PARADOX AND TRANSFORMATION AT WORK IN A DYING CHURCH

Introduction

Our task for this essay is to “place” theologian H. Richard Niebuhr in the context of the local church. In this instance, that church shall be known as First Christian Church (FCC, henceforth), and I am its lead pastor. Niebuhr will serve as “wise counsel,” in offering our leadership suggestions, from his unique perspective, on how this particular church body can again find its significance in the local community.

I will offer a general framework for the matter at hand. That is, while Niebuhr and I shall experience various agreements and disagreements along the way, as we lead FCC through its troubles, the primary difficulty we will face in our work together, is that I will ultimately defer to the Bible as the foundational, objective authority; whereas he will often look to himself and others in the course of church history, for a more subjective foundation from which to approach FCC’s calling.

While this essay is not precisely dealing with our respective differences, I believe it is important to note this foundational one at the forefront. For, at various points in the course of our work here, it will be rather apparent, that Niebuhr truly speaks impacting, Christian wisdom into our hearts. Both he and I will agree that this wisdom is born of God’s revelation to us. Yet, as we’ve said, he will tend to rely on certain “spiritually-informed” existential forms of that revelation in addition to the Bible, and at that, he will count that revelation as equal to Scripture and thereby apply it.1 I, on the other hand—as tempting as it is to be guided by strong spiritual feelings—will be inclined only to submit to those “other forms” of revelation if they first find a precedent in Scripture itself. At bottom, what we should see unfold is a Christian dialectic earnestly worked through under the auspices of the unity of Christ’s Body—best it can be achieved—which is the very dynamic to which Christ calls His people. For, in terms of the tangible reality, it is among the most consequential features through which He builds His Church.2

Neo-Orthodoxy and H. Richard Niebuhr

The “Barthian school” of Neo-Orthodoxy (N-O)3 began to be developed relatively early in the twentieth-century. This development was in response to Protestant Liberalism’s (PL) imbalanced pull towards reasserting the concept of God’s immanence; that is, that He is “active within the universe, involved with the processes of the world and of human history.”4 A necessary endeavor, PL ultimately sought to “rescue” God from the conclusions of the Enlightenment, where an unbalanced appropriation of science tends to unseat Him from the throne of man’s heart. But just as it derived as an answer to the Enlightenment’s partisan focus, so now an answer was needed for PL’s over-correction.

One of N-O’s star pupils was H. Richard Niebuhr (1894-1962), who would go on to become one of the most influential thinkers in twentieth-century theological circles. While Niebuhr and the whole of N-O could sympathize with PL’s intentions and subsequent outworkings in the “rescue” of God from the Enlightenment, it became apparent, just a few generations into the movement that, in its concern to emphasize God’s immanence as part of that rescue, PL had substituted a “social gospel”5 for the true gospel of Christ. In keeping with his Neo-Orthodoxy, and trained specifically as a Christian ethicist, Niebuhr would “take up the torch,” lit earlier by Karl Barth, as it were, by providing helpful counterbalances to that social gospel. Ultimately quite critical of this brand of supposed gospel, Niebuhr wrote of its message, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”6 Thus, for Niebuhr and his faithful representation of the N-O movement, God’s ultimate glory by virtue of His transcendence had to be reasserted as absolute, and His immanence heavily qualified—centered on Christ’s gospel as the apex of it—if the Church was to realize its purpose and eternal value in the world, as it had begun to do in those years between the Reformation and the Enlightenment.

Niebuhr’s Views on the Significance of the Church

That said, Niebuhr presents himself handsomely to a church (particularly FCC, as we shall soon see) in need of a revitalization of its purpose. He eloquently expresses the heavenly purpose of who and what the Church is. He says, “The church…[embraces both] the ‘principle of protest against every tendency to confuse the symbol with what it symbolizes and the subject with the object’…[and] the ‘principle of catholicity,’ or incarnation which affirms that the Infinite may be represented in finite, visible forms…[the Church is primarily concerned with] the increase among men of the love of God and neighbor.”7

