Thursday, August 7, 2014

Should Christians Be Against Culture?: Thinking Politics with H. Richard Niebuhr

In my last post, I began looking at Christian politics and H. Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture paradigms. First I looked at the "Christ transforming culture" model, its strengths and weaknesses. How are we to understand a Christian's responsibility when it comes to something so corrupt and corrupting as politics? Some prominent Christian figures have opted for the "Christ transforming culture" paradigm, using their colleges, churches, and para-churches to sway the political climate and legislate change towards a new Christendom. However, like I said before "it becomes very easy for Christians to slip into the optimism and softening of the harder teachings of the "Christ of culture." So what about looking to the "Christ against culture" model?

The "Christ against culture" model is characterized by a radical withdrawal from the culture. Over the millennia, numerous groups have pulled away from society to form their own--the Essenes, cenobite monks, and the Amish to name a few. They are characterized by separatism and quietism. Perhaps the theme verse for this paradigm would be "Do not love of the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15) without the tempering of John 3:16.

One of the strengths of "Christ against culture" is that it calls the Church to a standard of holy separateness that God requires when scripture says, "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 19:2). In this way Christians become a counter-culture that is free from the entanglements of social mandates, being fully able to speak prophetically to the culture without anything to lose. It acknowledges that no matter what society ultimately does "we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15). This separate identity in the minds of believers is where I see the strength of this reaching its limit.

For the "Christ against culture" model there is no political engagement. There is also no hope for the world at large. All those stories about Jesus hanging out with tax-collectors and prostitutes become irrelevant anomalies. All of those those accounts of Paul engaging the Roman authorities in the book of Acts make little sense.  Jesus was against the evil elements of His culture, but Jesus did not pull out of His culture altogether. He celebrated Jewish feasts (even ones not specifically mandated in the OT, such as Hanukkah--the Feast of Dedication), and He continued to teach in synagogues and worship in the temple. If we are going to be thinking Christians who make sense of the New Testament and who follow Christ, we dare not jettison these stories. We "must walk as Jesus did" (1 John 2:6).

Of the five "Christ and culture" models, which are left for us to consider as viable options? What about "Christ and culture in paradox"? What do you think? Is it possible to be a political Christian? In what way?

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