in your corner of the world!