Offering a terrific summary of the crucial auspice under which the Church is to engage in its outreach to the culture, Niebuhr goes on to say, “The human problem, then, is how to love this One from whom death proceeds as well as life…who sets us in a world where our beloved neighbors are the objects of seeming animosity, who appears to us as God of wrath as well as God of love…the problem of human life is how to be reconciled to God, and reconciliation to God is reconciliation to life itself.”8 This “human problem” observation of Niebuhr’s is also taken up in his classic Christ and Culture, where he deliberates extensively on this theme: “Christ’s answer to the problem of culture is one thing, Christian answers are another…” Niebuhr releases this obvious tension to a great degree when he says, “…yet [Jesus’] followers are assured that He uses their various works in accomplishing His own…Christ as living Lord is answering the question [to the problem of Christ and Culture] in the totality of history and life in a fashion which transcends the wisdom of all His interpreters yet employs their partial insights and their necessary conflicts.”9 For lack of ability on the part of so many Christians to articulate their purpose, both individually and corporately under the banner of Christ, their King, who wouldn’t be anxious to have such a visionary on their side?

On Our Side: First Christian Church

As the setting for Niebuhr’s recommendations, First Christian Church formed in the 1930s, as a body of believers who no doubt simply wanted to honor and worship Christ as authentically as they could, and to impact the community for Him. The church eventually settled into its current location, at the edge of a well known University campus. Situated in the midst of student housing, FCC has long been something of a beacon for those students who still wish to remain grounded in their Christian faith even after college has begun. Often they come simply because the church is “there.”

FCC has endured many different leadership structures over its time. As a “Christian Church,” by namesake, it would have resembled the “Church of Christ” for a period of time. Some of those heterodoxical sensibilities still remain, albeit out of plain sight; baptismal regeneration, and baptism as a necessity for salvation, in addition to Jesus, not least among them. As well, there is a strong hint of the old Pelagian heresy, that humans are born innocent of sin. A close relative to the Church of Christ, the “Disciples of Christ,” later bring FCC under its denominational structure; but by the 1960s it parted ways with that system, and has since been somewhat fiercely independent, as if to guard itself. In fact, there is a strange, inconsistent dynamic within the namesake “Christian Church” structure; one that has left its mark on FCC, to be sure. Each church within the namesake “Christian” structure identifies on the one hand, as just that—a “Christian Church.” On the other, however, denominationalism was the problem being overcome in the mid 1850s when the structure began to take root; therefore, each church tends to frown upon any assumption that it be held under a particular governing body that keeps it accountable.

FCC has easily fallen prey to its own history. Everything from false doctrine to lacking government has taken its toll on the church, so that it has literally ripped itself apart in a power struggle it perhaps did not even realize was taking place. Ultimately, the church was left with no pastor, very few people (maybe fifty), no biblical sense of what its particular significance in the community was supposed to be; and worse yet, now with so few people, left to the desires of a small handful who gave the most money and perhaps gave the subtle impression that if the church survived it would be because of them, whether they articulated it as such, or not. In all of this inward trouble and focus, the church has all but lost its way and its “lampstand”—its very place in the kingdom, if you will.10

I have been its pastor, officially since June of 2015. Safe to say, that God literally set me down in this place, or it simply would never have happened. In short, I told them early on, that I would be pleased to help them try to get through a difficult time by preaching for them, and even helping them to find a pastor. They asked me to stay. Even after I explained that I am Reformed in my theology and that they haven’t seen the likes of anything like that sort of system since around 1790, they asked me to, as one elder put it, “show them how to be a church again.” And there we are—an eighty-year-old church in a replanting phase of its existence. It’s welcoming new ideas to its old ones. It is truly beginning to realize the difference between “getting back to the way it used to be,” and instead sifting through the good of what “used to be,” and scrapping the bad. For it has become its hope of late, that in the sifting, Christ Himself may yet be found. Enter: H. Richard Niebuhr.

