Class Five: Models of Christianity and Culture Part 1 1

Richard Niebuhr


Niebuhr lived between 1894 and 1962.

He lived in the United States and studied both ethics and theology.

In his book, he explains five models of how Christians have approached culture.

What Niebuhr Saw as the Enduring Problem

Niebuhr believed that the relationship between Christ and Culture was “the enduring problem.”

It’s an enduring problem because on a surface level, Christ and Culture can seem like exacts opposites of each other.

Christ is perfect and sinless.

Culture is man made. And since humans sinful and imperfect, it would follow that culture is too. So the question becomes, how can Christ be a part of that.


Niebuhr’s Five Proposed Models

1. Christ against culture.

2. Christ of culture.

3. Christ above culture.

4. Christ and Culture Paradox.

5. Christ transforms culture, which it becomes apparent is Richard Niebuhr’s preferred model.

Niebuhr’s Definition of Culture

The total process of human activity and that total result of such activity to which now the name culture, now the name civilization, is applied in common speech

Christ Against Culture

Culture is viewed negatively… The church is to stand out from the culture and avoid being corrupted by withdrawing from it. Think of this model as standing on one side of a spectrum.

Christ Against Culture

The counterpoint of loyalty to Christ and the brothers is the rejection of cultural society; a clear line of separation is drawn between the brotherhood of the children of God and the world

I’m a Christian But I’m not Video Questions

What really grabbed your attention about the way the Amish talked about Christianity?

Would you recommend this life style for others or yourself? Why or why not?

How exactly do you see them relating their faith to culture?

Positive Aspects of Christian Against Culture

1. Single minded in devotion.

2. They practice what they preach.

3. They are willing to “Take up their cross,” and follow Christ.

4. Niebuhr: They have endured physical and mental sufferings in their willingness to abandon homes property and the protection of government for the sake of his cause. They have accepted the derision and animosity which societies inflict on non- conformists.

Christ Against Culture: The Negative

1. It unnecessarily leaves culture out.

2. Makes sin a product of culture and not a part of human beings.

3. Does not recognize that Christ made creation good.

4. It might have prevented Christianity from making a positive difference.

The Christ of Culture

Culture is viewed positively. God is at work outside his church and the church should look for ways to accommodate ad come alongside the Spirit’s work in culture

In every culture to which the Gospel comes, there are men who hail Jesus as the Messiah of their society, the fulfiller of its hopes and aspirations, the perfecter of its true faith, the source of its holiest spirit

Two Groups That these people want to Belong to.

1. The church.

2. The wider community.

Questions about the Video

What grabbed your attention about the way of life they are presenting in this video?

Would you recommend this way of life for others or yourself? Why or why not?

How exactly do you see them relating their faith to culture?

Niebuhr does point out some positive points about this approach to culture.

The Positives:

1. It shows not only martyrs can have a positive impact on culture.

2. People were attracted to Christ’s message because it fit well with the teachings of their own cultural heroes.

Jesus Taught:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets

Confucius Taught:

Do not do to others as you would not have them do to you

C. S. Lewis said:

Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities; it is quacks and cranks who do that… The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see; like bringing a horse back and back to the fence that it has refused to jump or bringing a child back and back to the bit in his lesson that it wants to shirk.

Questions about the Second Video

What grabbed your attention about the way of life they are presenting in this video?

Would you recommend this way of life for others or yourself? Why or why not?

How exactly do you see them relating their faith to culture?

Two problems

1. Does not place enough emphasis on who Jesus is.

2. Tries to make Jesus fit into a mold.

3. May not have been sufficient to drive Christians to create change in the culture around them.

Christ Above Culture

1. More towards the center.

2. Followers of this model are called synthesists.

3. “This view seeks to synthesize Christ and culture, by understanding God to be utilizing the best of culture to help us attain what we cannot on our own. Cultural law and divine law are view as two different realities.” Richard Niebuhr

Christ above culture

4. Unlike the Christ against culture, this model does not see the conflict as between Christ and culture.  

5. And unlike the Christ of Culture, it does not deny that any conflict exists.  

6. Rather, as Niebuhr explains, the conflict lies between “God and man.”

Christ Above Culture

This church believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God the Father Almighty.

They believe Jesus created heaven and earth.

Moreover, as Niebuhr notes, it introduces the concept that “all culture is founded and… good and rightly ordered by the one to whom Jess Christ is obedient and with whom he is inseparably good.”

Christ above culture

When man sins, that expresses itself in culture but it doesn’t make culture itself bad.

Tries to find a balance between seeing Christ as part of culture through the incarnation.

Also tries to balance that with seeing him as above it because he created it.


1. It acknowledges there is a good moral law that even secular society can follow.

2. It acknowledges that God provides the moral guidance we need.

3. It shows the church’s job in providing moral guidance.


If we take it to its extreme limits, it institutionalizes Christianity and the Gospel. 

Takes away from the hope of Christ’s return and places all the emphasis on what the church is doing now.

Ignores the actual evil in human work.

This model would have helped in the social reforms the church made. But it might have mistaken those reforms as the final answer to the worlds problem instead of the return of Christ. 

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