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Christ and Culture

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  2,002 Ratings  ·  82 Reviews
Being fully God & fully human, Jesus raised an enduring question for his followers: what exactly was His place in this world? In Christ & Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr crafted a survey of the many ways of answering that question & the related question of how Christ's followers understand their own place in the world. He called the subject of this book "the double ...more
Paperback, 271 pages
Published 1975 by Colophon/Harper & Row (NY et al.) (first published October 5th 1951)
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Matt Bianco
Dec 25, 2010 Matt Bianco rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theology
Niehbur's book, Christ and Culture, presents five different views of how Christians understood Christ and Culture.

The first is Christ Against Culture, which is best displayed by the anabaptists and the Amish. It is the separatist view.

The second is Christ Of Culture. This is best pictured by liberal Protestantism, and its efforts to interpret culture as if it were representative of Christ. These folks tend to interpret philosophy and science as if it is all good and teaches what Christ himself
Sarah Gutierrez

Now that I've read this, I'm finding that it is considered an extremely important work in the conversation on how Christians should engage with culture. (Western Lit mates, we had a discussion question that drew upon its categorization of possible approaches.)

Basically, H. Richard Niebuhr--Reinhold Niebuhr's brother--analyzes five different ways (or "typologies" of ways) that Christians have historically approached the problem of dual commitments to Christ and to the culture in which they live:
David Withun
Jun 10, 2012 David Withun rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
Niebuhr attempts to understand and evaluate the various ways in which Christians throughout history and today have understood the relationship between Christ and culture. These he divides into five types:

1. "Christ Against Culture" -- Those who posit that Christ and culture are diametrically opposed and cannot be reconciled.

2. "Christ of Culture" -- Those who attempt to domesticate Christ within the confines of whatever culture they happen to find themselves in already.

3. "Christ Above Culture"
Douglas Wilson
Jun 23, 2013 Douglas Wilson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this. Want to review it with a phrase I don't think has been used concerning it before, which is "rollicking good time." Conversionism, baby!
James Nance
Jun 24, 2017 James Nance rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The hand on the cover represents the five views of Christ and Culture: Christ against culture, Christ of culture, and Christ over culture. The last has three are related sub-types: syncretism, dualism, and conversionism. Conversionism says that, as Christians in culture, we recognize that Christ is Lord of culture and through history is transforming culture through the application of gospel living to all aspects of life. The kingdoms of the world have become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His C ...more
Some people speak of three categories of Christian engagement of culture: receive, reject, redeem. and Brian Godawa has written about cultural gluttons vs. cultural anorexics. People using these categories, consciously or unconsciously, have inherited this kind of systemization from H. Richard Niebuhr. Niebuhr notices five main ways that Christians interact with culture.

1. Radicals see Christ and culture in opposition: Christ against culture. Tertullian and Tolstoy are presented as representativ
Shane Wagoner
Mar 03, 2017 Shane Wagoner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A broad but incisive analysis of the historical trends in Christian thought regarding cultural engagement. Niebuhr is as skilled a guide as one could ask for.
Jan 19, 2013 Matteo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theology, culture
Many things impressed me positively about this book, but the one thing that stands out among the rest is the way in which Niebuhr reveals the viability of each typology while attempting to fairly critique each one. He takes into account the complexities of the Christian ethos with respects to culture and context and does not ascribe “true” Christianity to one specific typology. He insists, rather, that each typology presented have both strengths and weaknesses, and no one can “itself exist witho ...more
Jul 28, 2015 Melanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Niebuhr was so remarkably prescient in plotting the trajectory of culture and thought, it's difficult to imagine that he wrote this text more than 60 years ago. In this book, Niebuhr points out five ideal typologies for "heuristic use" that categorize theological approaches to Christian ethics, specifically the way Christians move between nature/reason in culture, and faith/the Bible. The five main categories, which he lists and then explores in detail, are "Christ against culture," "Christ abov ...more
David Rathel
Nov 17, 2011 David Rathel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A historically important book receives a few new features with this 50th anniversary binding. Martin Marty (Fundamentalism Project) contributes an article as does ethicist James Gustafson. Gustafson's article is a helpful read in that he defends Niebuhr and his work from contemporary critics.

