Cafe Piece on Christ and Culture

I have a new piece up at the Cafe. I’ll be interested to see what kind of response it receives… Long-time readers here know my positions:

  • I don’t believe in an infallible church (where YF and I part ways) and thus the Church is responsible for remaining attentive to the Spirit and how the Gospel is working its way both in the church and in the culture (to the degree that these can be separated which is never completely as human institutions inevitably partake of the cultures in which they are embedded…)
  • I’m a firm believer in the ordination of women. I believe that, based on what I see in Scripture and what the tradition has taught on the nature of the Spirit, neither the presence or absence of a penis has anything to do with how the Holy Spirit is able to work through an individual for the up-building of the greater community.
  • I strongly believe that Christian morality is rooted in a virtue-based character ethic. That’s what I see in the New Testament—I see all of Paul’s arguments pointing that way and this is, in particular, his understanding of the now-abrogated Mosaic Law. This is also how significant strands of historic Christian thought—especially the western monastic ones—understood these texts. On the basis of that, I believe that clergy have a responsibility to model chastity to their communities in their household/family relationships. And that goes for M and myself as much as it does for anyone else. Gay and straight Christians all have a responsibility to demonstrate faithful love; of course it’s not easy—but it still has to be done.
  • In some ways our current American culture is moving in these directions as well—promoting equality for women and a wider acceptance of non-heterosexual relationships; there are things that the church has to and needs to learn from the culture about the nature of the Gospel. But it is just as certain that there are movements in the culture that directly contradict the Gospel and that, particularly in the realm of human sexuality, go against a Gospel-rooted virtue-based character ethic. The church doesn’t need to learn or teach these. Just because the church and culture agree on points doesn’t mean we agree in all points or—and this is key—agree for the same reason.
  • It frustrates me when I see public figures in the church not sufficiently distinguishing cultural movement from Gospel movement. There’s no doubt that our leadership is liberal and it moves along with the more liberal elements of the culture. But we must not elide the Gospel with the culture especially where there is insufficient overlap.
  • On the contrary side, it frustrates me when I hear conservatives talking about Gospel values and biblical models and the paradigms that they espouse are right out of white-bread 1950’s Americana. Yes, it’s what you may have been raised in but that doesn’t mean it fulfills the Gospel more purely than the current state of things.

6 Replies to “Cafe Piece on Christ and Culture”

  1. I would argue that Niebuhr’s five positions are all at times a responsible and necessary Christian response depending on context. They have tended to be treated as exclusive or even antithetical to one another.

  2. And depending on social location, speaking from experience, one might find oneself utilizing more than one position at a time, recognizing both the Word at work in our social worlds and in the life of our Churches AND bringing them up short at the same time. The biggest danger, in my opinion, is not our permissiveness, dangerous though it may be, but the Churches getting on our high horse in such a way that we fail to recognize that God in Christ judges also Churchly cultures, and not just the mix or pieces we bring in from the rest of our lives. All sorts of ugly things happen in Churchy self-righteousness. What is it Luther says on his lectures on Genesis: “Sin wants to be righteousness”?

  3. Quite right, Christopher. Churchly cultures *especially* need to true themselves against the Gospel as a regular practice in order to maintain health and proper orientation.

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