Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture is a classic literary work exploring the controversial relationship existing between Christ and various cultural dynamics. The book provides critical insight into the relationship between Christians and their respective cultures and practices. In particular, Niebuhr addresses common questions about how Christians in a specific society should relate and integrate with various socio-cultural issues. The book begins with a comprehensive definition of important terms such as Christ, an important figure in the New Testament, and culture. For instance, Christ represents a special belief in the supernatural and acts as the bridge between God and humankind. Culture also describes the social life and practices innate to humanity emanating from specific beliefs and artifacts. Based on these definitions, Niebuhr examines the various ways in which Christians can remain faithful to the person and authority of Christ while interacting with their cultures and traditional norms. The book examines Christ’s opposition to culture, the specific compromise between Christ and culture, and a special insight into both concepts.
In the chapter of Niebuhr’s book, Christ above Culture, the primary argument is that the Church should have a dominant voice over local societal practices and norms. The fundamentalists assert that God has the absolute power and influence to order and define various cultural practices. Accordingly, they view various cultural actions and beliefs as a direct rebellion against God. Christian adherents believe in the sanctity of societal practices and norms. They also discourage actions that may separate human cultures from experiencing God’s grace. However, human actions should epitomize God’s values and typical Christians’ practices and related expectations.
The chapter further opines that choosing between Christ and culture is inherently challenging. According to Niebuhr, God can apply certain best cultural elements to redefine their thoughts and perceptions about life. Therefore, despite the apparent differences, Niebuhr is encouraging the unique integration of the Church as culture into a single system of relationship. Through such initiatives, the Christians can pursue possible revelation of Christ to the tribal villages. They can also communicate messages of redemption and grace through Christ through such systems of relationship. In essence, in this chapter, Niebuhr is encouraging the institutionalization of Christ through the gospel to gain acceptance from different cultures.
Overall, according to Niebuhr, separating the works of human culture from the grace of Christ can cause tension between different stakeholders. While Christ takes precedence over human cultures, Christians should adopt a unique model that can integrate differences in such environments. The separate experiences of related activities can encourage other non-adherents to subscribe to the teachings and works of Christ. All works, including cultures, according to the chapter, are possible only the grace of Christ. Therefore, Christians should concentrate on convincing cultural adherents to love and believe in the unseen God or Christ. In general, Niebuhr discourages societies from designating various cultures as either good or bad. While he affirms the supernatural powers and influence of Christ over culture, he is encouraging harmony. The existence of harmony between culture and Christ can limit possible rebellion against God, according to Niebuhr.
Reflection based on the book
From my objective and subjective analysis of Niebuhr’s chapter, Christ above Culture, I believe that adherents should advocate for both Christ and culture. I believe that the Church and culture can coexist comfortably in a particular social system. Through such positive interactions, advocates for both culture and Christ can eliminate possible rebellion. Therefore, Niebuhr’s chapter can help me establish a balance between Christ and my liberal cultural values. I believe that Christ should be part of my daily practices and beliefs through incarnation processes. Christ is responsible for sustaining cultures and can easily accept outside cultures of divergent perceptions. I also think that societies can use the information in this chapter to design and implement relevant moral laws. They can also apply the principle to define Christians’ involvement in different cultural practices and experiences. I agree with Niebuhr’s explanations that man is a special social being, created to serve specific functions. Therefore, despite their socio-cultural differences, societies should function based on the guidelines and special instructions from Christ or God. I also believe that while the Church plays a crucial role in facilitating spiritual nourishment, it should act as the custodian of Christ. In particular, the Church should design and implement divine laws that can balance between different cultural practices and spiritual realms.
Nevertheless, I agree with Niebuhr’s warning on the possible institutionalization of Christ. In particular, while Christ takes precedence over all other things, the Church should not use the gospel to spread extremist ideologies. The Church should eliminate and control elements that may hinder the successful integration of different cultural elements and the teachings of Christ (Cahill, 2017). In essence, Niebuhr embodies messages of tolerance and reasonability between advocates and can minimize possible rebellion associated with such ideological differences.
Cahill, L. S. (2017). Can Christ Transform Culture?: War and Peace as a Test Case. Journal of Catholic Social Thought, 14(2), 259-274.
Richard Niebuhr, H. (1951). Christ and culture (p. 197). New York: Harper and Row.