DA Carson: Christ and Culture Revisited

Carson, D. A. Christ and Culture Revisited. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Carson reworks Niehbur’s typology and offers numerous insights on how to navigate the murky waters of our relation to culture. Note, I say he offers insights. I do not say he solves the problem, for I don’t think this problem can be solved on this side of the eschaton. Niehbur’s typology is as follows:

(1) Christ against culture (Tertullian, anabaptists)
(2) Christ of culture (liberalism)
(3) Christ above culture (Thomism)
(4) Christ and culture in paradox (Lutheranism)
(5) Christ transforming culture (Calvin, Augustine)

It’s a clear typology but quite wrong in many areas. For example, (2) is flawed because liberalism isn’t Christian, so it’s out of the conversation. But before we answer the question, “which is correct,” we have to first answer the question, “What does the Bible say?” But even then, that’s not an easy answer.

In answering that question Carson traces the movement of biblical history: Creation, Fall, Calling of Abraham, Giving of the Law, Jesus, Church, Eschaton. We can see how this structures our reflection in noting (5). Christ can indeed have a transforming influence, but it’s always limited–the eschaton hasn’t happened yet.

Carson’s revision of Niehbur also sheds light on ethical difficulties. We often hear, “Well the apostles never did __________, so it’s obviously wrong.” Well, the apostles never had a constitutional democracy, so the latter is obviously wrong, too. Carson disposes of such inane reasoning. The apostles lived in a time of Christ against Culture. But what about when Constantine came on the scene? The problem is that the church had to reflect anew on a unique situation. Therefore, we can’t use such shallow reasoning.

The book was a joy to read. Carson brings mature and sharp reflection to every page. I would offer further reflection on some parts. (3) is an unstable concept and as Carson hints elsewhere, these categories blend into each other. (4) is wrong because dualism is wrong, yet (3) has within itself an implicit dualism. Of particular importance, though not noted in this review, is his dismantling of James K. A. Smith and later the neo-anabaptists.

About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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