5 Christian Responses to a Changing Culture

Throughout the history of the Christian church, believers have responded various ways to their culture. Some responses have been good, whereas other responses have been less than favorable. What are the five responses? This article will examine the five forms of responses that have been made throughout history by five given caricatures. In many respects, these five responses greatly resemble the five Christian models for approaching culture given in H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic book Christ and Culture.[1] The models are given in descending order from the more extreme forms of thought—opposing culture, to those that fully embrace culture.

The Monk.

The first response is that of the monk. This caricature is in no means meant to demean the great work of Christian monks throughout the centuries. However, it is meant to demonstrate the response that many in the monastery have taken over the years. When culture goes amiss, many will withdraw from the culture, completely separating themselves from the culture. This approach resembles Niebuhr’s “Christ Against Culture” approach.

As Christians face a global culture that is becoming more antagonistic towards the Christian faith (something that is anticipated by a futurist understanding of Revelation—which I hold), it is easy for many to withdraw from the cultural arena completely. Some will take the defeated attitude in saying, “I won’t make much of a difference anyhow.” For others, the ideas of a governmental hidden agenda and conspiracy-theory-powered-paranoia will cause the desire to abandon everything in culture. St. Anthony and the desert fathers are exemplary of this model. Also, Tertullian, Tolstoy, Menno Simmons, the Amish, and traditional Anabaptists have taken to this model. But it must be asked: Is this the best model?

The Mobster.

The second caricature may sound odd at first. How could a Christian hold a mobster mentality to the culture? Well, mobsters generally operate by the mantra, “I am above the law.” Their livelihood is based on a system that contradicts the law at hand. The mobster mentality holds that Christians and any given culture will always hold a degree of paradox. The Christian, while living in the world, can never necessarily appreciate the things of the world since the Christian essentially lives in two kingdoms. The Christian will always experience tensions in trying to fulfill the demands of both kingdoms.

Martin Luther is an advocate of this view. The mobster view is comparable to Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture in Paradox” model. While this viewpoint holds many great points of truth and value, one must ask: Is this the right model to hold?

The Reformer.

Reformers seek to transform. Unbeknownst to many, Luther and the early reformers did not seek to divide the church. Rather, they sought to bring the church back to a point where they felt the church was more biblically accurate. The cultural reformer seeks to transform the given culture with the gospel of Christ. The reformer will seek to convert the values and goals of the culture to the values and goals of the kingdom of God, realizing that such will not take place unless people come to know Christ as Savior.

Many heavyweights of the faith hold this view, which is comparable to Niebuhr’s “Christ the Transformer of Culture” model. Augustine, Calvin, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, and Francis Schaeffer all hold to the Reformer Model. Is this the correct view? We will see.

The Ruler.

The ruler seeks to dominate a particular area. In a sense, the ruler will always battle to keep his/her power and control. When the Roman Empire dominated much of the known world during the height of their power, the Empire had to patrol areas with their soldiers to forcefully keep the peace (somewhat of an oxymoron).

The ruler mentality of Christians pertaining to the culture holds that change can only take place when the church is given authority over a particular area. The answers to life’s problems are found in the specific revelation of God (i.e., the Bible), thus the only way to bring culture and faith together is to assert dominance over the culture. This model is comparable to the “Christ Above Culture” model presented by Niebuhr. It is said that Thomas Aquinas is the greatest advocate of this model. Is this the best model to hold?

The Politician.

The last viewpoint is the exact opposite of the Monk Model. Politicians have the reputation of avoiding specific answers when presented certain questions. Many successful politicians are wishy-washy as they seek approval from both sides of the aisle. In like manner, the Politician Model is one that seeks to assimilate the culture into one’s faith. Being comparable to Niebuhr’s “Christ of Culture” model, it is no surprise that liberal Christians often adopt this mindset.

Feminist theologians such as Rosemary Radford Ruether, anti-hell theologian Rob Bell, Matthew Vines, “cultural Christians,” and process theologians would fit within the Politician Model. Quite frankly, it is often difficult to pinpoint exactly what the beliefs of many cultural Christians are. In many respects, one would imagine that the culture has shaped their biblical hermeneutics rather than biblical hermeneutics shaping their cultural stance. But in their defense, many of these individuals hold that if Christianity does not adapt to the culture, they fear that Christianity will become irrelevant at best, or will die at the worst. Is this true? Is this the best model?

Conclusion: The Preferred Model

Nearly all of these models hold some value and truth. The monk is correct in thinking that the Christian needs to step away from cultural trends. Christians may find solace in stepping away from the grid from time to time. The mobster is correct in thinking that a paradox will always exist between the Christian life and the cultural life. As the old adage goes, “Christians are in the world, but not of the world.” The reformer is correct in thinking that change must happen through the gospel message. That requires engagement. The ruler is correct in thinking that the Bible holds the right answers to the problems of life. For all the problems of the politician model, it is agreed that Christianity must at least listen to the concerns of the modern culture.

