Volume 23, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2003
Douglas F. Ottati
"Christ and Culture": Still Worth Reading after All These Years
This essay argues that H. Richard Niebuhr's classic book, Christ and Culture, is best understood as a typology of moral theologies. Each of Niebuhr's five types may be regarded as a patterned resolution of four theological relations: reason and revelation, God and world, sin and goodness, and law and gospel. Many of his evaluative comments reflect his preference for what he calls a transformationist or conversionist pattern. However, it is not difficult to imagine evaluative comments on the several types, including the transformationist one, made from the perspective of a different preferred resolution of the four theological relations. Moreover, Niebuhr's scheme remains useful for analyzing more recent texts in theological ethics, such as Gustavo Gutierrez's A Theology of Liberation. Thus, while the book is not without its flaws and while readers may wish to enter some emendations and revisions, Christ and Culture is still worth reading because the categories it presents for analyzing moral theologies remain unsurpassed in their richness, usefulness, and suggestiveness.