Few books have been used as broadly in Christian colleges and seminaries in the past half century as H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture. His five classic typologies of how Christ can relate to culture—Christ against culture, Christ in “paradox” with culture, and so on—have influenced two generations of Protestant and Catholic thinkers.
But in recent decades scholars have become aware that Niebuhr’s typologies need to be rethought in light of changing circumstances. While Niebuhr wrote at a time when it was still possible to speak of Christendom, Christianity since that time has held less and less sway over American and European intellectuals and other shapers of culture. As such, Christianity has found itself increasingly marginalized.
In this work, Craig Carter follows in Niebuhr’s footsteps, using typology to explore the crucial question of how Christians should relate to the world. However, he goes beyond Niebuhr to offer an alternative typology that is arguably more deployable in our post-Christian society. This book is a useful text for college and seminary courses and for any Christian who seeks to understand how to share a timeless message in changing times.
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Carter argues that once these presuppositions are stripped out of Christ and Culture, the weaknesses of Niebuhr’s typology are revealed and a different approach both to the typologizing and living of Christ/culture relations becomes possible. The new typology that Carter develops is quite fascinating. But even more important is the bracing, accessible, and exceptionally lucid challenge he offers the church—to renounce both Christendom and the easy endorsement of violence, and thus return to the kingdom ethics of Jesus, Lord of the cosmos. This book is theologically careful, historically rich, and ethically thoughtful.
—David P. Gushee, author, Only Human: Christian Reflections on the Journey Toward Wholeness
Craig Carter has written an important book for everyone under the influence of H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, for everyone committed to the church’s witness in the world, and for everyone concerned about the impact of Christianity upon our common life.
—Jonathan R. Wilson, author, God So Loved the World
H. Richard Niebuhr’s days are numbered. Or so one can only imagine. This carefully argued and well-written book should bring the curtains down on the more than fifty-year reign of Niebuhr’s typology in Christ and Culture. Carter not only shows how this paradigm is inadequate for our world but offers an alternative paradigm that is at once fuller and richer for understanding the church’s social existence in the midst of a broken world that is loved by God.
—Mark Thiessen Nation, author, John Howard Yoder: Mennonite Patience, Evangelical Witness, Catholic Convictions