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Christ and Culture (Torchbooks) Paperback – December 24, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

Being fully God and fully human, Jesus raised an enduring question for his followers: what exactly was His place in this world? In the classic Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr crafted a magisterial survey of the many ways of answering that question--and the related question of how Christ's followers understand their own place in the world. Niebuhr called the subject of this book "the double wrestle of the church with its Lord and with the cultural society with which it lives in symbiosis." And he described various understandings of Christ "against," "of," and "above" culture, as well as Christ "transforming" culture, and Christ in "paradoxical" relation to it. This 50th anniversary edition of Christ and Culture, with a foreword by theologian Martin E. Marty, is not easy reading. But it remains among the most gripping articulations of what is arguably the most basic ethical question of the Christian faith: how is Christ relevant to the world in which we live now? --Michael Joseph Gross


" all au courant with modern theological thought will certainly wish to become familiar with [this book]." -- Time And Tide

"A superb piece of analytical writing in tackling what is just about the toughest problem face by Christians..." -- Paul Hutchinson in The New York Times Book Review

"This is without any doubt the one outstanding book in the field of basic Christian social ethics." -- Paul Ramsey in the Journal Of Religion

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Product Details

  • Series: Torchbooks
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper & Row; 1 Reprint edition (October 5, 1975)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061300039
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061300035
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on March 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
What do I mean by dated . . . but . . . foundational?
Christ and Culture has been around for over half a century now. When first penned it attempted to describe all the various ways in which Christians interact with culture, and make sense of it. The book was profound, for its time period. However, a lot of theology has been written since 1951 and culture has changed even more. At first glance the reader might find himself or herself toying with several ideas that are more recent than Niebur's.
This book made such a splash that some Christian colleges adopted similar classes. This was the prevailing text. Therefore, most of the ideas on this subject that churn in the modern Christian reader's mind were formed in reaction to this book, even if the reader is unaware of it. Therefore, if the reader of today can grasp the concepts of this work, that reader will have a deeper understanding of his or her own beliefs.
This book is dated, but not outdated. Read it and compare it with newer works for a broader grasp of the subject. By the way, this is one of the most important subjects that today's Christian can wrestle with. Too many of our Christians react to culture with limited understanding of what they are doing or why they are doing it. We Protestants, of which I am one, are horribly weak in our understanding of what it means to be the Church of Jesus Christ in a fallen world.
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56 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Elderbear VINE VOICE on March 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
H. Richard Niebuhr writes as a Christian, but this work has meaning beyond the scope of the Christian faith. Here, he analyzes how the sacred can relate to the profane, the spiritual to the mundane.
After defining "Christ" (Mediator, involving double movement, from God toward man & from men toward God) and "Culture" (the artificial, secondary environment that man imposes on the natural), he dedicates a chapter to each of the five ways he sees the sacred & profane relating.
The first of these, "Christ against Culture," focuses on the opposition of the sacred to the profane. He examines the ekklesia, or "calling out" inherent in the sacred (that which is set apart, beyond the horizon). He critiques this approach by showing how ultimately it leads to an otherworldly Christianity which can have minimal, if any impact on the world.
Opposed to this is "The Christ of Culture." From this viewpoint, the sacred is discovered in culture. That which is most Christlike in culture is celebrated, the spiritual teachings which bring man into community, which find meaning in the "ordinary" take precedence. The danger of this approach, is that belief will merge with society, and the sacred will be, eventually, completely lost.
Adherents to the "Christ above Culture" motif compartmentalize the sacred and the profane. Christ is for church and bed-time prayers, culture is the realm of business. At best, spiritually informed morals guide behavior in culture. By compartmentalizing the sacred as separate from the profane, this approach de-vitalizes the profane and disempowers the sacred.
The "Christ in Paradox with Culture" approach sees man as sinful and grounded in culture.
Read more ›
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By fdoamerica on June 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
Niebuhr's views, historical, cultural and religious, were solidly based in the context and culture of the late 40's and early 50's. He wrote as an ethicist who, in 1950, fully comprehended the cataclysmic failure of the German National Church. Now, over fifty years later, with the republishing of Niebuhr's book, his inquiry into the relationship of the Church and the contemporary culture remain valid, though the world and the church have dramatically changed.
In "Christ & Culture" Niebuhr describes five models of how the sacred & secular can interact. Ultimately he seeks to give insight into the question of "how shall we, as Christians, live?" I will not go into the five types, but of the five types, Niebuhr favors most the "Christ transforming Culture".
Faith, in Christ, Niebuhr believed, needs to go beyond separation, accommodation, adoration or polarization and engage dynamically the culture with the values of life that Christ espoused. Faith in Christ, through presence and social action, will transform the world. Thus, for Niebuhr, if Christ identified with the poor, we should too. If Christ took in the orphans and widows, we should too. If Christ healed the sick, we should too. Jesus is God-with-us, not to rescue us out of "all of this," but to redeem, transform, restore us and all of this. God's work of redemption is not at odds with God's work of creation. We live in the world, we create the world and we, through faith, are involved in bringing God's "kingdom come, here on earth as it is in heaven."
This is a must read for any student of Christianity. This is a serious read and it can be a bit dense and daunting at times, but it is non-the-less a Christian Classic that every pastor and thinking Christian should have in their library. Strongly recommended.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dan Gatti on October 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
Christ and Culture is one of those books that will forever change the way a person of faith understands their relationship to God and those around him. In part, Niebuhr is able to make this book so impactful because he himself avoids most value judgments about the merits of the perspectives he looks at; while he does (persuasively, I would add) advocate the fifth position, his discussion of each of the five categories is fair and even-handed. Indeed, his typology is consistant with his view that there is no single answer to this "enduring dilemma". No matter which of the categories you most feel compelled by, this method of even handed analysis is sure to build your appreciation of other Christian answers to the problem, and it forces you to examine your own view of this critical question.
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