Niebuhr’s Initial Observation of First Christian Church

Niebuhr, having classified it in his historical analysis of the methods of Christianity, Christ and Culture, would quickly observe a general tendency on the part of FCC’s people to think and function as “dualists.” That is, he would easily sense the implied theology (for they likely wouldn’t know to articulate it this way) of what he terms “Christ and Culture in Paradox.”11 P. Andrew Sandlin and Dr. John Frame summarize Niebuhr’s classification in this way: “[Christ and Culture in Paradox]…is often a correlate of the ‘Two Kingdoms’ view. [They] are (in essence) the church and the world (including culture). God rules both, but he rules them in different ways. He rules the church by His Word and Spirit and gospel; He rules the world by the providence of His natural laws. The church is sacred, the sphere of the gospel; the world is secular, the sphere of the law. The world is under God’s authority, but He exercises that authority in a different way than he does in the church.”12 13

Niebuhr would likely understand (and support, to some degree) how such a view could come about at FCC,14 15 however, it seems he would be less likely to fully embrace it, as if to land there, for to do so would alienate his obvious, lifelong passion of considering how the Church must function in and with the culture. In his quasi-Reformed sensibility, he would tend to promote the biblical sense that, as P. Andrew Sandlin puts it, “God does not establish two divergent standards of justice, one in the church and one in the world.”16 In fact, Niebuhr says of the relationship between the church and the world, “[The world] is the community with which [the Church] lives before God…[and] to which the Church addresses itself with its gospel, to which it gives an account of what it has seen and heard in divine revelation, [and] which it invites to come and see and hear.” (emphasis added)17

In other words, Niebuhr would caution FCC against tendencies to even imply such sharp distinctions between itself and the world, first in light of biblical truth that indicates no such distinction in God’s sovereign rule.18 As well, looking through the scope of the Church’s ultimate purpose under the mandate of the Great Commission,19 he would advocate that any distinctions that must be maintained must also be rightly qualified, so as to not hinder, as much as possible, the church’s efforts to evangelize the culture. Undoubtedly he senses that if the “dualist” view was pushed to its extreme, the essential mission of the Church (including FCC) could be in jeopardy. Here—under the context of “qualification”—it is interesting to note a potential theological similarity Niebuhr would have with one of Neo-Orthodoxy’s chief adversaries, J. Gresham Machen. Both saw the absoluteness of the Church’s loving duty to fulfill the Great Commission, which meant that Christ’s people, “set apart” though they are, must engage the world with the gospel. Yet, in the many processes by which His followers must be in the world in order to engage it, the Lord strongly affirms that, at the same time, neither are they of the world;20 an exclusively Christian dynamic that must always be applied in mission.21

As Niebuhr and I compare notes on how we observe FCC through the lens of his Christ and Culture in Paradox paradigm, I find that his insights are mostly correct. To be sure, FCC, in its unwitting overemphasis on “separateness,” (thinking it was correctly doing what Scripture commanded), has withdrawn not only from the “world,” but from the culture, as well, of which the Church-at-large is part. FCC has thus become isolated from everything it might have been affected by. The problem is that, in trying to protect itself from being of the world, it has long missed out on the benefit of the “broader perspective” it could have gained through more intimate relationships with other Christ-centered churches in its own community. Its “fierce independence” has cost it greatly. Edmund Clowney illustrates the overall effect of “dualistic” theology quite well; an observation with which I certainly agree, and I believe Niebuhr would share at least a better part of the same sentiment, especially as it pertains to FCC: “Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms has been used to build walls not only between church and state, but also between science and religion, reason and revelation. Fundamentalists built the walls while they waited for the imminent return of Christ; evangelicals huddle behind them, vainly seeking to shelter an emotional faith…” (emphasis added)22

Finally, both Niebuhr and I would be somewhat compelled to see in all of this, a near-modern- Fundamentalist outworking among the people of FCC, again, if the dualist mindset is pushed to an extreme. As this fits into Niebuhr’s paradigm of Christ Against Culture,23 he would surely again, by virtue of his push for engagement between the two, not fully advocate that they are to be “against” one another. Thus, he would concisely instruct FCC, saying, “…the thought of God is impossible without the thought of the neighbor.24 Given that both dualists and fundamentalists capitalize on literal notions of “following in Christ’s steps,”25 it seems that Niebuhr’s final advice in this regard—to jolt the church out of its narrowness—would be: Do then, what your Master did! Eat and drink with sinners!26 If Christ Himself went, and sent His disciples to the world, in order to “seek and save that which was lost,”27 it should be apparent to FCC, by their own implied theological sensibilities, that they must do the same.

