Christ and Culture Revisited | D. A. Carson

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The question of how Christians are supposed to interact with the world around them has been a topic of discussion since the New Testament. Jesus instructed his inquirer to give Caesar his due, and I John 2 warns early Christians of the dangers of the systems of this world. In his Christ and Culture Revisited, D. A. Carson invites readers into a thorough examination of the influential perspectives that shape this discussion.

Carson rightly begins his treatise with an appraisal of the major points of Neibuhr’s Christ and Culture. Niebuhr’s five types of relationships between Christ and culture are described in detail. While those familiar with Neibuhr’s book will know this information, Carson’s reiteration will be helpful to refresh (or teach anew) those who are new to the topic.  The author’s style is academic, but in the best sense: Carson knows that without clearly defining individual terms the conversation will quickly be unintelligible. He is able to quickly identify the ways in which Neibuhr’s language subtly shifts across the five types, and more importantly, the way that two of the categories do not really reflect Biblically grounded theology.

Carson spends significant time on his definitions of culture and Christ, noting how the interplay between the two concepts has shifted from the medieval period, to a modern mindset, to postmodernism. He is careful to note the ways in which geography and political systems play a role in the discussion, describing the important (almost unquestioned) sway that postmodern has over the American academic system, as opposed to its relatively limited influence in France, for instance. The author makes a strong argument for evaluation of cultures. Where tolerance and acceptance mark popular culture today, any signifier of judgment among world cultures is seen as intolerant. Carson is careful to note that in the case of Nazi Germany, there are no redeeming qualities and culture is quick to denounce their horrific practices. And yet, Carson argues, the act of “judging” cultures is not acceptable in current practice. In the final sections of the book, Carson identifies the political influences at play in contemporary culture. While it is necessary to understand the way the effects of these outside forces, Carson at times comes across as political himself.

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Christ and Culture Revisited is an important entry in a complicated field, and while every viewpoint expressed by the author may not have universal appeal, Carson is a qualified, consisted guide for those looking to understand the way that Christ-followers should interact with the world around them.

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