Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective

by Craig A. Carter

In this book, Carter advances the thesis that we must move from a Christendom to a post-Christendom way of thinking about the Christ and culture problem.

Brazos Press, P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516, 2007, 220 pages, $19.99.

Reviewed by Todd A. Wilson, associate pastor of adult discipleship and training, College Church, Wheaton, Illinois.

Arguably the entire missionary enterprise depends upon the relationship between Christ and culture. Readers of this journal will, therefore, take great interest in Craig A. Carter’s stimulating work, Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective.

Broadly speaking, this book is, of course, about the relationship between Christ and culture; indeed, Carter advances the thesis that “we must move from a Christendom to a post-Christendom way of thinking about the Christ and culture problem” (p. 7). More specifically, however, this book offers a full-scale critique of and alternative to H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic work, Christ and Culture, which has been highly influential among both liberals and conservatives since its publication in 1951.

In the Introduction, Carter orients the reader to his central concern, namely, that Christendom has long been the presupposition for thinking about Christ and culture, as is typified, for example, in Niebuhr’s work; and that Christendom is on the demise, if not already at an end (chapter one). The body of the work is divided into two parts. Part One has four chapters and seeks to show that Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture is deeply flawed because of its assumptions regarding Christendom. Chapters two and three offer an honest assessment and critique of Niebuhr’s work, while chapter four critically assesses the reality of Christendom in the West. Carter’s own alternative to Christendom comes in chapter five.

Part Two is devoted to unpacking Carter’s alternative to Niebuhr’s typology. Following an introductory chapter (chapter six), Carter then lays out his own typology as follows: “Christ Legitimizing Culture” (chapter seven), “Christ Separating from Culture” (chapter eight), “Christ Humanizing Culture” (chapter nine), and “Christ Transforming Culture” (chapter ten). The concluding chapter, “Jesus or Constantine?” summarizes the argument of the book and presents the reader with some stark alternatives, each revolving around a fundamental Christological question: Does the Church follow the theologically abstracted and politically accommodated Christ of Christendom, or the radical, incarnate, and historically-invasive Jesus of the Gospels?

There will be much of interest here to readers of this journal, not least the claim that an essential feature of Christendom is the use of coercive violence in the service of evangelism, and that an ecclesiology derived not from Christendom, but from a radical allegiance to the lordship of Jesus Christ, will be a missional ecclesiology, one which does not simply assume that citizenship in the state and in the church are coterminous.

Check these titles:
Carter, Craig A. 2001. The Politics of the Cross: The Theology and Social Ethics of John Howard Yoder. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. 2001. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper.

Yoder, John Howard. 1994. The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

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