originally written for the course TH711 Christianity and Culture, April 6, 2011, Ambrose University
When we engage the relationship between Christianity and Culture there is an inevitable tension. While some would choose to forgo the unease and side with either Christ or culture even Niebuhr’s analysis, while acknowledging the possibility, would seem to push us towards a more nuanced understanding of the pair. Indeed this tension would seem to be a necessary part any time two ideas exist in relationship with each other. The question then becomes, “how do we hold this tension responsibly”.
Culture is not simply a fact of our present moment but of human history. It is neither monolithic, existing unphased throughout history, nor is it liminal, existing only in our current transitional moment. Culture includes any language, habits, ideas, beliefs, customs, organizations, artifacts (inherited or otherwise), technological developments and values that participate in the life of a people group. I would collectively define this collection of expressions as the evolved ability to represent and classify experiences with symbols and to act on those experiences creatively and imaginatively in the communal life of people groups. Therefore, culture, I would argue, is simply a representative term for the collection of independent frameworks on reality.
Christianity, in a similar fashion is far from monolithic. In fact, Christianity’s demonstrated an ability to transcend cultural stagnation and the broad translatability of the Christian faith would seem to suggest that the gospel itself is either a collection of loosely connected collection of cultural narratives or there is somehow a supra-culture core to the Christian story that has been able to leap from one cultural context into another. This muddies the waters of inquiry significantly because we are now required to ask not simply how does Christ interact with culture but how does Christ interact with each particular culture.