Christianity and Cultures: Transforming Niebuhr’s Categories

by George Marsden

George Marsden is the Francis A. McAndrey Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.

This article is the text of Professor Marsden’s first Currie Lecture, delivered February 2, l999, at the Austin Theological Seminary, Austin, Tx. Marsden’s address commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture lectures, given at Austin Seminary January 31-February 4, l949. The address appeared in Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary, Fall, l999. This text was prepared for Religion Online by John C. Purdy.


The author looks at Niebuhr’s typology of various possible relations between Christianity and the culture and shows their relevance for our present time.

Exactly fifty years ago, in 1949, H. Richard Niebuhr delivered the lectures at Austin Seminary that became the book, Christ and Culture. 1 have long been an admirer of Niebuhr and, even though our theologies are rather different, throughout my career I have been influenced by his work, especially by Christ and Culture. I have often used his typology as a tool in teaching. Also, throughout my adult life, the question it poses—of how Christians should relate to their surrounding culture—has been a central one to me, both intellectually and spiritually.

Despite its enormous influence in the past fifty years, I think Niebuhr's analysis in its present form could be near the end of its usefulness. Although Christ and Culture still is very widely used as a teaching tool, much of the scholarly attention it attracts is along the line of saying that its categories are wrong or misleading. Often they are said to be hopelessly wrong and misleading. My good friends from Duke, Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, argue that "few books have been a greater hindrance to an accurate assessment of our situation than Christ and Cu/ture."1 As a historian I can also appreciate the force of other historians' critiques that see Niebuhr's categories as simply not helpful. I deal every day with the particulars of how Christians have negotiated their relationships to culture and can see countless illustrations of the problems inherent in describing these in any neat theological categories.

Moreover, as a historian I am acutely aware of the degree to which Christ and Culture is a product of its time. The theological and cultural questions that Niebuhr took for granted in the post-World War II era were vastly different from those today. The 1940s are virtually a lost era to most of us today. We can hardly imagine what it was like to be an adult in that time. Just to mention the most obvious difference that separates us: we live in ,in era in which we take multiculturalism for granted. Niebuhr wrote at a time when "Amos 'n Andy" was a top radio show, racial segregation was still legal. and the principal agenda for himself and his audience was building a unified culture, e pluribus unum. To what extent can categories generated in that context be relevant to ours?

So the question I want to deal with is: Can these categories be saved? In answering that question I do not intend to present an analysis of Niebuhr or his theology. There are many helpful such analyses already and many who could do that better than I. Rather I think it may be more of a tribute to Niebuhr to take some of his most helpful thoughts of a half-century ago and to see if we can translate it so that it may continue to be useful in this very different era. I want to clear the way for that by briefly' looking at some of the principal critiques of Christ and Culture and offering some answers to those critiques

First, however, it will be helpful to provide a brief reviews of what Niehuhr himself says. Here I will not go into any great detail, but simply try to clarify the essential points.

"A many-sided debate about the relations of Christianity and civilization is being carried on in our time." So Niebuhr begins, setting his lectures in the context of a debate that has since been forgotten After the debacle of Nazism. the Holocaust, fascism, the horrors of World War II, the rapidly rising threat of international communism, and the danger of the bomb, American and British cultural leaders were engaged in intense debates over the future of Western civilization. Was there any way of strengthening its moral base so that it could meet the challenges of the technological age? How could the civilization avoid falling back into barbarous tribalism or succumbing to pseudo-scientific Marxist moralism? What is often forgotten is how prominently Christianity figured in these debates. While some cultural leaders (such as John Dewey and Sidney Hook) were saying that the open-minded attitudes of liberal, secular science were the only was to build a civilization free from prejudice and irrational intolerance, many other prominent spokesmen were saying that Christianity and the Judeo-Christian tradition could provide the best basis for a truly tolerant and liberal civilization. 2 For people like Niebuhr, totalitarianism abroad and racism at home provided the most immediate context for thinking about the reforms that a progressive Christianity might bring to civilization. Tolerance was therefore a central issue. While Niebuhr had no illusions about building the Kingdom of God on earth. he favored a unified civilization to which Christian influences could make positive contributions.