In my estimation, the politician model (if you could not tell already) does not hold the answer for the modern Christian. If the gospel message is lost, there is no Christianity to keep alive. Without the gospel and the truth of God’s word, Christianity has already become irrelevant. However, if the Bible is God’s word (which I believe it is), then its truths transcend culture. Thus, the politician model is the weakest of the four.

The monk model is not preferred either. Christ calls for us to be “my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).[2] It is difficult to tell people about Christ throughout the ends of the earth while Christians are disengaged with society. In fact, many have argued that it is because of this mentality that the universities were lost to secularism in the late 1800s. Princeton, Yale, and other ivy-league institutions used to be front and center for orthodox Christian values. In like manner, it could be argued that the reason our culture has become so secularized is due to the withdrawal of Christians from active service in society.

The ruler model does not seem to be preferred either. The Christian cannot force a person into the kingdom. In like manner, Christian dictatorship leads to a “cultural Christianity” which is not necessarily a genuine Christianity.

The mobster mentality is correct in its assessment. However, it seems that such a view could lend itself to the Monk Model if taken to extremes. Thus, the mobster mentality holds great value, but does not seem to be the best outlook.

In my estimation, I feel that the Reformer Model is best. The only hope that people have is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ can and will transform the culture ultimately in the end. The reformer does not allow his theology to be altered by the culture. Nor does the reformer allow his fears to cause him to hide away from the culture either. He is engaged with the culture and realizes that the only hope for humanity is found in the gospel. Nothing will change unless there is a transformation. A transformation cannot happen without the gospel of Christ. Therefore, the gospel of Jesus Christ will bring change to a troubled culture.

© July 11, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

[1] See the following link for a chart describing the five approaches given in Niebuhr’s book: http://christianculturecenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/christ-and-culture.png.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).

Advertisements

Those Hypocritical Christians! 4 Ways that Theological Truth Transcends Bad Behavior

For those who do not know my testimony, I left the ministry for seven years due to great doubts pertaining to the truthfulness of Christianity. I nearly became an agnostic…in fact, I seriously teetered with the idea for some time. My agnosticism wasn’t that I didn’t think that God couldn’t exist, but rather that I wasn’t sure that one could know God completely. This doubt was fueled by the lack of answers I was given by Christian leaders against the skeptical claims of the Jesus Seminar.[1] However, another element intensified the doubts that I possessed—Christian hypocrisy; that is to say, Christians who claimed to be devout but dismissed Christian teachings when it was convenient for them. Could I devote myself to something that held so many that refused to take its claims seriously?

I am not alone. In fact, one of the top-5 excuses given by those who do not want to attend church pertains to “those hypocritical Christians!” To make matters worse, the truthfulness of Christianity is often gauged by the behavior of its adherents. But is this a legitimate? Is the truthfulness of a movement based upon the actions of its adherents? As God brought me back to a strong faith which led me back into the ministry by apologetics, I learned that truth is transcendent. That is, truth exists beyond the scope of human opinions and/or actions. The truthfulness of any movement is found in four realms. It is within these realms that Christianity should be tested and not the actions of some of its so-called adherents.

1. Truth is transcendent in its reality.

Truth is not something that works for one person and not for another. Norman Geisler defines truth as that which “can be understood both from what it is and from what it is not” (Geisler 1999, 741). I really like the Greek term aletheia. It is the term that is translated as “truth.” Louw and Nida define the term as the following: “ἀλήθεια, ας f: the content of that which is true and thus in accordance with what actually happened—‘truth.’” (Louw and Nida 1996, 672). In other words, truth is defined as that which is in accordance to reality. Jesus uses the term aletheia when saying the “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).[2] In this one simple teaching, Jesus notes that truth exists, truth is knowable, and that truth is transformative. It can be demonstrated that Jesus is a historical person and that the New Testament is reliable. It can be demonstrated that God’s existence is a necessity. Thus, certain truths presented in the Bible can be supported by evidence. The reality of these truths transcends the bad behaviors of those claiming to be a Christian.

