I recently read Miroslav Volf’s ‘Soft Difference: Theological Reflections on the Relation Between Church and Culture in 1 Peter’, Ex Auditu 10 (1994), which has a good discussion of the way that 1 Peter interacts with culture. With it’s language of aliens, etc., Peter is setting his readers apart from their culture/society, but at the same time, the household codes are seen as a way of accomodation to culture. Thus, he calls Peter’s stance one of ‘soft difference’–not weak in its response to the problems of culture but soft. Along with Troeltsch and Weber, Volf mentions Niebuhr’s taxonomy of Christ and Culture, which in its comprehensiveness appears tidy: Christ against culture (Revelation, 1 John), Christ of culture (Gnostics), Christ above culture (Matt 22.21; Rom 13; Aquinas), Christ and cuture in paradox (Paul), and Christ the transformer of culture (Gospel of John).

Not having Niebuhr at hand I perused Carson’s Christ and Culture Revisited, which happened to be down in St John’s library. For the dualist (X & C in paradox), ‘the fundamental issue in life is not the line that must be drawn between Christians and the pagan or secular world, but between God and all humankind’ (Carson, 22-23). ‘The dualist knows that he belongs to that [sick] culture and cannot get out of it, that God indeed sustains him in it and by it’ (Carson, 23). Niebuhr then contrasts the dualist with the conversionist (X transformer of C): ‘For the conversionist, history is the story of God’s mighty deeds and of man’s responses to them. He 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’ (Niebuhr, 195; Carson, 26).

Volf’s ‘soft difference’ seems like a good way to describe Paul as well, but what can we say about Niebuhr’s dualist/paradox category? Is that the best place to place him?

I’m planning to do a few posts on the topic to get my juices flowing. I’m interested in your thoughts.

Paul and Culture, pt 1: Miroslav Volf’s Soft Difference and Niebuhr’s Paradox
Paul and Culture, pt 2
Paul and Culture, pt 3
Paul and Culture, pt 4