In the context of this debate, Niebuhr begins by addressing accusations that Christianity has no positive contribution to make to civilization or culture (he uses the two terms more or less interchangeably). The secular proponents of a healthy tolerant civilization are thus those who really set the terms for Niebuhr's analysis. These cultured despisers of Christianity say, in effect, that civilization is the supreme value and that Christianity is essentially a threat to its health. They say that Christians either become so otherworldly that they are irresponsible citizens or they take over civilization and become intolerant. In effect, these critics say that Christianity should therefore be subordinated to cultural ideals. Progressive cultural ideals should reign supreme and traditional religion is either best abandoned or brought into line with those higher ideals.

Niebuhr responds to this secular culturalist critique by developing his famous typology. The relationships of Christianity to culture, he points out, have always been far more complicated than the critics recognize. True, some Christians have withdrawn from culture and some have been intolerant, but these are not the only Christian cultural attitudes. In fact, we can identify five distinct motifs that describe how Christians typically have related to their cultures. Each of these has biblical precedents and each has been advocated by some of the leading thinkers in the tradition. These categories, he recognizes, are what sociologists call "ideal types." No person or group will conform to them precisely and exemplars of one type will often show traits of others. So he acknowledges that they are "historically inadequate." Nonetheless, he believes, they are helpful for identifying recurrent motifs in Christians' typical stances toward culture.3

Niebuhr's categories have been subjected to numerous critiques and present a number of problems if we are to continue to use them, Without attempting to be exhaustive, let me summarize what I see as the major criticisms that bear on our purpose, which is to see if we can refine and clarify his categories so that they may' be useful to future generations.

1. Niebuhr's abstract category of "Christ" is inadequate and misleading.

One of the most basic critiques of Niebuhr is that his very use of the terms "Christ" and "culture" in defining the problem sets up a theological dualism ,that will be unacceptable to many people today, Niebuhr, following his teacher Ernst Troeltsch, on whom he wrote his dissertation, is working in the Kantian tradition which posits a gulf between the transcendent truths of faith, such as the ideal of "Christ," and the historically conditioned culture, which shapes everything else.4 The problem for modern theologians is how to bridge this gap between faith and history. Hence the whole "Christ and culture" problem depends on a dichotomy that many theologians today may find unacceptable. Niebuhr, for instance, like a lot of his contemporaries, tended to separate the Christ of faith from the Jesus of history.

The practical implication. many people will say, is that Niebuhr's Christ and culture terminology seems to imply that "Christ," or more strictly speaking, Christian attempts to follow Christ, are not themselves culturally conditioned. Niebuhr seems to be working with an idea of a transcendent Christ who stands above culture. One can understand how someone might argue for such a transcendent ideal. For instance, if one believes that Christ is in some sense God incarnate, then there is a sense in which the divine second person of the Trinity stands above history, There is also a sense in which the teachings of Christ might be said to have some trans-cultural character, despite being embedded in very particular cultural forms. Whatever Niebuhr's theological intentions, his examples all suggest that what he is really talking about is various Christians' efforts to follow Christ. These conceptions of what the Christian ought to do, the objector will point out, are themselves very much shaped by culture. So to speak of them as "Christ" and everything else as "culture" is very misleading.

I think this point is well taken and an important reminder not to misconceive what Niebuhr is talking about. However, I expect that he would heartily agree with the point. He had no intention of talking about a culturally disembodied "Christ" as opposed to culture. Rather he is simply adopting a language to juxtapose that which we see as duties shaped by Christian commitment and the dominant culture.

It is curious, I think, that Niebuhr in this book puts his emphasis on the seemingly more abstract "Christ," rather than on the church or Christianity. In earlier writing he had become known for his outspoken declarations that the church must distinguish itself from the world. In a well-known essay published in 1935 in a collection titled The Church Against the World, Niebuhr deplored the captivity of the church to the spirit of capitalism, nationalist idolatry, and anthropocentrism. He even wrote that "no antithesis could be greater than that which obtains between the gospel and the capitalist faith," by which he meant faith in wealth. And far from sounding like a transformationist he deplored that "the church has often behaved as though the saving of civilization and particularly of capitalist civilization were its mission."5

Nonetheless, these earlier remarks may also suggest why he does not usually speak simply of "the church" or "Christianity" in this book. If one talks about "the church" or "Christianity," one is talking about people, entities, or traditions that are obviously so compromised with their cultures that it would be hard even to state the problem. The term "Christ," on the other hand, makes it clear that the problem that he is dealing with is the teachings of Christianity, especially with respect to what various groups have meant by "following Christ," For the same reason, I think, he deals primarily with leading Christian theologians, rather than with denominations or historical movements. He wants to get at the problem of how Christian faith should be related to the dominant surrounding culture and to point out the various types of ways leading thinkers have addressed that problem. Certainly he recognizes that the views of these thinkers were themselves historically conditioned.

