New Resource Page: Christ And Culture

Apart from getting the gospel right and getting the gospel out, there is perhaps no problem more pressing upon the church than that of how to relate Christ to culture. H. Richard Niebuhr identified three approaches: Christ against culture (e.g., Tertullian), Christ of culture (e.g., Gnostics), and Christ above culture (e.g., Justin Martyr). This taxonomy has been justly criticized as simplistic and I find his historical analysis lacking but it gives us a starting point. To it we might add Christ transforming culture (e.g., Abraham Kuyper). We should also add Christ distinct from culture, since the underlying question is really that of how to relate nature and grace: 1) Grace perfects nature per se (e.g., Thomas); 2) Grace obliterates nature (e.g., The Anabaptists); 3) Grace renews human nature in salvation. I argue that culture is a correlate to nature, which is an expression of creation. Niebuhr’s taxonomy fails because it misses e.g., what Tertullian and Justin were doing. It misses alternatives, e.g., the Epistle to Diognetus (c. AD 150), which was contemporaneous to Justin and shares some characteristics of Tertullian’s critique of paganism but did not adopt his rigorism. The older Reformed consensus was right in principle. Under the influence of transformationalism, we have lost the older distinction between nature and grace, that these are two distinct spheres in God’s providence. Nature does not need to be transformed (Kuyperianism) or obliterated (Anabaptists and most American evangelicals). Creation is good and therefore it does not need to be perfected (contra Thomas) but, contra the Protestant Liberals, it is broken. Christ may not be identified with culture. The Anabaptists and the transformationalists want grace either to transform or wipe out nature now. It will be transformed (not obliterated) in the eschaton, but we are not there yet. Below is a collection of essays, quotations, and audio resources to help you think through the question of how to relate grace to nature and Christ to culture.

Resources On Christ And Culture


Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. The ground (nature?) is cursed because of Adam’s disobedience. No amount of human effort, apart from the work of the second Adam, will change that. Unless a seed fall into the ground, and die, etc…

  2. I admit I have not mined your resources concerning my question, so if you can please point me to something that acts as an apology as to why we need concern ourselves with culture at all (in the current parlance)? I am interested in a Biblical starting point for this. I reject the theonomist/post-mil folks pushing to turn the world into Christ’s literal kingdom, and Judaism’s Tikkun Olam. These views seem to be based on defective uses of Scripture. I really don’t see much in Scripture on this topic other than Christ’s simple behavioral commands, Paul’s admonitions, and Peter’s encouraging warnings. I am more and more persuaded that as we enter into a time of testing and persecution (in regions not normally known for persecution), that our chief aims are: to preach the gospel, live the gospel (helping the poor, aged, widows and other believers), and personal holiness. The ‘culture’ card (including missional, cultural sensitivity, cultural accommodation, etc.) historically always seems to lead to fake utopian-ism or godless liberalism. Do you a have a summary of the Biblical basis for, and framework of, how believers should view culture?
    Thanks for all you do,

    • Randy,

      Everyone lives somewhere, in some culture. Everyone has a view of Christ and culture. The only real question is which one? You’ve advocated here a view. If we do not think about Christ and culture, we will adopt one unreflectively and it may not be to the benefit of our theology, piety, and practice.

  3. Dr. Clark,

    It seems to me that the question of the relationship of Christ to culture is analogous to the question of the relationship of Christ to the family. To adapt your thoughts above, grace doesn’t destroy families but restores them. We (Reformed) expect that the gospel will make a difference in our families and therefore we present our children for baptism, and parents vow to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. While the family is a common grace institution, and thus is a good thing even apart from grace, we do expect families to be “transformed” in some respects by the gospel. That transformation is not in terms of structure (nature), but in terms of direction (to put it in Neo-Calvinist terms). It is simply the difference between an unbelieving and a believing family. Thus, it seems to me that the thesis that “Christ is distinct from culture” needs to be modified in some respects to account for the above. Thoughts?

    • David,

      You omitted a key term, “in redemption.” I agree with Althusius, that the family is the most basic unit of society and that all other institutions are, relative to civil authority, delegated. Yet the question is more complex since the family is a unit in both the secular (society) and the sacred (e.g., the church). Yet, our Lord commanded us to leave family behind for the sake of the Kingdom of God, which implies a hierarchy. The sacred/grace, trumps nature/creation (family).

      So, I don’t know about grace “restoring” families. Sometimes it does, when the Spirit regenerates a family but sometimes the Spirit only regenerates one member and the family is broken, divided spiritually. So, no, I don’t that we may expect programmatically the transformation of families.

      Yet, there are covenant promises and God does operate in and through families as a covenantal unit. That is a vital part of our covenant theology: I will be a God to you and to your children. I do see evidence of God’s covenant faithfulness to families in Scripture and in history.

      So, it’s a difficult question but the essential thing here is not to drop the key qualifier: in salvation.

Comments are closed.