Critiquing Niebuhr’s Advice: Part 1

I will say briefly, that I agree almost completely with Niebuhr’s observations and recommendations for FCC. He finds value in the church’s unwitting “dualistic” tendencies, as not everything in the “two kingdoms” view is all bad; in fact much can be helpful. But he does well in qualifying the position for the church, so that FCC can see how its uninformed approach to both itself and culture has been negatively affected by pushing the ideals of the position too far—though they did so unaware. I believe this will help to steer the ship aright; if nothing else, to at least knock it off its long ill-charted course.

My trouble with Niebuhr then, lies in his foundation, should he be pressed. His ideas are quite good, but if he were to confess his combination of sources, where each is equal to the other, many in the church would find him merely expressing opinion, only defensible as such, as do I, to great degrees. At the heart of Niebuhr’s theological process lies the Neo-Orthodox system. Among its fundamental tenets is that revelation from God does not necessarily have its final anchoring in the Bible. Niebuhr himself concludes, in regards to his analysis of Christian methodology over the course of the church’s history, “Our examination of the typical answers Christians have given to their enduring problem [(of how Christ/Church is to relate to culture)] is unconcluded and inconclusive…if we should make such an attempt [to give the “Christian answer” to the above] we should need to assume that our particular place in the church and history is so final that we can hear not only the word of God addressed to us [(the Bible)] but His whole word.” (emphasis added)28

It is clear that Niebuhr assumes extra-biblical forms of God’s revelation to be equal to Scripture, itself. He will not dare make a conclusive judgment on the “rights and wrongs” of the church’s engagement with culture until he can be sure all the existential stimuli has been collected regarding such. Only then, can it be combined with Scripture to produce a final result for the benefit of the church—namely, in this case, FCC. But that’s the trouble, isn’t it? In this sort of system, one can never quite collect all the information, because one is too limited by one’s own constraints, such as intellect, position, and time.

Niebuhr’s refusal to submit his conclusions utterly, under the Reformational construct of Sola Scriptura29 leaves his ideas for FCC’s revitalization—good as so many of them are—open to the scrutiny of those within the church who consider themselves “literalists” when it comes to interpreting the Bible. All too often, it’s been said in FCC and other churches, “What the Bible says, I do!” As uninformed and dangerous as that approach is for the Christian, it is even more foolish to attempt to refute literalism with the very fuel that powers it: that is, proving their belief outright, that too many Christians don’t believe the Bible is the final authority in all matters. As well, Niebuhr and I conflict on a related practical theme I am instilling in the church: Whether you agree or disagree with something the church believes or does, be able to substantiate or refute it under a Christ-centered, biblical context. Niebuhr fails here.

Niebuhr’s Ultimate Initiative: Christ the Transformer of Culture

Niebuhr’s first step was to wade through the mire of eighty-plus years of “church activity,” in order to expose two things to the church, itself: Why the church was doing what it was doing, and why what is was doing all those years initiated no real sustainability for subsequent generations. Two huge questions that started to be answered by Niebuhr’s “Paradox” paradigm were, “Why has the church never grown in such a way as to make the kind of impact the local culture-at-large—sacred and secular—really remembers?” To this day, it seems most people, when I tell them about my church, have little or no idea to which church I’m referring. Secondly, “What is the significance of the fact that the church still exists, albeit in a shattered state?” There is hope that God has a place prepared for FCC. The task is to seek it. In systematic fashion, Niebuhr’s trudging through the marshes of FCC’s “reasons why” yielded certain theological concerns, which he then met with “Paradox’s” semi-theological remedy. The church learned something of itself and was thus able to heal before moving on to the next step of revitalization.

For Niebuhr, that “next step” is quite a natural one. It tends to follow from the “Paradox” paradigm as something of a solution to it, and yet is, in fact very similar in many of its sensibilities. He moves to introduce the paradigm of “Christ the Transformer of Culture.”30 P. Andrew Sandlin explains the link and contrast between Paradox and Transformer: “Unlike Christ and Culture in Paradox, it repudiates a dualism isolating gospel from law, church from world, and secular from sacred. Christ the Transformer of Culture urges Christians to labor by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the declaration of the gospel, and by fidelity to the Bible, to change gradually a sinful, rebellious culture into a righteous, submissive one, although this change will never be complete before the eternal state…Christians must transform culture, not abandon it, identify with it, or bifurcate it.”31