Further, though it is true that Niebuhr developed his categories in a particular theological context for his own theological purposes, that does not necessarily mean that we cannot appropriate them for other purposes or adapt them to other theologies. True, if we hold to another theology, we should not be taken in by the specifics of his theological formulations. But, as with anything else that may have origins in an ideology with which we may disagree, once we recognize those origins we are in a position to selectively appropriate tools that may be employed in the framework of' our own outlooks.6

Nevertheless, if we are to continue to use the Christ and culture language, we have to do it with a warning label that using the term "Christ" as opposed to culture can be misleading. The Christ and culture juxtaposition may reinforce the tendency of Christians to forget that their own understanding of Christianity is a cultural product.

The importance of underscoring this warning becomes clearest if we think of the cross-cultural exchanges involved within world Christianity. British Anglicans and African Anglicans, for instance, may differ in many ways that are shaped by their cultures, despite the formal similarities of their creeds. Western Christian missionaries inevitably bring with them the Gospel message, but it is already embedded in Western cultural forms. So missionary work is not simply a matter of bringing Christ to an alien culture, it also always involves a cultural dialogue and an exchange between two cultures. The two cultures learn from each other and the mission is shaped by "Christ" only as part of this cultural exchange. So it is also when Christians encounter non-Christians within one country, such as the United States. One sub-culture encounters other sub-cultures. Properly speaking, we should frame the question as "the culture of Christianity," e.g. urban American Catholicism, "and other cultures." e. g. American urban political culture.

One step in the right direction to remind us of this essential point is to shift the terminology as I do here, from "Christ and culture" to "Christianity and cultures" and to point out that this is shorthand for saying "The culture of Christianity and other cultures." With Niebuhr we still want to say that we are talking about the teachings of Christianity or what it means to follow Christ and that these have some transcendent reference. But we also need to emphasize more clearly that we have these spiritual treasures in earthen vessels.

2. Niebuhr's undifferentiated use of "culture" confuses the issue.

Closely related to these latter points are what have been the most devastating critiques of Niebuhr's actual analysis, those aimed at his use of the term "culture." These critiques, which have been best articulated by the Mennonite theologian, John Howard Yoder, grow out of underlying differences in theological viewpoint. What Yoder recognized is that Niebuhr's use of "culture" is loaded against traditions such as the Mennonite, which Niebuhr classifies in the "Christ against culture" category. The problem is that Niebuhr uses culture almost indiscriminately as equivalent to "anything people do together." So it includes everything from language to warfare. Having defined culture in this monolithic way. Niebuhr then turns around and criticizes "Christ against culture" advocates for not being consistent in their anti-worldly profession. They may reject the pleasures of sex and of wealth, renounce learning and the fine arts, and refuse to participate in civil government or warfare, but they inevitably adopt some other cultural forms, such as language. learning of earlier eras, or agriculture.8

Yoder points out, however, that this is precisely what Christians should be doing. at least by most accounts. His summary is worth quoting at length:

Some elements of culture the church categorically rejects (pornography. tyranny, cultic idolatry). Other dimensions of culture it accepts within clear limits (economic production, commerce, the graphic arts, paying taxes for peacetime civil government). To still other dimensions of culture Christian faith gives a new motivation and coherence (agriculture, family life, literacy. conflict resolution, empowerment). Still others it strips of their claims to possess autonomous truth and value, and uses them as vehicles of communication (philosophy, language. Old Testament ritual, music). Still other forms of culture are created by the Christian churches (hospitals, service of the poor, generalized education).9

Clearly if we are to save Niebuhr's analysis from this critique, we must adopt more discriminating and specific meanings when we use the term "culture." It seems to me, however, that this can be done. In fact, Yoder illustrates some very good ways do it. The real question is whether one wants to use this flaw in Niebuhr's own account . in order to dismiss Niebuhr's analysis or whether one might want to correct the flaw as to better usc Niebuhr's analysis.

