John Stackhouse, one in a growing group of blogging professors, has a new book that I want to read carefully and slowly because it challenges one of my fundamental orientations: an Anabaptist perception of the relationship of the disciple and the world or the church and culture. Christian realism, Stackhouse’s view, forms a middle ground somewhere between an Anabaptist view and a Constantinian view, in which the church takes on statist forms. Stackhouse’s book is called Making the Best of It and we will be blogging through it for awhile.
Let me give the big picture and then sketch his opening chp. There are three parts to the book: first, he sketches the classic typology of H. Richard Niebuhr (Christ and Culture), a book that has been read for years by all Wheaton students (is it still?), then he sketches the vision of three thinkers — C.S. Lewis, H. Richard Niebuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer — and then he sketches his own view: Christian Realism.
Stackhouse’s book is worth reading not only in North America, but also in South Africa and Europe and the Middle East and the Far East and South America. (Yes, even in the Land of Oz.)
So much, then, for the big picture of the book. Now to the classic typology of H. Richard Niebuhr, and I commend a reading of this book still even if today many have tweaked it, critiqued it, and trashed it. Still, he gives some big ideas.
1. Christ against culture: the classic Anabaptist view. Christ is opposed to the cultural expressions of this world and calls his followers to another way.
[I missed this in my late-night writing of this post. I forgot #2 and have since added it as #5. Michael Kruse pointed this out. Sorry.]
2. Christ above culture: culture is providential; Christ arrives to lift that culture. He points to some in Thomas Aquinas.
3. Christ in paradox with culture: we are called to follow Christ and dwell in a non-Christian culture. We are citizens of two worlds. Niebuhr nuances Luther in this view. Another one is Reinhold Niebuhr, H. Richard’s brother.
4. Christ transforming culture: God calls us to redeem the world by a missional life. Calvin, English Puritans, Abraham Kuyper (do I hear Bob Robinson saying “Finally!”?). The work is conversion and cumulative, constructing institutions, and conquering existing institutions.
5. Christ of culture: when Christians begin to see the culture in which they live to be more or less Christian or see a “happy reinforcement” of Christian values by culture.
Ah, so where are you?
Stackhouse shows that this is a “typology” (ideas) and not a “taxonomy” (sketch of actual persons). But, most of us are in one of these most of the time, so that we have a dominant mode of discourse. Furthermore, Stackhouse thinks some are called to live one way and others another way.