All said, now with some solid theology to apply, FCC can now start the “doing” again; yet this time, perhaps with more of right sense of why. With that comes the reorientation of the ultimate goal of the church. Niebuhr claimed that the purpose of the church is best understood as the increase among persons of the love of God and neighbor, and he therefore also claimed that the church’s mission cannot be reduced to increasing the church or to converting people to Christianity. The Christologically authorized and capacious point of the church is not to commend itself but God and the universal commonwealth of all persons and creatures and things in relation to God.32 And there it is. The reorienting of its goal means that FCC acknowledges that it is not to commend itself, but God, in its work here on earth. Here is where Niebuhr answers the question of sustainability for subsequent generations at FCC. When the church treats its investment in the world more like “treasure stored in heaven,” and far less like “making its identity here,” the flat truth is, God will honor that motive under the auspice of love God, love people.

Finally, each of us (myself and Niebuhr, respectively) gives FCC a powerful, godly context upon which to repeatedly anchor itself over and over again, in the course of its mission—even when it has moved past the point of revitalization—for the sake of sustaining its impact, until the Lord Jesus returns. I turn them to John Stott, who reminds them of the power of God involved in the church’s Great Commission. In other words, FCC is not alone in its work. Stott says, “The fundamental basis of all Christian missionary enterprise is the universal authority of Jesus Christ, ‘in heaven and on earth.’ If the authority of Jesus were circumscribed on earth, if he were but one of many religious teachers, one of many Jewish prophets, one of many divine incarnations, we would have no mandate to present Him to the nations as the Lord and Savior of the world. If the authority of Jesus were limited in heaven, if He had not decisively overthrown the principalities and powers, we might still proclaim Him to the nations, but we would never be able to ‘turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God’ (Acts 26:18) Only because all authority on earth belongs to Christ dare we go to all nations. And only because all authority in heaven as well is His have we any hope of success.”(emphasis added)33

Stott’s encouragement of God’s “power” at work in the mission of the church is reinforced by Niebuhr’s encouragement of God’s “redemption and grace,” also at work in the same mission, as it is found in his “Transformer” paradigm. Understanding that that “redemption and grace” extends not only to the hearers of the gospel, but to the proclaimers, as well, Niebuhr sends FCC out, to “make disciples of” the community, with a clarion call that should stand for our church, just as it has stood for the historical Church for two-thousand years. Whereas he termed Christians under the “Paradox” paradigm “dualists,” for their “two kingdom” view, Niebuhr terms us, under the “Transformer” paradigm “conversionists.” Though the term has a more pointed meaning that tends to flesh-out doctrinal tensions at times, “conversionist” works wonderfully well in the context of a nearly-dead church like FCC trying to revive and sustain. Niebuhr rallies us, saying, “What distinguishes conversionists from dualists is their more positive and hopeful attitude toward culture. [Those of you] who offer what we are calling the conversionist answer to the problem of Christ and culture evidently belong to the great central tradition of the church. Though [you] hold fast to the radical distinction between God’s work in Christ and man’s work in culture, [you] do not take the road of exclusive Christianity into isolation from civilization…[you] accept your station in society, with its duties, in obedience to [our] Lord…[you] refer to the Redeemer more than to the giver of a new law, and to the God whom men encounter more than to the representative of the best spiritual resources in humanity. [You] understand that His work is concerned not with the specious, external aspects of human behavior in the first place, but that He tries the hearts and judges the subconscious life; that He deals with what is deepest and most fundamental in man. He heals the most stubborn and virulent human disease, the phthisis of the spirit, the sickness unto death; He forgives the most hidden and proliferous sin, the distrust, lovelessness, and hopelessness of man in his relation to God. And this He does not simply by offering ideas, counsel, and laws; but by living with men in great humility, enduring death for their sakes, and rising again from the grave in a demonstration of God’s grace rather than an argument about it.”(emphasis added)34

It is within these two profound encouragements that we may find the answer to our question of why FCC is so little known or remembered in its own community. Under its old system, the church had long purported bad doctrine, simply put. Under the impression it was doing as it should, according to the Bible—relaying a message of morality and ethic to the culture—it has, for over eighty years likely spread a “gospel” of burden instead of Christ’s gospel of peace with God, and thus, freedom from the penalties of sin; that which leads to the moral and ethical in converted men. It is no small wonder that God has literally kept FCC from being widely known or remembered; it was not preaching His Word in its fullest glory and its deepest truth. It had taught of Christ, the new law giver, instead of Christ the Redeemer. But those days are coming to a fast close, thanks to H. Richard Niebuhr. I believe I see a once-dying church coming back to life by God’s power and grace.

