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The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston

The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston is senior pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York, NY.

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Presbyterian Church (USA)

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Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, NY


Dr. Scott Black Johnston: Christ and Culture

February 16, 2011

In 1951, H. Richard Niebuhr gave a series of lectures at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary entitled Christ and Culture. The younger brother of Reinhold Niebuhr, H. Richard used these lectures to examine the different answers that people of faith have given to one persistent question:

"How am I, as a Christian, to interact with (and respond to) the culture of the world around me?"

Niebuhr proposed five different ways in which Christians respond to the wider culture:

  • Christ Against Culture The Christian stands over against the wider culture. The Christian life is an alternative to life as a pagan.
  • Christ of Culture. The Christian works to make Christ relevant to the surrounding culture, trying to introduce the Gospel in ways that the surrounding culture can appreciate.
  • Christ above Culture. The Christian cannot escape being a part of the wider culture, nor can the Church; yet the Church points to the One who stands in judgment of culture.
  • Christ and Culture in Paradox. Christians are in the world, but not of it. We live and work in the midst of culture, but are also citizens of another kingdom with another set of rules.
  • Christ Transforming Culture. We are engaged in reforming culture. Christians are trying to convert the values of the wider culture into God's values.

In recent years, Niebuhr's lectures have been getting renewed attention. Primarily, because there is a cultural shift underway in the United States. With a clear reduction in the number young people attending church (every denomination from the Southern Baptists to the PCUSA has been losing members), people have again been asking, "Are we approaching the surrounding culture in the most faithful way?"

I am working on a lecture about the relationship between God and the culture in which we swim, and I am curious...  Where do you come down in this debate? Does your faith call you to "stand against" or "engage more deeply" the wider culture?

[Taken with permission from Dr. Scott Black's Johnston's blog, Sharp About Your Prayers. Originally posted 2/11/2011]


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