Monday, June 02, 2008

The Incarnation: A Good Start?

The third of Niebuhr's five options for determining the relationship of Christ to culture is "Christ Above Culture," and is, according to him, the majority position in the history of the church.

This view, Niebuhr argues, insists that:
"... Christ and the world cannot be simply opposed to each other. Neither can the 'world' as culture simply be regarded as the realm of godlessness; since it is at least founded on the 'world' as nature, and cannot exist save as it is upheld by the Creator and Governor of nature.... We cannot say, 'Either Christ or culture,' because we are dealing with God in both cases. We must not say, 'Both Christ and culture,' in full awareness of the dual nature of our law, our end, our situation."
Advocates of this "synthesist" position include Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria and, most importantly, Thomas Aquinas who, according to Niebuhr, managed to combine without confusing "philosophy and theology, state and church, civic and Christian virtues, natural and divine laws, Christ and culture."
"Thomas's synthesis was not only an intellectual achievement but the philosophical and theological representation of a social unification of Christ and culture."
On of the greatest problems wth this approach, argues D.A. Carson, is that it ignores just how culturally conditioned such syntheses really are. Just like the Jesus of Harnack and Herrmann looked suspiciously like a nineteenth-century German liberal, so the Jesus of the contemporary advocates of "Christ Over Culture" looks, well, just like us.

I find it curious that in the thinking of many, the incarnation of the Son of God is considered to be a mere first step towards Christ incarnating himself to become "the express image" of whoever our target audience happens to be. Perhaps the Market's obsession with demographics has subtly taught us that incidentals such as income and race are so profound that the Son's merely becoming Man was not enough to convince us of God's earnest desire to be relevant.

But take the next step and make Jesus "my homeboy" and I'll buy the T-shirt.