Review: Christ and Culture Revisited

Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson

good analysis and critiques, lacking a clear prescription

Christ and Culture Revisited is rigorous and academic, dealing with complex philosophies and cultural analysis across a wide spectrum. Carson deals with a wide range of relevant literature, and this is a thorough, if somewhat difficult book to read.

He takes his springboard from Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, and his famous five part paradigm for understanding how Christians relate to their surrounding cultures. Carson is convinced “that the famous Niebuhr typology, as useful as it may be for some purposes, drives us toward mutually exclusive choices we should not be making.” (vi) This is because some of Niehbur’s categories are “too broad, if one is trying to limit oneself to the forms of confessional Christianity that explicitly and self-consciously try to live under the authority of Scipture.” (10) The deeper problem is that Niehbur presents the Bible as offering “a number of discrete paradigms,” (41) that is, different options to choose from depending on who you are and where you live. The Bible, however, is a unity, and “we should be attempting a holistic grasp of the relations between Christ and culture, fully aware, as we make our attempt, that peculiar circumstances may call us to emphasize some elements in one situation, and other elements in another situation.” (43) Carson then sketches out the main points of a unified Biblical Theology, emphasizing that a correct view must take all into account, not pick and choose.

He deals specifically with post-modernism, and the post-modern view of cultures, especially “perspectivalism,” agreeing that there are only two kinds of people on the world, those who acknowledge their perspectivalism and those who don’t.

He deals with more “church/state” related issues in the chapters on “Secularism, Democracy, Freedom and Power,” and the longest chapter on “Church and State.” He concludes with an analysis of several different options being proposed today, and subjects them to his analysis.

I found that most of the book was a thorough, detailed way of saying “it’s complicated,” and trying to demonstrate that a Christian view of culture can and must be incredibly nuanced. This is sometimes in criticism of too sweeping of a view (Niebuhr’s) or in defense from post-modernism’s claims that we are not sophisticated enough. Although he does offer his sketch of Biblical Theology as the template for a unified view of how to relate to culture, I walked away from this book thinking “okay, it’s nuanced and complicated,” but without a very clear idea of exactly how to engage.

Carson says in the preface :”The release of this book in paperback format coincides with the publication of The Intolerance of Tolerance. I envisaged the two books together from the beginning. In many ways the Intolerance volume builds its argument on the assumption of many positions defended in the book you hold in your hand: it won’t hurt to read the two together, the first one to establish a framework for thinking faithfully about Christ and culture, the second one to tease out practical implications along one exceedingly sensitive axis.” (vii)

Perhaps my feeling of something lacking is due to this, and I just need to read Intolerance to finish the picture. I do recommend this book as a very challenging read, forcing one to think deeply about philosophy, culture, and the Bible.