By Scott Fowler
Last year I read H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic text, Christ and Culture. For years I had been meaning to read it but, truthfully, it is not the easiest read. But last year, it came alive! Not so much because of Niebuhr’s insights1 but because it so eloquently raises the question: What is to be done about the problem of Christ and culture?2 The question is profoundly important and constantly addressed—either consciously or subconsciously—by Christians and non-Christians alike; by religious and non-religious persons alike; by pop stars and prominent atheists, by actors and professors, by scientists and, of course, preachers of every ilk. My concern for the believing Church and an American culture increasingly hostile towards it,3 prompts my entry into this fray.
And so, for some time now, my question has been, Who do we look to for solutions to the complexities that arise where Christ and culture intersect? It is not hard to anticipate some of the potential answers to that question. For example, someone might suggest that we look to the Holy Spirit for our answers—sort of the “you do not need anyone to teach you” approach from 1 John 2:27. A respectable answer as long as that text is balanced with other texts. For example, in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11, we see that God has appointed and gifted some to be teachers. So, as we balance these texts with one another we can clearly see that we have an anointing from the Holy Spirit that enables us to discern between falsehood and truth and even to discern the content that would come from teachers. But we don’t observe a prescribed ethos of individualism that sees all Christians simply listening to their own voices.
Another response to the above question of Who do we look to? Might be, We look to our pastors! And so we do. But not every is pastor equipped and gifted at surveying the spiritual/cultural landscape and helping the Church and the culture at large to know what it should do, though we should expect to find that some are. But what happens when insightful pastors are not widely known or are simply not as good at communicating their insights as those are who tend toward heresy? Similarly, we might also expect that the professors in our Christian universities and seminaries would help in this area, and of course many have, but not all of them. In fact, some of the most egregious attacks against the believing Church are coming from inside evangelicalism.4
Wanted: Men of Issachar
In 1 Chronicles 12:32 we learn about the men of Issachar “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” Who are the modern “men of Issachar”? Chuck Colson, who died last year, was one of those men. He cultivated an awareness of the relevant issues where Christ intersects with culture, did his due diligence at researching and thinking through the issues from all sides, and fostered meaningful dialogue within and between the Church and the culture in an effort to help them know what they should do. Surely there are many men and women whom God can use in this perilous hour to fill this need for modern men and women of Issachar?!
Sadly, there are many inside the Church who are leading the believing Church astray. Men and women whom we have otherwise trusted are calling for the end of Scripture as the Church’s final authority and the end of an orthodox view of the atonement, calling it a “bloody sacrifice” that “no longer plays.”5 They are leading an assault on the Church’s understanding of Genesis 1-3, even removing our confidence in Adam and Eve and humanity as God’s special creation, bringing into question what we believe about original sin, the fall, and the need for the sacrificial death of Jesus.6 Some are saying that the Church might as well accept same-sex marriage and homosexuality as normal and open its arms to gay Christianity, saying the Church will simply “get over it.”7
The Christ and Culture Initiative is an effort to call together qualified men and women “of Issachar,” either through electronic means such as this blog or in actual convocation, who have been gifted and anointed by God to think through the complex issues that arise where Christ and culture intersect, to dialogue with one another and even with opposing voices through interviews and print concerning these issues, and to thoughtfully, lovingly, yet truthfully and firmly, inspire and challenge the Church and the culture through response.
1 I don’t agree with all of his conclusions but he does offer some important insights; I think the text is frequently misunderstood by modern readers.
2 Niebuhr calls this the enduring problem.
3 I actually mean two things here. I am concerned that the American culture is growing in its hostility toward the believing Church, but I am also concerned for American culture.
4 The believing Church must now of necessity begin to see itself as post-evangelical due to the marring of its true meaning by those who are peddling heresy from inside the Church and due to a media that either cannot or will not make the distinction between what used to be genuine evangelicalism and what now is not.
5 See Bart Gingerich’s coverage of the National Conversation on Emergence Christianity, in Emergence Christianity Comes to Memphis, http://juicyecumenism.com/2013/01/18/emergence-christianity-comes-to-memphis/ quoting Phyllis tickle. When I wrote Ms. Tickle, asking for transcripts, recordings, or video of the event, she replied: “There was no video taken . . . there was an audio which was taken for archival purposes only and will not be released. These decisions were made, I believe, in the interest of being sure that all who wished to speak or make comments or explore issues within the conversation could do so without concern for any post-conference continuations out of context.” See also Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence, pages 98-101.
6 See the many articles found on the biologos.org website. See also Gingerich’s article.
7 Watch a 2009 Andrew Marin interview with Phyllis Tickle where Tickle says, “The truth of it is we’re going to get over this.” Andrew Marin, by the way, is the founder of The Marin Foundation, a not-for-profit organization whose purpose is to build bridges between the LGBT community and, among other groups, the Church. Google the “I’m sorry campaign.”
Scott Fowler is the founder of the Christ and Culture Initiative. He is a pastor/theologian living in New York. You can learn more about him at: http://scottythinks.wordpress.com/about/