Fifty years ago, Richard Niebuhr's landmark Christ and Culture both summarized and sparked much Christian thought by identifying five modes of interaction between his title subjects: Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ transforming culture, and Christ and culture in paradox. Though Niebuhr's interest was primarily theological, roughly similar categories can be applied to histories of the church. Three that have landed in my office recently model the distinctions.
The first is James Garlow's How God Saved Civilization, subtitled "The epic story of God leading his people, the church" (Regal, 2000). Garlow holds a PhD from Drew University but writes, in his own description, with "the heart of a pastor, not the head of a scholar." The people who endorse the book come from the pastoral side as well, including the man whose phrase of praise appears right on the front cover: Tim LaHaye.
Garlow leaves no doubt as to his view of culture. "Civilization has no hope," he begins his introduction. "No hope at all, except through God. God alone can preserve a person, a family, a people group, a nation or any part of civilization that's worth preserving." Much later in the book he bewails the "moral bankruptcy of America" (384), a typical "Christ against culture" sentiment, and vows to the enemies of the church, "Contrary to your wishes, the Church of Jesus Christ is alive and well" (395). In Garlow's view God has saved, and continues to save, humanity through supernatural intervention. Even the era many Protestants wish to forget, 500-1300 (which Garlow magnanimously includes, though in a chapter titled "The Grand Detour"), has a few saving graces—just enough to ensure that the gospel would survive.
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