Democracy For The Few By Michael Parenti And Christ And Culture Revisited By Donald Carson

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Democracy for the Few by Michael Parenti and Christ and Culture Revisited by Donald Carson

Democracy for the Few by Michael Parenti and Christ and Culture Revisited by Donald Carson

In the book, Christ and Culture Revisited, Carson has identified religious truths about Biblical Theology. Carson deafly navigates the nearly overflowing river of spilled-ink dedicated to the topic of cultural engagement. Rather than arguing for a particular vision of the Christ-and-culture relationship, Carson instead offers an fair-minded text focused on (1) clarifying terms, (2) establishing boundaries, (3) evaluating diverse approaches and (4) probing a number of related questions. Alive with clarity and sanity, Christ and Culture Revisited should be required reading for anyone interested in this topic.

Chapter one - “How to Think about Culture: Reminding Ourselves of Niebuhr” - opens with the simple question, “What is culture?” After setting aside the outdated “high culture”/“low culture” distinctions, Carson settles upon the definition offered by Clifford Geertz (a definition he returns to throughout the book):

[T]he culture concept…denotes an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic form by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life (2).[2]

Having established a footing to stand upon, Carson then moves into a summary Niebuhr's now codified five-fold typology: (1) Christ against Culture, (2) the Christ of Culture, (3) Christ above Culture, (4) Christ and Culture in Paradox, and (5) Christ the Transformer of Culture. Carson's treatment of Niebuhr is concise and well-documented such that even those who are unacquainted with Niebuhr will find his summary easy to follow. At the heart of his work, “Niebuhr,” remarks Carson,

…is not so much talking about the relationship between Christ and culture, as between two sources of authority as they compete within culture, namely Christ (however he is understood within the various paradigms of mainstream Christendom) and every other source of authority divested of Christ (though Niebuhr is thinking primarily of secular or civil authority rather than the authority claimed by competing religions) (12).

In the first half of chapter two - “Niebuhr Revisited: The Impact of Biblical Theology” - Carson begins his critique of Niebuhr's typology and method by focusing primarily on the “comprehensiveness” Niebuhr's approach and his use (or misuse) of Scripture. Regarding the former, while one may “reflect, with gratitude,” upon the breath of Niebuhr's net, “it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Niebuhr's comprehensiveness is also a deadly weakness” (32). It is this comprehensiveness that allows for liberal and Gnostic forms of Christianity to “constitute the major proponents of the second of his five patterns, namely, 'the Christ of culture'” (36). Such movements are not themselves “usefully thought of as Christian” and thus call into question the usefulness of Niebuhr's second category. In reference to his use of Scripture, Niebuhr's fundamental error lies in his understanding of the canon's function. Carson explains Niebuhr's view, a view that is still quite common in some academic circles, is that the Bible in general, and the ...
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