Most of' the time Niebuhr was not thinking about things like language, agriculture, or hospitals. and his examples have to do with just two general areas of culture toward which Christians have characteristic stances. The first is toward higher learning, secular reason, ,and the arts. The second is toward the dominant cultural structures represented by government, business, and the common ideologies and values that underlie these. It should be obvious, however, that when we describe various Christian :groups as having characteristic attitudes on these matters, we are not saying that they have monolithic attitudes toward them. Almost all Christian groups accept some higher learning ,and employ some of the arts, even if they characteristically reject most of their culture's versions of these. Furthermore. ,attitudes toward government or business or the cultural ideologies on which they are based will vary greatly depending on the particular culture we .are talking about. Christians of a particular theological heritage may find themselves to have very different attitudes toward a seemingly benign liberal democracy than they will have to a tyrannical Marxist police state.

Closely related to these observations is what might be called "the multicultural objection to the entire Niebuhr project. Niebuhr wrote in the "consensus" era of American history. His principal concern was with building a healthy and unified mainstream culture to which socially progressive Christianity might make a contribution.10 Today o there is much more awareness that "culture" means different things to different people: Often people define themselves against the mainstream culture by defining themselves in terms of a sub-culture. particularly an ethnically based sub-culture. That was true in Niebuhr's day as well, He had even grown up in a German ethnic commune. Nonetheless, he pays little attention to how one's sub-cultural identity may cut across one's attitudes towards "culture" generally. Similarly he says little of' how social class may be a factor in determining cultural attitudes, though that also is a factor he was well of' and had even written about in The Social Sources of Denominationalism.

Once again, the proper response to the various objections that Niebuhr uses term "culture" too monolithically is therefore not to throw out his categories but rather to start using the term "culture" in more specific and discriminating ways. We always need to ask what general culture or sub-culture we are talking about and further what specific aspect of that culture is our matter of concern.

3.The categories are not historically adequate.

This brings us to a further potentially decisive difficulty, that the categories are simply not historically adequate. A few years ago two conferences were held at Vanderbilt University to discuss the legacy of the usefulness of the categories for actual historical analysis. The results were fairly negative. While the historians expressed respect for Niebuhr and for his influence, a number argued strongly that his categories would not work for real history.

The root of such complaints is that Niebuhr's categories are a theologian's ideal types. derived from logic more than they are from history. History is simply a lot more messy than that. If we look at particular groups who are supposed to be representatives of one of the types, we find that there are many ways they do not fit the type at all. That is why Mennonites, such as Yoder, have been up in arms about being classified as "Christ against culture," when they actually fit that category in only a few respects. (Neither did it help that Niebuhr apparently confused the Mennonites with the Amish). Charles Scriven in The Transformation of Culture: Christian Social Ethics After H. Richard Niebuhr, argues that the Anabaptist position provides the most adequate means to transform culture. Or one can find Lutherans who are transformationists and Calvinists who withdraw from culture.

My response to this complaint is to say, if the categories are too abstract and seemingly inflexible as Niebuhr presents them, Why not translate them into terms that are historically more adequate? Then historians, theologians, other scholars, amid ordinary people would still have very useful analytical tools for thinking about certain fundamental issues.

The way to fix up the categories is to get away entirely from the idea that the cultural attitudes of each spokesperson or group can be fit neatly into one of the categories. Niebuhr himself recognized that the types were "historically inadequate" and that actual historical figures or groups sometimes displayed all of the traits, But since lie was developing a new typology, he played down the complexities and emphasized the typologys' heuristic or explanatory powers. He also lapsed from his own cautions at one notorious point by criticizing the "Christ against culture" representatives for not being consistent in their position. That was an unfortunate inconsistency on his part. as he does not criticize any other group on that ground. and often notes that a group might be classified under more than one motif.

Nonetheless, by usually speaking as though his ideal types characterize real historical figures, he leaves the impression that each Christian or group can be adequately typed by one or the other of the cultural attitudes. To correct this misleading impression. what we need to emphasize is that the categories are simply, as Niebuhr himself acknowledges. leading motifs. A motif should be seen as a dominant theme with respect to some specific cultural activities. It suggests a musical analogy. A dominant motif may be subordinated in one part of a symphony while another takes over. Identifying a dominant motif in a particular Christian group toward some specific cultural activity should not lead to the expectation that this group will not adopt other motif toward other cultural activities.