As far as Niebuhr's work itself goes, it really needs no introduction. It has been so influential that most will be familiar with its categories ("typologies"), even if they have never cracked open this boo
Oct 10, 2012 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: personal-library
An interesting analysis and approach, but you realize pretty quick Niebuhr's Christ and Culture are fairly abstract concepts that hinder his interpretation. The content of the Christian faith does not play a major part into his argumentation and culture is always defined in abstract terms. He never answers the questions "Which Christ?" "Which Culture?" Moreover, where is the church as a culture? Niebuhr seems to assume the church is always created by culture but can never itself be a culture. Th ...more
Zachary Taylor
Aug 17, 2016 Zachary Taylor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review pertains quite specifically to the thesis I am currently writing titled, “Imperfect Institutions: Culture, Love, and Justice in the Letters and Sermons of Augustine.” As such, it may not offer a holistic portrait of Christ and Culture, as I focus almost exclusively on Niebuhr’s analysis of Augustine in the penultimate chapter.

The analysis offered by H. Richard Niebuhr in his influential book, Christ and Culture, is helpful in a careful examination of Augustine’s attitude toward the r
Amy Carlisle
May 20, 2017 Amy Carlisle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
H. Richard Niebuhr writes as a Christian, but this work has meaning beyond the scope of the Christian faith. Here, he analyzes how the sacred can relate to the profane, the spiritual to the mundane.

After defining "Christ" (Mediator, involving double movement, from God toward man & from men toward God) and "Culture" (the artificial, secondary environment that man imposes on the natural), he dedicates a chapter to each of the five ways he sees the sacred & profane relating.
The first of the
Kwan Qi Xiang
Apr 16, 2013 Kwan Qi Xiang rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The relationship between Christ and "Culture" is perhaps the perennial issue faced by Christians. Niebuhr calls it the "enduring problem". It is the issue of an individual, existing within a community of individuals, who have been called by God to be a people. His people, to be precise. How does this people organize itself and relate to one another within the community? How does it view its relationship with the world that exists "outside" of the community? How does it see itself as essentially ...more
Benjamin Thompson
Richard Niebuhr was one of the 20th century's most insightful theologians. Praised by both Evangelicals and Liberals, the younger brother of Reinhold Niepbuhr was seen as a bridge between liberal and evangelical circles. However, as I've read Niebuhrs' work I have increasingly mixed feelings about it. He does give a great framework for understanding how Christians have distinguished themselves from wider society, however, his own views on the subject seem to conflict with orthodox Christian beli ...more
Nathan Metz
May 28, 2017 Nathan Metz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed Niebuhr's classic work on culture and ministry. Although many have poked at this book as dated or inadequate, I found it to be a great first step in understanding the relationship between the Christ, the Church and the culture. I read it in a study on contextualization and enjoyed the perspective it brought to the conversation. While the book is not modern in every way, it does provide useful guidance that helpful to current work.
Michael Walker
A brilliant analysis detailing how a Christian's over-emphasis on one facet of the faith and under-emphasis on other facets shapes their beliefs. The author was the brother of famed 20th-c. liberal American preacher Reinhold Niebuhr.
Andrew Fox
Jul 23, 2012 Andrew Fox rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a well organized argument presenting five sides to a critical problem between Christ and culture. Niebuhr argues Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ and culture in paradox and finally Christ transforming culture. Although his postscript to these arguments is inconclusive, he does call for a decision, not from the community of faith but from the individual to decide. He begins with an impasse that Christ is sinless but culture is sinful overlaying this ...more
Ricky Beckett
Feb 12, 2016 Ricky Beckett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Niebuhr commits two faults. First, Niebuhr misrepresents Lutheran doctrine. It is true that Luther favoured paradoxes, but he misunderstands Luther’s doctrine by comparing it to dualism. Dualism comes from Gnosticism, which posits that matter and spiritual realms are opposed and matter is therefore evil. Niebuhr compares Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms to dualism in that yes, culture is opposed to Christ, but Luther never calls culture evil. Culture is opposed to Christ because as culture ...more
Apr 18, 2013 Doug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a perennial classic from Niebuhr. I first read it in seminary years ago, and have since returned to it to contextualize Christians' response to the world. Coming from a tradition that pitted Christ against culture, one of Niebuhr's 5 categories, it was refreshing for me to see how others have postured the faith in light of what their traditions have taught. My early background was sectarian, drawing lines between the church and the world it lives in. Others have viewed Christ as above cu ...more
Alex Stroshine
Aug 15, 2012 Alex Stroshine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a classic for a reason. In this book the distinguished theologian and ethicist H. Richard Niebuhr outlines five approaches Christians have in engaging (or in the case of one, withdrawing from) society. Niebuhr is quick to admit many believers will overlap into several of these typologies. This is a dense read with a lot of complex content and were I too reread it I would do so as part of a reading group. A drawback to this book is that while Niebuhr helpfully uses examples of historic Ch ...more
Kathleen Dixon
The Petersens, in 100 Christian Books That Changed the Century, say that this book 'has been foundational reading for scholars and other observers trying to make sense of Christianity in the United States over the last century'. They do make large claims and are a little less than precise at times (e.g. this book was published in 1951 so is well short of the century). However, I can see why it would have been widely read. It covers all aspects of the historical thinking about the subject, and it ...more
Mar 30, 2009 Rod rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Closely reasoned discussion of how Christians face the issues related
to influencing the world around them. He gives several diverse answers
which have been held by Christian leaders at various times. He points
out weaknesses with each but concludes:

