Book Thoughts: Christ and Culture Revisited- D.A. Carson

A new series for this blog in 2017 will be Book Thoughts. A while back a friend and I began sharing the best quotes and thoughts we had from our personal reading. The idea was to give one another greater access to books without having to read as many. If I read a book, my friend could benefit from reading the quotes I pulled out and any thoughts I shared. For 2017, when ever I read a book I’ll share quotes I like, as well as any major thoughts I have about the book.

The first book is Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson. In 1951 Richard Niebuhr wrote what has become a Christian classic, Christ and Culture. The book plotted 5 different viewpoints on how Christianity relates to the world (culture). Carson gives Niebuhr an update and advances Niebuhr’s original thought, slightly.

The greatest contribution I took from this book was Carson’s admonition to balance my view of the relationship of Christ and Culture across the great turning points of salvation history (Creation, the Fall, Call of Abraham, the Exile, the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Church Age, Second Coming and Restoration/Consummation). For example, a view that focuses too heavily on the Fall without also focusing on the Resurrection will tend to hate the world as an evil/irredeemable annoyance. This results in isolationist Christians.

Two other insights I found helpful are these:

  • The church can be so involved in the political process that it ceases to be a prophetic voice challenging the process.
  • Pastors must work hard to distinguish between the mission of the church and the individual commands given to Christians who are citizens of human cities/nations.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

Niebuhr is not so much talking about the relationship between Christ and culture, as between two sources of authority as they compete within culture.
First, an evaluation of a culture depends on a set of values— even as that set of values is in turn shaped by the culture that informs the evaluation… Second, from a Christian perspective, everything that is detached from the sheer centrality of God is an evil… But third, equally from a Christian perspective, God in his “common grace” pours out countless good things on all people everywhere… Fourth, as Christian revelation certainly insists that there are degrees of punishment meted out by a good God, we must assume that some cultural stances are more reprehensible than others.
The worst abuses of Christians against the broader culture have taken place when Christians have enjoyed too much power.
that stance is most likely to be deeply Christian which attempts to integrate all the major biblically determined turning points in the history of redemption.
Romans 13 does not so much tell believers how to govern well as how to be governed.
As for democracy, if we promote it, we do so not because we take it to be an absolute good, still less as the solution to all political problems, and not even because it is an ideal form of government, but because, granted that the world is fallen and all of us are prone to the most grotesque evils, it appears to be the least objectionable option.
It would be more realistic to acknowledge that the founding of the nation was borne along by adherence to some Christian principles and not others. 
Let me know if you’ve read the book, or Niebuhr’s original. I’d love to discuss the topic in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Book Thoughts: Christ and Culture Revisited- D.A. Carson”

  1. “Pastors must work hard to distinguish between the mission of the church and the individual commands given to Christians who are citizens of human cities/nations.”

    I’d love it if you take a minute to expound on this. I’m not sure I understand.

    As a side note, I found your blog looking at the church’s website. We are new here and are looking for a church. We’ll try to get by there to visit next Sunday.

    1. Hi Danny,

      Thanks for checking us out, and we’d love to have you visit.

      In reference to your question:

      All of the commands in the NT are given to Christians and, by extension, to churches. But all of the commands of Scripture are not the mission of the church. Passages like the Great Commission in the Gospels as well as Acts 1:8 give clear descriptions of the mission of the church: Go into the world, preach the gospel, make disciples, baptize people etc. That’s the mission of the church. Global disciple-making.

      Too often churches allow individual commands to Christians in the New Testament to take the prime place of mission in individual churches. Romans 13 commands us to pray for governmental leaders. I’d say that’s a command to Christians and the church, but praying for governmental leaders isn’t the mission.

      Pastors should make a clear distinction between what is central and what is tangential.

      Hope that helps a little. It’s 6 months since I read this book so I ‘m trying to go back in my mind and remember exactly what I was getting at here.

      1. This is a very interesting observation. The idea of individual vs. collective commands and missions for the Church have never occurred to me. It has, on the other hand, occurred to me in reverse. For example, the Body seems to have a difficult time in this day navigating the command to love the sinner while at the same time being honest and truthful about sin. An example of this can be seen in the homosexual movement, which seems to be consolidated under the heading “LGBT community”. It seems difficult to distinguish between resisting the political movement, which is collective, while at the same time loving the individual homosexual by carrying out the mission of sharing the Gospel with him. I do think this is by design. The movement, which is one of many by the way, always frames the argument from an individual perspective, while being anything but.

        I love what you said in your reply. I’ve never thought about these differences. It’s going to give me a lot to think about it.

Leave a Reply