This brings us to the crucial point that the categories work if we emphasize that they are not mutually exclusive. Virtually every Christian and every Christian group expresses in one way or another all five of the motifs. With respect to one cultural activity, they may typically express one motif, with respect to another they may characteristically adopt quite a different stance. Even with respect to a particular category of cultural activities, as regarding learning, the state, the arts, contemporary values, popular culture, business, leisure, and so forth. Christians are likely to manifest something of all five of the attitudes.12

One might ask then, why bother? If we all express at one time or another all of the attitudes and our attitudes are so complex, do not the categories simply leave us with a muddle? Perhaps so. But the very point is that we will be even more in a muddle without some such categories with which to talk about these complexities. The reason for the muddle is that history—like individual life—is extraordinarily complex and filled with complications and ambiguities. Such analytical categories help us to begin to sort out these complexities. They provide a workable way to think about our attitudes toward these questions amid to help evaluate what our attitudes should be. Furthermore, even though we can now see that everyone is likely to adopt all five of the attitudes. still, with respect to particular cultural questions, we can usually identify one attitude as dominant. So we really do have a clarifying set of classifications. Moreover, these classifications, or some combination of them, might be helpful in establishing rules of thumb for thinking about how we should characteristically relate to some particular types of cultural activities.

Let me give an example of' how this more complex analysis might work with respect to one historical case with which I am most familiar, the history of fundamentalism and post-fundamentalist evangelicalism in twentieth-century America. Writing from the vantage point of Yale Divinity School in the late 1940s Niebuhr had little interest in this tradition and little notion of its potential for continuing vitality. He delivered his lectures just a few months before Billy Graham hit the big time in Los Angeles. Niebuhr talked about this movement, as was then common, as simply "Fundamentalism," and it was clearly an outlook for which he had little time. Accordingly. he relegates fundamentalism to,. of all places. the "Christ of' culture" category. This in spite of the fact that he must have known well that fundamentalists defined themselves primarily as militant opponents to many cultural trends. Niebuhr. however. saw them as simply leftovers from the past, opposing twentieth-century cultural trends only because they were so deeply committed to nineteenth-century outlooks and mores. They accepted a pre-Darwinist cosmology; and insisted on prohibition of various vices, thus reflecting the mores of nineteenth-century revivalism more than the New Testament.13

It is certainly true that there is some justice in this critique. One of my interests in the study of fundamentalism and American culture was to understand the degree to which this religious tradition, which claimed to be based purely on New Testament Christianity, was actually shaped by American cultural traditions. Fundamentalists, like many other Christians. have often confused Christianity with certain dimensions of their culture. The clearest examples of' such a "Christ of' culture" attitude is that they have sometimes lapsed into nationalism that has virtually merged American patriotism with the cause of Christ. They sometimes speak as though America is the new Israel.

Nevertheless, one can find all the other motifs within fundamentalism as well. They are militantly against some dimensions of the culture and often speak of America not as Israel, but as Babylon. At other times they adopt a "Christ above culture" attitude, for instance, in adopting the prevalent American attitude that "business is business," while adding to it higher spiritual practices. At still other times or toward other issues, they often have taken a "Christ and culture in paradox" view, perhaps best expressed in the pietist motto. "In the world but not of the world." Yet while they have sometimes been political quietists. they have at other times, as in the recent rise of the Christian Right. been ardent transformers of culture.

What can be said for fundamentalists can be said for virtually any Christian tradition. We can understand far better how its proponents deal with particular issues by sorting them out with these categories. For instance, even American Protestant liberals whose theology may seem as bland as a Hallmark card, can be shown to stand firmly against the culture on certain issues. Let them be confronted by overt racism, sexism. or sexual exploitation and they will be up in arms thundering anathemas and warning their constituents to stay away from certain cultural practices.

These observations also bear on the inevitable objections of today's politically correct that Niebuhr's categories are useless because he himself does not deal with issues such as gender or race, or that he deals with the thought of elites instead of what the .ordinary people thought or did. The fact of the matter is that once we get away from Niebuhr himself and try to use the categories constructively, they are extraordinarily useful for analyzing the attitudes of almost any Christians on almost any cultural issues. To what extent is contemporary Christian feminism shaped by adopting the views of the dominant culture, and to what extent might it represent an attempt to transform or Christianize those views? How have they negotiated the relationship between Scripture, Christian tradition, and their feminist views? Why do many women resist feminism? Or to what extent has Christian African American political thought in the past half-century been shaped by a desire simply to be full-fledged participants in American culture and to what extent has it been shaped by a separatist impulse? One could do a lot worse than to employ Niebuhr's categories for sorting out these issues and clarifying how participants should think about them.

