Monday, June 09, 2008

The Clarion Call to Live Quietly

The last of Niebuhr's five options for discerning the relationship between Christ and culture is dubbed "Christ the Transformer of Culture" which, according to Carson's reading of Niebuhr, is not concerned so much with individual conversions, but the conversion of culture itself.

Niebuhr argues that for the proponent of this transformationist motif, eschatology is more "realized" than it is for most other Christians of differing persuasions.
"[The conversionist] lives somewhat less 'between the times' and somewhat more in the divine 'Now' than do his brother Christians. The eschatological future has become for him an eschatological present."
Interestingly, Niebuhr places both John Calvin and John Wesley within this trajectory. According to Carson, Wesley actually strengthens his conversionist heritage by espousing the doctrine of sinless perfection.

I hope to deal with the methodological problems with Niebuhr's approach in a subsequent post, but I do trust that the careful reader will at least scratch his head in confusion over the placing of John Calvin and John Wesley on the same team, regardless of the game.

There are others who could deal with the questionable historical-theological claim that Calvin was a transformationist better than I (Hart? Wenger? Clark? acd?), but I will say that the idea that Calvin was all about transforming Geneva is somewhat suspect, not in the least because, as a French refugee in the city, he had no real power in the first place.

Biblically-theologically, though, I am certainly more than competent enough to challenge the idea that Niebuhr, by his lack of negative criticism, tacitly endorses, i.e., that Jesus wants to change the culture from common to holy. Despite the fact that Jesus, Paul, and Peter all spoke of the role of the believer in society, none of them waxed more inspiring than simply calling their hearers to live quietly and mind their own business.

No, such a message won't sell many best-selling books, but if the goal is to call out from this present earthly kingdom a holy city for the glory of God, then it sounds just about right.