Niebuhr attempts to understand and evaluate the various ways in which Christians throughout history and today have understood the relationship between Christ and culture. These he divides into five types:
1. “Christ Against Culture” — Those who posit that Christ and culture are diametrically opposed and cannot be reconciled.
2. “Christ of Culture” — Those who attempt to domesticate Christ within the confines of whatever culture they happen to find themselves in already.
3. “Christ Above Culture” — Those who believe Christ to be reconcilable to culture, in some sense, yet apart from and transcendent of it.
4. “Christ and Culture in Paradox” — Those who posit that Christ and culture are opposed, yet man must necessarily live within both realms, whether simultaneously or intermittently.
5. “Christ the Transformer of Culture” — The conversionist model, as he calls it, posits that culture can be transformed through Christ.
Niebuhr does an excellent job a number of fronts. Perhaps most importantly, in a work like this, he allows each of these positions to speak for itself. He refuses to caricature and he does not offer criticism of a given position until he has allowed that position to explain itself fully. When he does criticize, his criticisms are consistently fair and incisive.
Niebuhr’s approach allows him to admit each of these positions into the mainstream of the heritage of Christianity and so into the collective Christian consciousness. The end result is one that explains and critiques without being weighed down by judgment and agenda. I recommend this work to anyone interested in the relationship between the Christian faith and the various culture contexts in which it has found itself as well as the new cultural contexts in which it finds itself today, both as it spreads to lands where it has not previously reached and as the traditionally Christian societies of the West experience numerous and rapid shifts in culture and mores.