Conclusion

It should be rather apparent that I tend to agree with Niebuhr’s insights. What I find difficult is a degree of inconsistency on his and N-O’s part, that truly seems as though it could be cleaned-up if only they would concede the Bible as absolutely inspired by God, and therefore, the truth. For all his brilliance in showing forth Christ (especially in the “Transformer” paradigm), Niebuhr seems to sometimes drift-off, as though the new thing he is saying doesn’t remember the old. In other words, within mere pages he seems to follow one trail of logic, then jump to another as if no connection were necessary, when, in fact often it is.

All said, while I have enjoyed the interaction with him, where I can filter through a more conservatively-Reformed lens his insights, I dare say I wouldn’t trust Niebuhr to be my only counsel. At best, he needs others who are absolute in their convictions about Sola Scriptura, in order to validate or refute his good and bad insights, respectively. At worst, he can sound, all-too-often like a universalist35 in his theology, and again, mostly because he attempts to derive, in keeping with Neo-Orhtodoxy, far too much revelation from God from outside the Bible.

References

Clowney, Edmund P. The Church: Contours of Christian Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995.

Frame, John M. The Doctrine of the Christian Life. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2008.

Grenz, Stanley J. and Roger E. Olson. Twentieth-Century Theology: God and the world in a transitional age. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Machen, J. Gresham. God Transcendent. Edinburgh: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1949.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper and Row, 1951.

—-The Kingdom of God in America. New York: Harper & Row, 1959 [1937].

—-The Meaning of Revelation. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006.

—-The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry: Reflections on the Aims of Theological Education. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956.

Ottati, Douglas F. “Reformed Theology, Revelation, and Particularity: John Calvin and H. Richard Niebuhr.” Cross Currents 59, no. 2: 127-143. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost

Sandlin, P. Andrew. Speaking the Truth in Love: Frame’s Unique Contributions to the Christ-and-Culture Debate. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2009.

Stott, John R. W. “The Great Commission,” in One Race, One Gospel, One Task: World Congress on Evangelism, Berlin 1966, Official Reference Volumes, ed. Carl F. H. Henry and W. Stanley Mooneyham. Minneapolis: World Wide Publications, 1966. vol. 1, 46.

1 Niebuhr, H. Richard, The Meaning of Revelation, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006), p. 21. Niebuhr sought to frame an understanding of revelation that would answer the challenges of “historical relativism” and “religious relativism.” Historical Relativism: our knowledge and experience are historically conditioned. Religious Relativism: there is no neutral position in theology; when we consider truths regarding God or ourselves, those assertions are only as objectively correct as our historical situation and our weakest point of faith afford. Therefore, to Niebuhr, an additional subjective basis for revelation is necessary on those grounds.

2John 13:34-35 (All Scripture references NASB, unless otherwise noted)

3Referring to the “Father” of the Neo-Orthodox movement within Reformed Christianity, Karl Barth (1886-1968).

4Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, Twentieth-Century Theology: God and the world in a transitional age, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), p. 11.

5The “Social Gospel” was an early 20th century Christian movement in North America, primarily associated with Protestant Liberalism, and generally concerned with meeting the “felt needs” of the culture. It became troubling among conservative-minded Christians, such as J. Gresham Machen, for example, who perceived that, in its outworkings it either overshadowed or completely lost the truest and deepest objective of Christ’s gospel, which is to save sinners from the eternal wrath of God. Christians like Machen, Barth and Niebuhr certainly agreed that the culture’s needs must be met, to various degrees, but not at the risk of supplanting the true gospel with a false one.

6 H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America, (New York: Harper & Row, 1959 [1937]), p.193.

7 H. Richard Niebuhr, The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry: Reflections on the Aims of Theological Education (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956), pp. 25, 31.

8Douglas F. Ottati, “Reformed Theology, Revelation, and Particularity: John Calvin and H. Richard Niebuhr.” Cross Currents 59, no. 2: 127-143. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 23, 2015).

