Preaching Christ or Packaging Jesus?

How does culture affect the way we understand- and explain-the gospel?
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A few years ago, faculty members at evangelical colleges were asked to name the books that had most influenced their thinking as Christian scholars. One book that ranked very high on almost everyone’s list was H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture. This choice is quite understandable. Evangelical Christians, as heirs to the pietist tradition, have struggled in very intense ways with the proper ways of relating the Christian gospel to prevailing cultural patterns. Niebuhr’s discussion, with its handy scheme for classifying various Christ-and-culture options, speaks to issues that have long been of interest to evangelicals.

If Niebuhr had written his book in the 1990s, though, he might well have felt some awkwardness in speaking so easily of “culture” in the singular. Ours is a time of intense interest in Christ and the cultures. How does the gospel relate to the rich variety of cultural settings and experiences that are increasingly visible in our global village? This, too, is a topic that raises significant issues for Christians who want to understand their cultural surroundings in a biblically faithful manner.

Beyond An All-American Jesus

The phenomenal speed with which far-off regions have been connected through trade, travel, and satellite communications during the past two decades has increased our awareness of diverse and conflicting cultural outlooks in the human community. Advocates of “pluralism” seem to imply that a relativistic outlook is the only option, both in intellectual discussions and in more popular trends. These preoccupations are reflected in the agenda of recent theological discussion as well, where much attention has been given to the relation of the gospel to ...

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