As this pertains to bad behavior with some of a movement’s adherents, one should note that truth transcends bad behavior. Allow me to illustrate. I am a huge Green Bay Packers fan. I love the team, I love the family atmosphere, I love that the team is in a small town, and I love the great history with the franchise. Nevertheless, the team can have a few bad moments. For instance, on January 18, 2015, the Green Bay Packers led the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game 19-7 entering into the 4th quarter. However, disaster struck and the Packers ended up losing to the Seahawks 28-22 in overtime. The Seahawks would go on to the 49th Super Bowl and Packers fans were left wondering, “What happened?” But, does this one bad play negate the 13 championships that the Packers had previously won? Does the one bad play negate the history of the team beginning on August 11, 1919 in a “dingy second-floor editorial room of the old Green Bay Press-Gazette building, located on Cherry Street in downtown Green bay” (www.packers.com/history/birth-of-a-team-and-a-legend) by the Indian Packing Company? The obvious answer is “no.” The history of the team transcends one bad game. The same is true for Christianity. The bad behaviors of some Christians do not discredit the historical reality of Christianity.

2. Truth is transcendent in its founder.

If one desires to know the truthfulness of a particular movement, one should evaluate the founder of the movement. For instance, if one desires to know why Protestantism began, then one needs to evaluate Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the early reformers. Why did they split from the Catholic Church? If one desires to know about Buddhism, then one should desire to know more about Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha. The same is true with Christianity. If one desires to know about what Christianity stands for, look to its founder. What did Jesus say about himself? While space does not allow us to provide a full treatment of this issue, a person can tell a great deal about Jesus claim in saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you…I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-2, 6). Or, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).[3] Paul, a former enemy of Christ and later servant for Christ, wrote pertaining to Jesus that “he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Look to Jesus for the case for Christianity and not to the bad behavior of some who claim to be of Christ.

3. Truth is transcendent in its claims.

The truthfulness of any religion or philosophy must be held by the claims made by the particular belief system. Christianity holds to certain foundational tenets: 1) the truth is knowable, 2) God exists, 3) God created all, 4) humanity is fallen, 5) Jesus came to redeem humanity through his crucifixion and resurrection, 6) salvation is found in Jesus, and 7) God will judge the living and the dead. Do the claims of Christianity match with reality?

A full treatment of this topic is not possible within one article. However, to find the truthfulness in Christianity’s claims requires one to investigate the essence of truth. Is truth knowable? To claim that truth is unknowable is a self-refuting claim, thus one can assert that truth is a reality and knowable. Second, God’s existence is a necessity as the existence of anything would require a transcendent intelligence: this supports the 2nd and 3rd tenets. Third, it is a certainty that human beings are not perfect individuals and are capable of doing great evil; making the 4th tenet intelligible. Jesus of Nazareth is a person of history. Manuscript evidence as well as other historical methods demonstrate great reasonability to the 5th tenet. If the first 5 tenets are true, then this lends credence to the 6th and 7th. An investigation of such claims requires much more depth than what is allowable in this article. Nevertheless, one should note that the truthfulness of Christianity does not rest upon its adherents, but rather upon the truth claims presented by Jesus and the early church.

4. Truth is transcendent in its parameters.

As this article has addressed the issue of truth compared to the bad behaviors of particular adherents, it should be noted that truth itself provides parameters. If someone were to ask for a wooden pencil, certain parameters must be met. The thing must be a writing instrument. The instrument should contain lead. The instrument should be made from a wooden casing. These are the parameters that constitute what is commonly known as a pencil. It should be noted that certain things are expected from one who is considered to be a Christian.

Certain parameters exist for a person to be considered a “Christian.” The apostle John in his first letter provides certain parameters that a genuine Christian will possess. They are: holiness (1 John 3:9; 5:18); love for others (1 John 4:7); acceptance of the truth found in Jesus (1 John 5:1); perseverance in one’s faith (1 John 5:1); and the testimony of God through the Holy Spirit’s presence (1 John 5:9-10). These parameters help one to determine those who are truly from God and those who are not (Matthew 7:15-20).

Conclusion

Have you been hurt in church? Have you been hurt by a person who claims to be a Christian? There is a saying that says, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” When one dismisses Christianity due to the bad actions of those claiming to be of Christ, a person does precisely just that. They dismiss claims that are transcendent due to individuals who may or may not be of Christ, or may be those who have simply lost their way. Understand that God’s existence and the truthfulness of Christ are a reality. If you have been hurt, incline yourself to the healing hands of God. For it is Christ who says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). If you learn the transcendent truth found in Christ, you may find that you will be given the power to forgive those who have hurt you and help transform a bad situation into a much better one.

Sources Cited

 “Birth of a Team and a Legend.” Packers.com. Accessed September 21, 2015. http://www.packers.com/history/birth-of-a-team-and-a-legend.html.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

Copyright September 21, 2015. Brian Chilton

[1] This is not meant to degrade anyone. Many of those leaders had not been met with such questions. This should, however, show the great need for apologetics in the modern church.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[3] Some hold that the statement is that of the apostle John summarizing Jesus’ earlier statements in the chapter. Nonetheless, the words relate back to the teaching of Jesus so they are still genuine to the teachings of Christ.

Is the Biblical Canon Open or Closed?