a. because of the partial (his word is 'relative') state of our knowledge,
we cannot decide which is the correct position for all believers.
b. although these viewpoints seem to contradict, he says that they actually
work together to accomplish the work of
Jan 31, 2013 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Heavy, but good, read in this classic from H.R. Niebuhr. Too many quotes to pick from....will settle for (some) a couple from the last chapter:

"All our faith is fragmentary, though we do not all have the same fragments of faith...when we reason and act in faith and so give our Christian answer, we act on the ground of partial, piecemeal faith, so that there is perhaps a little Christianity in our answer" (p. 236); "In every work of culture we relative men, with our relative points o
Darrah Bird
Considered a classic if not THE classic text of theological work around this topic I am glad I read it to give me a base for understanding current work and theology that has sprung from it. It's an important text, however, I think that we make the mistake of holding it a bit too high on the pedestal and that we lose ourselves in it for the expense of updated and more sociologically competent works. It's good work, but it remains limited in both worldview AND misses a few points for me when it se ...more
Jan 24, 2009 Nathan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had always heard about this as a "classic", but had never read it until required to do so for a recent class. Some good insights into the strengths and weaknesses surrounding the five common ways Christians have historically chosen to respond to their culture. The five categories he settles on seem accurate enough, but it get tricky trying to choose "champions" to represent each one, since there is so much overlap between. It is a judgment call either way and I think he misses it on a few guys ...more
May 04, 2009 Daniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-re-read, top-shelf
In over fifty years, this book has not been surpassed in its ability to help the Christian think carefully about what it means to be set apart and in the world at the same time. No "culture writing" in Christian circles could have happened without it, and honestly nothing I've read is as helpful as Niebuhr's breakdown of Christian history and the Church's relationship with the world. If are interested in anything relating to that topic and are reading something about it, put it down, and pick up ...more
This is book is good for anyone who wants to get a categorization of the different trends within Christianity relative to culture. It is a set of chapters each describing a variation of a christian interpretation of culture. Niebuhr attempts objectivity throughout, providing a full description of the theological challenge that Christianity poses to culture and how the tradition has responded to this challenge from early Christianity through the early part of the 20th century. There is nothing wr ...more
Tyson Guthrie
May 09, 2014 Tyson Guthrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Christ and Culture is a typological approach to the question of Christ and culture. As such, it is liable to the usual sins of typology--oversimplification and misrepresentation. Niebuhr is aware of these dangers and constantly warns that they are crouching at the reader's door. The careful reader, then, benefits from Niebuhr's categories. The five approaches Niebuhr highlights give the reader a starting place for wading through a difficult topic.
Brook M.
Mar 24, 2016 Brook M. rated it really liked it
The book analyzes one primary question -- How are Christians to be humans (in the world) and yet Christ like (of Christ’s kingdom)? It proposes 5 answers from separation (Christ against Culture) to accommodation (Christ of Culture). The three middle views are good stuff (Christ above Culture, Christ and Culture in paradox, and Christ Transforming Culture). I’d recommend this to nearly any Christian.
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Helmut Richard Niebuhr was one of the most important Christian theological-ethicists in 20th century America, most known for his 1951 book Christ and Culture and his posthumously published book The Responsible Self. The younger brother of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, Richard Niebuhr taught for several decades at Yale Divinity School. His theology (together with that of his colleague at Yale, Hans ...more
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“Men are generally right in what they affirm and wrong in what they deny. What we deny is generally something that lies outside our experience, and about which we can therefore say nothing.” 10 likes
“Everyone has some kind of philosophy, some general worldview, which to men of other views will seem mythological.” 4 likes
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