4. We need more categories.

Once we have dealt with the central issue--that almost all Christians exemplify something of all of the types but that on particular issued we can find dominant motifs--it is easier to deal with this last objection, that we need more categories.

Many people who have commented on Niebuhr have suggested that this or that group does not fit any of Niebuhr's categories and that new ones need to be constructed. To suggest just two examples, where does militant liberation theology fit? Or what about the many Christians who see the conversion of souls as the preeminent task and will embrace any cultural means to further that end?

My view is that one can deal with most such anomalies by emphasizing once again that actual historical groups will be characterized by combinations of dominant motifs. So, even though we start with only five unhistorical ideal categories, various combinations of these can help us understand a much larger number of actual historical types.

Further, we have to recognize that dwelling on the Christ and culture question does load our discussion in ways that does not do justice to some groups. Many revivalist Christians, for instance, who see the conversion of souls as their preeminent task are simply not thinking much about their attitudes toward culture, even though they have some very definite attitudes. Niebuhr's categories would help them think more clearly about their actual approaches to various aspects of culture, but we can not impose on them an agenda that seems to say that this is the most important thing they should be thinking about.

As to the possibility of adding categories, one of the most constructive suggestions comes from University of Chicago Law professor Michael McConnell. He suggests that if one approaches the question not on the basis of theological rationales, but rather on the basis of what Christians actually do, new categories will emerge. For instance, he thinks that "Christ against culture" could be divided into "Church apart from culture" and "Church in conflict with culture." On the other hand, he thinks the third and fourth types could be consolidated under "Church accommodated to culture." Despite differing theological rationales, he argues, they do not make any difference in practice. "Christ transforming culture," he suggests. might better be called "church influencing culture." He also thinks we should add two additional types. "church controlling culture" and "culture controlling church."15

I can appreciate the usefulness of these suggested revisions of the categories. I certainly think there is a distinction that can be made between "Christ against culture," by which Niebuhr means Christ separated from aspects of culture, and "Christ against culture." in the sense of Christians feeling at war with aspects of the culture.16 However, as my analysis of fundamentalism suggests. the sense of warfare can already be expressed under the rubric of any' of three of the existing categories. Some who see themselves at war choose to separate from the mainstream culture, some live militantly in a paradoxical relation to that culture, not of the world but still in it. Or others might be engaged in warfare of transformation, as in recent culture wars, or in liberation theology. So in this case I would not suggest adding any categories, but simply making clear that, for Niebuhr. "Christ against culture" means "Christ separating from culture."17

Generally my attitude is that if the categories are to remain useful, we should take a conservative approach to them, preserving the five we have and not .adding new categories. Five is as large a number as most people can easily remember anyway. And there is very little chance that a new set of categories will catch on the way Niebuhr's set has.

Each of the major objections, then, can be adequately answered. If we adopt the flexibility and interpretations I have suggested, recognizing the complexity of any real historical subjects. then Niebuhr's five categories can be extremely useful analytical tools.

I should say in closing that they are introductory tools. They are useful primarily for getting people to begin thinking more clearly about these issues. Once that has happened they may want to modify the tools to suit their purposes and will likely want to keep them out of sight in their finished work. Like any typology they invite simplistic thought and too easy categorizing of other Christians. Nonetheless, if used properly, they can continue to be a rich resource for helping Christians think about their relationships to the world.

One final potential criticism may be mentioned in the light of what follows. It is sometimes argued that the way Niebuhr frames his categories makes it inevitable that his own transformationist position turns out to be the most favored. Yet while Niebuhr is clearly an advocate of such an outcome, I see no reason why the use of his five categories should dictate that result. For now it is sufficient to give just one counter example—which is my own view. I think that "Christ and culture in paradox,." or some version of a two cities or two kingdom view, should be the most usual rule of thumb for Christian attitudes toward mainstream culture, although each of the other attitudes is sometimes appropriate as well.



1.Stanley Hauerwas and William N. Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville: Abingdon. 1989), 40.

2. See for example C. T. McIntyre, God History, History, and Historians.' An Anthology of Modern Christian Views of History' (New York: Oxford University Press. 1977).

3.'H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper and Row, 1951), 43-44. He also acknowledges in this same passage that "traits will .appear that seem wholly unique and individual," so he does not regard his types is exhaustive.

