Richard Niebuhr’s ‘Christ Transforms Culture’ Typology

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Helmut Richard Niebuhr’s (1894-1962) was an influential American Christian theologian and ethicist who authored an influential missiological work Christ and Culture (1951) in which he examines how Christians have related to culture throughout history. This entry will briefly look at Niebuhr’s typology.

The culture Niebuhr refers to is not narrow but instead general in scope (Niebuhr, 1951: 31). It’s neither only our contemporary 21st century western culture nor is it only an African or Asian culture. Instead, it is the social life of humanity as a whole fashioned via language, habits, ideas, customs, and social organizations (p. 32). Niebuhr believed that culture and Christianity produced an “enduring problem” that requires understanding (p, 51). His theory focuses on how Christians relate and interact with surrounding cultures. For example, how does a Christian be both part of the world and not part of the world given that the Bible would appear to suggest both? With the question in mind Niebuhr examined five ways that Christians, both historically and in the present, have dealt with this dilemma. He articulates this in five views: [1] Christ against culture, [2] Christ of Culture, [3] Christ above Culture, [4] Christ and Culture paradox, and [5] Christ transforms culture.

[Article currently under Revision]

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