Some would suggest that the canon of the Bible is open. That is to say, some think that the canon of the Bible should be reevaluated and open to change. Such advocates indicate that other so-called gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip should be added to the list of acceptable books. However, it must be asked whether such additions are appropriate. Is the biblical canon open or closed? To answer this question, first the term “canon” will be defined. Then, the process of canonization will be evaluated. Finally, the article will examine the beliefs of the early church as it pertained to the canonization process.

Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard define the canon as stemming from the “Greek kanon, meaning ‘list,’ ‘rule,’ or ‘standard’” (Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 103). The biblical canon refers to “the collection of biblical books that Christians accept as uniquely authoritative” (Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 103). The term suggests that the books that comprise what is known as the Bible are the rule of faith being divinely inspired by God. Thus, evangelical Christians recognize the fact, as the Apostle Paul denotes in that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Like the Old Testament, the New Testament was canonized by a process. Already by the time the New Testament books were being composed, early apostles recognized them as Scripture to a similar degree to the Hebrew Bible (what we would call the Old Testament). Peter recognizes that individuals were compromising the writings of Paul as, in the words of Peter, “they also do with the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). Later toward the end of the first century and into the second, leaders like Clement of Alexandria recognized the integrity and inspiration of the New Testament. Clement of Alexandria denotes that,

  “We must know, then, that if Paul is young in respect to time—having flourished immediately after the Lord’s ascension—yet his writings depend on the Old Testament, breathing and speaking of them. For faith in Christ and the knowledge of the Gospel are the explanation and fulfillment of the law…that is, unless you believe what is prophesied in the law, and oracularly delivered by the law, you will not understand the Old Testament, which He by His coming expounded” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata IV.21, 434).

Thus, Clement of Alexandria elevated the writings of the New Testament as a means to understand the Old Testament, as Christ explained the Old Testament in and through His teachings and fulfillment of the Old Testament.

Early canons were comprised, but most notably by the heretic Marcion. Due to Marcion’s limited canon, others such as Irenaeus and more notably Athanasius compiled a complete canon which would be officially accepted at a later time. Irenaeus denotes that a canon was floating about in the early church by stating that Marcion “and his followers have betaken themselves to mutilating the Scriptures, not acknowledging some books at all; and, curtailing the Gospel according to Luke and the Epistles of Paul, they assert that these are alone authentic, which they have themselves thus shortened” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.12.12, 434-435). But how did one know if a text was inspired and worthy of canonicity? Norman Geisler denotes five measures of authenticity that was placed upon a text by the asking the following questions: “Was the book written by a prophet of God?…Was the writer confirmed by acts of God?…Does the message tell the truth about God?…Did it come with the power of God?…Was it accepted by the people of God?” (Geisler, “Bible, Canonicity of, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 81-84). Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard identify the criteria as the text’s “apostolicity, orthodoxy, and catholicity” (Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 115). That is, the text had to have apostolic endorsement (if not having been written by an apostle). The text must promote correct doctrine as presented by Jesus and the early church. Finally, the text must be universally accepted by the church.

Which of these elements hold the most importance? In this writer’s opinion, if one were to use Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard’s list of canonicity, apostolicity would hold the highest importance. If a text stemmed from a true apostle, or friend of an apostle, one would expect the text to be orthodox in its teaching. Many books of antiquity, especially in the second century, claimed apostolic authority. However, only those texts in the first century that were in the time-frame of the earliest church leaders could hold apostolicity. It is difficult to choose which of these criteria are less important, as all of them hold great weight in identifying a text as authentic and inspired.

In conclusion, some hold that the canon should still be open. However, this is greatly problematic for several reasons; however this post will only provide two. First, early church leaders knew of the origins of particular texts. While modern scholarship is excellent in many areas, it is impossible to know with the certainty that earlier church leaders held in knowing a text’s authenticity. In fact, it is in this writer’s opinion that many other texts existed in the first century, most that have been lost to the modern scholar. Thus, modern Christians can speculate, whereas early leaders could know the origin and authority of texts with a much higher level of certainty. Second, the early church preserved the New Testament books for a particular reason. It would be negligent for modern Christians to seek to override nearly 2,000 years of church history in arrogantly claiming that persons today know more about Jesus than those who were physically with Jesus. Therefore, it is in this writer’s opinion that the canon is closed and finalized.

Portions of the preceding article were posted in a discussion board assignment by Pastor Brian Chilton. As in all cases, any documentation should be properly assigned. The use of this information for academic purposes will require documentation as plagiarism will be detected. Portion of the contents of this article have been run through the system SafeAssign.

 Copyright. 2015. Brian Chilton.

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009.

Clement of Alexandria. The Stromata. In Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), Volume 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies. In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Volume 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Klein, William W., Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Revised and Updated. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.