D. A. Carson’s “Christ And Culture Revisited:” A Reflection And A Response -- By: Mark A. Snoeberger
DBSJ 13 (2008) p. 93
D. A. Carson’s “Christ And Culture Revisited:” A Reflection And A Response
Published in 1951, H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic work Christ and Culture has remained a standard reference for believers who are self-consciously and deliberately analytical of their interaction with the world. But as is the case with every topic (much less this one), it is not the final word on the issue that it addresses. While biblical doctrines do not change, of course, each needs to be revisited from time to time to address the new “twists,” challenges, criticisms, and even downright assaults that each successive generation supplies. Such is particularly true when the topic of discussion directly involves culture—a phenomenon that is evolving at a more frenetic pace today that at any other time in human history. Further, as D. A. Carson well demonstrates in his Christ and Culture Revisited (Eerdmans, 2008), Niebuhr’s work was not completely satisfactory even in its own day. However, since Niebuhr’s typology of cultural engagement has become such a tour de force in nearly all discussions of the topic, even today, his work remains a suitable reference point for discussion and correction. The following, then, is a summary and critique of Carson’s work Christ and Culture Revisited, together with something of a positive statement of my own understanding of the issues where it differs from Carson’s.
By way of background, H. Richard Niebuhr (1894–1962) was something of a transitional figure between neo-orthodoxy and neo-liberalism, a transition reflective of the theological evolution of Yale Divinity School, from which Niebuhr took his Ph.D. in 1924 and where he taught theology and ethics from 1931 to 1962. Much more could be said of Niebuhr, but two factors immediately stand out. First, Niebuhr’s career spans a transitional period in the prevailing definition of culture (from culture as an “elitist” idea to culture as the generic, neutral idea of one’s societal milieu), and Niebuhr is prone to equivocation in his use of the term. Second, Niebuhr’s theological stance places him outside (or at best the left fringe) of evangelicalism,
DBSJ 13 (2008) p. 94
rendering his concept of Christ a bit broader than most conservative evangelicals would allow. So apart from any other considerations, we find plenty of fodder for critique of Niebuhr even before his typology of cultural engagement can be examined for approval or disapproval.
D. A. Carson, one of the most prominent evangelical academics of our day, needs little introduction. Most who read this review have undoubtedly read and used several of his 50+...
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