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Niebuhr's Schools of Thought on Influence of Christ on Culture

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In Christ and Culture, Niebuhr attempts to differentiate between the various concepts of the relationship between Christ and the culture of mankind, while detailing the strengths and deficiencies of each. Niebuhr argues that there are five main schools of thought regarding the influence of Christ on culture: Christ Against Culture, Christ and Culture in Paradox, Christ Transforming Culture, Christ Above Culture, and Christ of Culture. Each of these concepts offers a unique perspective on the complex relationship between Christ and culture, and each have certain merits and weaknesses pertaining to that perspective. Niebuhr argues that none of these perspectives offer complete closure, that the discussion of the relationship between Christ and human culture is never truly finished. However, by understanding each of these concepts, we can utilize our powers of reason to make the best determination for ourselves what the role of Jesus Christ is within the confines of culture.

The first perspective Niebuhr addresses is Christ Against Culture. This is a popular theory among many monastic brotherhoods, who believe that one must isolate one's self from human culture to experience Jesus Christ. By indulging in human culture, which tends toward sin, an individual cannot affirm total loyalty to Christ, who's realm is separate entirely from the culture of mankind. Those who subscribe to this perspective believe that one cannot simultaneously profess loyalty for Christ while participating in our flawed and sinful culture. "The counterpart of loyalty to Christ and the brothers is the rejection of cultural society; a clear line of separation is drawn between the brotherhood of the children of God and the world" (Niebuhr 48). Thus many monastic brotherhoods choose to live their lives in seclusion, often times swearing oaths of poverty and even silence, in order to remove themselves from the temptations of human culture, and become closer to Christ.

Christ of Culture, in contrast, depicts nearly the opposite. Niebuhr argues that Christ Against Culture is flawed because such separation from human culture can never truly be attained. In addition, if culture is man-made, and God made man, then there must be some good by nature in the culture of man. The concept of Christ of Culture depicts cultural values being in line with the works of Jesus, where those that are celebrated are those whose actions are most aligned with that of Christ. "They interpret culture through Christ, where those aspects that are most like Jesus are given the most honor" (Niebuhr 83). In this sense, humans conceptualize Christ through their culture, and in a way mold his teachings in a way which best coincides with their cultural ideals.

The concept of Christ Above Culture is anchored upon the concept that culture, being created by God as a means for mankind to live out the Will of God, is neither good nor evil in nature. If an individual sins, he sins in a cultural context, however that itself does not mean that culture is evil. Man can only act in a cultural context, whether it be for just or for evil, and that context itself is not to blame. Rather it is the free will of man granted by God that determines individual actions as good or evil. Man is incapable of separating "the experience of grace from cultural activity; for how can men love the unseen God in response to His love without serving the visible brother in human society?" (Niebuhr 119). Humans can be graceful by loving their fellow man within the cultural context, and thus are coinciding with God's Will.

Christ and Culture in Paradox fundamentally disagrees with much of the previous concept. This interpretation states that often times Christ and culture are in conflict, that a man can be punished culturally while being just in the eyes of God, and vice versa. For example, Christian martyrs who were persecuted for their beliefs during the rule of Rome were in the grace of God yet were treated as traitorous villains by human culture. At times the realm of God and realm of Man may coincide, but just as often they directly conflicting. Niebuhr describes the relationship between Christ and culture in this setting as the following: "under law, and yet not under law but grace; he is sinner, and yet righteous" (Niebuhr 157). Niebuhr believes this is flawed because, if these two contexts clash so frequently, then humans may choose to act in neither way, in an attempt to remain in the good graces of both Christ and culture.

Niebuhr's final relationship, Christ the Transformer of Culture, depicts humans having a "hopefully view toward culture" (Niebuhr 191). Similarly to the interpretation of Christ of Culture, there is a belief that since God had some role in the creation of



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