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CM 3303
Christ Of Culture
The Christ of Culture
In every culture to which the Gospel comes
there are those who hail Jesus as the
Messiah of their society, the fulfiller of its
hopes and aspirations, the perfecter of its
true faith the source of its holiest spirit
The Christ of Culture
These men are Christians not only in the
sense that they count themselves believers
in the Lord but also in the sense that they
seek to maintain community
They feel no great tension between church
and world
The Christ of Culture
On the one hand they interpret culture
through Christ, regarding those elements in it
as most important which are most accordant
with his work and person
The Christ of Culture
On the other hand they understand Christ
through [their] culture, selecting from his
teachings and action as well as from the
Christian doctrine about him such points as
seem to agree with what is best in civilization
The Christ of Culture
They harmonize Christ and culture only for
what they regard as real in the actual; in the
case of Christ they try to disentangle the
rational and abiding from the historical and
The Christ of Culture
The great work of Christ may be conceived
as the training of men in their present social
existence for the better life to come
The Christ of Culture
Just as the gulf between the worlds is
bridged, so other differences between Christ
and culture that seem like chasms to radical
Christians and anti-Christians are easily
passed over by these men
Christ of Culture
Sometimes they are ignored, sometimes
filled in with convenient material derived from
historical excavations or demolitions of old
Christ of Culture
Inadequately defined by the use of such
terms as “liberal” and “liberalism,” is more
aptly named Culture-Protestantism
Christ of Culture
There were movements of this sort in the
earliest days of Christianity
Among Jewish Christians doubtless all the
variations appeared that we find among
ancient and modern Gentile Christians as
they wrestle with the Christ-culture problem
Christ of Culture
Radical Christians of a later time have been
inclined to relegate them all to the
undifferentiated limbo of compromise or
apostate Christianity
Christ of Culture
The extreme attitude, which interprets Christ
wholly in cultural terms and tends to
eliminate all sense of tension between him
and social belief or custom, was represented
in the Hellenistic world by the Christian
Christ of Culture
Those holding this position seek to reconcile
the gospel with the science and philosophy
of their time
Christ of Culture
They sought to disentangle the gospel from
its involvement with barbaric and outmoded
Jewish notions about God and history; to
raise Christianity from the level of belief to
that intelligent knowledge, and so to increase
its attractiveness and its power
Christ of Culture
As a religion dealing with the soul Gnosticism
laid no imperious claim on man’s total life.
Jesus Christ was spiritual savior, not the Lord
of life; his Father was not the source of all
things nor their Governor
Christ of Culture
Participation in the life of culture was now a
mater of indifference. A Gnostic had no
reason for refusing to pay homage to Caesar
or to participate in war; though he had no
compelling reason for yielding to the mores
and the laws
Christ of Culture
If the Gnostic was too enlightened to take
seriously the popular and official worship of
idols, he was also too enlightened to make
an issue out of its rejection; and martyrdom
he scorned
Christ of Culture
In the Gnostic version, knowledge of Jesus
Christ was an individual and spiritual matter,
which had its place in the life of culture as the
very pinnacle of human achievement
Christ of Culture
The ethics of Gnosticism was grounded not
upon Christ’s commandment nor upon the
loyalty of the believer to the new community.
It was rather the ethics of individual
aspiration after a destiny highly exalted
above the material and the social world
Christ of Culture
At its center is the tendency to interpret
Christianity as a religion rather than as
church or to interpret church as religious
association rather than as new society
Christ of Culture
There can be no doubt that medieval society
was intensely religious, and that is religion
was Christianity; yet the question whether
Christ was the Lord of this culture
Christ of Culture
In Abelard we may discern the
attempts to answer the question of
Christ and Culture. He seems to
quarrel only with the church’s way of
stating its belief. But in stating faith,
its beliefs about God and Christ and
its demands on conduct, he reduces
it to what conforms with the best in
Christ of Culture
The moral theory of atonement is offered as
an alernative not only to a doctrine that is
difficult for Christians as Christians but to the
whole conception of a once-for-all act of
Christ of Culture
What is offered is a kindly and liberal
guidance for good people who want to do
right and for their spiritual directors. All
conflict between Christ and culture is gone.
The tension that exists between church and
world is really due, in the estimation of
Abelard, to the church’s misunderstandng of
Christ of Culture
The things that Christ stands for are
fundamentally the same – a peaceful,
cooperative society achieved by moral
What is offensive is not Christ but the church
with its teachings and ceremonies
Christ of Culture
This Christ does not call upon men to leave
homes and kindred for his sake; he enters
into their homes and all their associations as
the gracious presence which adds an aura of
infinite meaning to all temporal tasks
Christ of Culture
The Christian can exercise his calling to seek
the kingdom of God if, motivated by love of
neighbor, he carries on his work in the moral
communities of family and economic,
national and political life
Christ of Culture
According to Ritschl,
the Christian idea of the
Kingdom of God
denotes the association
of mankind through the
reciprocal moral action
of its members, action
which transcends all
merely natural and
Christ of Culture
All the references are to man and to man’s
work; the word “God” almost seems to be an
Christ of Culture
Christ is identified with what men conceive to
be their finest ideals, their noblest
institutions, and their best philosophy
Christ of Culture
This group helps men to understand the
gospel in their own language, Christ’s
character by means of their own imagery,
and his revelation of God with the aid of their
own philosophy
Christ of Culture
The cultural Christians tend to address
themselves to the leading groups in a
society; they use the language of the
sophisticated crowd, they speak to the
They take great pains to show that they do
not belong to the vulgar herd of the
unenlightened followers of the Master
Theological Objections
Cultural Christianity is not more effective in
gaining disciples for Christ than Christian
In so far as part of its purpose is always that
of recommending the gospel to an
unbelieving society, it often fails to achieve its
end because it does not go far enough
Theological Objections
It seems impossible to
remove the offense of
Christ and his cross
even by means of these
accommodations; and
cultural Christians
share in the general
limitation all Christianity
encounters whether it
fights or allies itself with
the world
Theological Objections
If the evangelists of the Christ of culture do
not go far enough to meet the demands of
men whose loyalty is primarily to the values
of civilization, they go too far in the judgment
of their fellow believers of other schools
Theological Objections
Christ of Culture advocates find it strangely
desirable to write apocryphal gospels and
new lives of Jesus. They take some
fragment of the complex New Testament
story and interpretation, call this the essential
characteristic of Jesus, elaborate upon it,
and thus reconstruct their own mythical
figure of the Lord
Theological Problems
Loyalty to contemporary culture qualifies
loyalty to Christ
The Trinitarian unity is shattered in the Christ
of Culture perspective due the divorcing of
the loving Jesus and the Holy Father