Christianity and Culture
In his Nobel speech, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn made the following claim: “One word of truth outweighs the entire world.”1 Chuck Colson echoed this sentiment when he wrote, “Christians who understand biblical truth and have the courage to live it out can indeed redeem a culture, or even create one. This is the challenge facing all of us in the new millennium.”2 “You shall know the truth,” as Jesus said, “and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).
But is this the way you feel about your nation and your place in it? Do you live with this optimism, or do you fear for your own personal future and safety? It is increasingly common to hear citizens decry the condition of their culture with words like these: “Our nation is in decline.” “We are worse off today than in the past.” “I don’t recognize the country I grew up in.” It is easy to become discouraged and lose heart over a better, brighter future when theater-goers are randomly shot and killed, judicial activism becomes a substitute for a nation’s constitution, terroristic threats loom, Christians are assailed, persecuted, and killed, and secular professors target young believers in order to destroy their faith – to name a few. Paul Hutchinson, New York Times book reviewer, offered, in his opinion, the toughest problem faced by Christians: “Is Christ relevant to the situation in which the Christian must live?”3 Is He?
How do Christians live in a society which is experiencing the decline of Western thought and culture, as Francis Schaeffer noted. The title of his book on cultural analysis, How Should We Then Live, was taken from the prophet Ezekiel, who wrote: “Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?” (Ezek. 33:10, KJV).
In 1939, British poet and social critic T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) admitted that “the problem of leading a Christian life in a non-Christian society is now very present to us.”4 It is important that we not postpone or conceal the issues – as difficult and complex as they may be – from our own minds and hearts, but acknowledge that God has spoken and is the sovereign Lord over ideas, people, and cultures.
The following lectures were given to an American audience in Atlanta, Georgia in the fall of 2015. However, the ideas, biblical principles, and insights are worthy of consideration in any national or social context. At a minimum, it is hoped that these notes may offer some help in answering Chuck Colson’s timely question, “How now shall we live?” We all have a race to run, and the conditions in a broken, fallen world are never completely favorable. We must ask ourselves if we are willing to pursue some of the biggest and complex questions that face us and the coming generations.
1 Cited in Os Guinness, Time for Truth (Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 2000), p. 10.
2 Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1999), p. 477.
3 H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1951), back cover.
4 T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture (London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1939), p. 17.
Click on the chapters below to download.
Christianity & Culture, Part 1: What is Culture?
Christianity & Culture, Part 2: The Cultural Mandate
Christianity & Culture, Part 3: Christ Against Culture
Christianity & Culture, Part 4: The Culture, Withdraw or Engage?
Christianity & Culture, Part 5: The Identification of Christ With Culture
Christianity & Culture, Part 6: Review of the First Five Lectures
Christianity & Culture, Part 7: Christ Above Culture, The Synthesist
Christianity & Culture, Part 8: Q&A
Christianity & Culture, Part 9: Culture and Biblical Theology
Christianity & Culture, Part 10: A Summary & Critique of Niebuhr’s Five Patterns
Christianity & Culture, Part 11: A Summary & Critique of Niebuhr’s Five Patterns, Conclusion
Christianity & Culture, Part 12: Render Unto Caesar
Christianity & Culture, Part 13: Learning to Live Under Authority
Christianity & Culture, Part 14: The Role of Government
Christianity & Culture, Part 15: The Role of Government and Civil Disobedience
Christianity & Culture, Part 16: Concluding Thoughts and Bibliography
Christianity & Culture: Concluding Thoughts and Selected Bibliography
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