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Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 23, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2003

Duane K. Friesen
Pages 145-156
DOI: 10.5840/jsce200323123

A Discriminating Engagement of Culture: "An Anabaptist Perspective"

Niebuhr's definitions of "Christ" and "culture" set up a problematic dualism that leads to a misrepresentation of the Christ-against-culture type. The paper proposes that instead of Niebuhr's "idealized" Christ (defined by a set of virtues), an embodied Christology locates Christ within culture. The tension, then, is not between Christ and culture, but between different cultural visions. A cultural vision with Christ as norm provides a discriminating ethic of normative practices to engage culture. Many scholars have recognized that Niebuhr not only develops a descriptive typology in Christ and Culture, he also argues that the fifth type, Christ-the-transformer-of-culture, is the most adequate position. Almost everyone identifies with this type. Why is that? The problem is that the variety of meanings of "transformation" is not illuminated by Niebuhr's typology. An alternative typology is proposed which addresses these two problems: a richer development of three types that Niebuhr lumps together in his Christ-against-culture type; and the development of a typology to show that there are four different ways to understand what the church has meant by Christ-the-transformer-of-culture.

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