9H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, (New York: Harper and Row, 1951), p. 2.

10cf. Revelation 2:5. Several within the church have expressed that this was their biggest fear, that God had “removed” the church as a result of its sin.

11H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, (New York: Harper and Row, 1951), pp. 149-159.

12P. Andrew Sandlin, Speaking the Truth in Love: Frame’s Unique Contributions to the Christ-and-Culture Debate, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2009), pp. 838-839.

13John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2008), pp. 870-871.

14Realizing that the church had long been under a doctrinal standard that leaned heavily towards a “moral/ethical/behavioral gospel,” as opposed to Christ’s gospel, which understands these things as “symptoms” of the core issue: Sin.

15Edmund P. Clowney, The Church: Contours of Christian Theology, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), pp. 170-171. Clowney remarks that, “Niebuhr defends Luther [in his doctrine of the two kingdoms], describing the Reformer’s attitude to culture as that of paradox. [Niebuhr points out that Luther] did more than any leader before him to emphasize obedience to Christ in daily life…All vocations were spheres of service…[and thus] part of a common life dedicated to God.”

16P. Andrew Sandlin, Speaking the Truth in Love: Frame’s Unique Contributions to the Christ-and-Culture Debate, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2009), p. 839. Sandlin is paraphrasing Dr. John Frame’s “two big problems with [the concept of] Christ and Culture in Paradox.

17 H. Richard Niebuhr, The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry: Reflections on the Aims of Theological Education (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956), p. 26.

18Deuteronomy 10:14

19Matthew 28:19-20

20John 17:14-18

21J. Gresham Machen, God Transcendent, (Edinburgh: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1949), pp. 104-105. Machen helps the church adopt a biblical view of its “separateness” from the world. On the one hand, he stands firm: “If the sharp distinction is ever broken down between the church and the world, then the power of the church is gone.” Yet he does not miss the necessity of following the commandment to “go and make disciples…” when he appeals to Christ’s own qualification of the church’s separateness from the world: “There were many in those days who heard [Jesus] gladly: He enjoyed at first the favour of the people. But in that favour He saw a deadly peril; He would have nothing of a half-discipleship that meant the merging of the company of His disciples with the world. How ruthlessly He checked a sentimental enthusiasm! ‘Let the dead bury their dead,’ He told the enthusiast who came eagerly to Him but was not willing at once to forsake all.”

22Edmund P. Clowney, The Church: Contours of Christian Theology, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), p. 171.

23H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, (New York: Harper and Row, 1951), pp. 45-82.

24 H. Richard Niebuhr, The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry: Reflections on the Aims of Theological Education (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956), p. 33.

251 Peter 2:21

26Luke 15:2

27Luke 19:10

28H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, (New York: Harper and Row, 1951), pp. 230 & 232.

29Sola Scriptura means “by Scripture alone.” It is the Reformational Protestant doctrine that declares the Bible to be the supreme authority over all matters of doctrine and practice.

30H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, (New York: Harper and Row, 1951), pp. 190-229.

31P. Andrew Sandlin, Speaking the Truth in Love: Frame’s Unique Contributions to the Christ-and-Culture Debate, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2009), p. 840.

32Douglas F. Ottati, “Reformed Theology, Revelation, and Particularity: John Calvin and H. Richard Niebuhr.” Cross Currents 59, no. 2: 127-143. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 25, 2015).

33John R. W. Stott, “The Great Commission,” in One Race, One Gospel, One Task: World Congress on Evangelism, Berlin 1966, Official Reference Volumes, ed. Carl F. H. Henry and W. Stanley Mooneyham (Minneapolis: World Wide Publications, 1966) vol. 1, 46.

34H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, (New York: Harper and Row, 1951), pp. 190-191.

35Ibid., p. 197. In an awful display of exegesis, Niebuhr takes too far the concept of God creating all things “good.” He misrepresents John’s gospel when he says, “John could not say more forcefully that whatever is is good. There is no longer any suggestion here that the physical or material as such is subject to a special wrath of God, or that man, being carnal, is sold under sin. Flesh and spirit are carefully distinguished by John: ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’ But the physical, material, and temporal are never regarded as participating in evil in any peculiar way because they are not spiritual and eternal.” I ask, is this Universalism masked?

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