4. Michael J. Baxter, "Let's Do Away with Faith and History: A Critique of H. Richard Niebuhr's False Antinomies," Modern Theology (forthcoming). Cf. John Howard Yoder. "How H. Richard Niebuhr Reasoned: A Critique of Christ and Culture," Glen H. Stassen, D.M. Yeager and John Howard Yoder, eds. Authentic Transformation:' A New Vision of Christ and Culture (Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1996). 58-6!.

5.'H. Richard Niebuhr, "Toward the Independence of the Church," in H. Richard Niebuhr, Wilhelm Pauck, and Francis P. Miller. The Church Against the World (Chicago: Harper and Row, 1945). 128-139

6.Stanley Hauerwas, who has been one of the most vocal critics of Niebuhr for loading his .account in favor of transformationism,. nonetheless concedes that the categories have heuristic value. A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic (Notre Dame, Ind. University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 246-47.

7.Yoder. "How H. Richard Niebuhr Reasoned:.A Critique of Christ and Culture, 56.

8. Cf. .a similar critique in Charles Scriven, The Transformation of Cu/ture: Christian Social Ethics after H. Richard Niebuhr.(Scottdale, Penn.:Herald Press, l988).

9. Yoder, "How H. Richard Niebuhr Reasoned: A Critique of Christ and Culture," 69. Yoder .adds "egalitarianism. abolitionism, and feminism," which are more confusing, since they both reflect wider cultural trends, yet in their particular church forms are cultural products of churches.

10. Richard J. Mouw and Sander Griffioen, Pluralism anti Horizons (Grand Rapids: MI, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 134-40, offer a helpful discussion of this point.

11.For instance, a helpful .analysis of this point is provided by Diane Yeager. "The Christ who comes into the world comes into his own: The Method and Theoretical Perspectives Informing Christ and Culture." (Paper for conference on "The Enduring Problem: H. Richard Niebuhr's , Christ and Culture After Forty Years," Vanderbilt University, May 14—16, 1993..) The second conference was held in 1994. 1 am indebted to John R. Fitzmier, got furnishing me with copies of the conference papers.

12. Niebuhr recognized this complexity when he wrote in his essay The Purpose of the church and its Ministry: Reflections on the Aims of Theological Education (New York: Harper and Row, 1956), 26, "The world is sometimes enemy, sometimes partner of the Church, often antagonist, always one to be befriended; now the one that does not know what Church knows, now the knower of what the Church does not know,"

13. Christ and Culture,, 102. For Niebuhr's views of fundamentalism see his "Fundamentalism", Encyclopedia of Social Science, vol. VI (New York: Social Science research Council 193!), VI, 5 26-27.

14/ Liberationists might see a dictatorship as very much of the Devil—and so separate themselves radically .against the current political culture—but still be transformationists, hoping eventually to change it. Or .a variation on the question is some recent Catholic liberation theology that has been based on a theology of grace,. articulated by Vatican II, which sees .all people as already to some extent the objects of God's grace. making it difficult to draw a clear line between the "natural" and the "supernatural." Cf. John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1990), 206. This theology and the liberationists' .appropriation of Marxism for their cultural analysis does not fit in exactly with any of the theological motifs that Niebuhr relates to his types. My inclination is to say' that liberation theology is principally a sub-type of the transformationist motif, While Niebuhr illustrates his type with theologians who appeal primarily to the doctrine of creation, the precise theology is not essential to defining the type.

15. Michael McConnell. DePaul Law Review, 42:1 (Fall 1992), 191-221. 1 am indebted to the summary in John F.Wilson, "The Last Type in Christ and Culture, and the End for which it was Created". (Paper for conference on "The Enduring Problem: H. Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture After Forty Years," Vanderbilt University. 1994). 14-15.

16. Gabriel A. Almond, Emmanuel Sivan, ,and R. Scott Appelby: in Fundamentalisms Comprehended, Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Applebv, eds. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1995), 426 and 447, argue that world "fundamentalisms" can be classified into four types: "the. world conqueror. the world transformer, the world creator, and the world renouncer." They also suggest that fundamentalist groups progress historically from one type to another.

17. Niebuhr himself recognized the additional type in which culture controls the church, but used it only to state the problem of defining what the Christian alternatives ought to he. Historically there might be .a category for the church controlling the culture, I would say, however, that such .attitudes could be absorbed in the category of "Christ transforming culture.