I am going to have to dig out my old Bible college Ethics text Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr. I seem to be thinking a lot about Christianity and Culture and I am not really sure where the Orthodox Church would come down on the issue. Many of you might have also used this text and will recall that the gist of the book was a description of five means by which we might view the relationship between the church and culture. There was “Christ against Culture”, “Christ of Culture”, “Christ above Culture”, “Christ in Paradox with Culture”, and finally “Christ the Transformer of Culture.” Many folks nowadays seem to subscribe to the paradigm of “Christ transforming culture” and if this is true then we who are Eastern Orthodox are in a precarious situation. Let me explain…

Conciliar Press publishes a small booklet entitled The Mission of Orthodoxy by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, which I have begun to thumb through recently. A bit of what Fr. Schmemann says:

Only here in the west, and for the first time in the history of Orthodoxy, do we think of the Church in terms only of a religious institution such as diocese, parish, and so on. No one in organically Orthodox countries has ever thought of the Church as being distinct from the totality of life…the Church was organically related to society, culture, education, family, etc. There was no separation, no dichotomy.

Here, then, we find the first radical difference which we have to face in America: We belong to the Orthodox Church, but we do not belong to an Orthodox culture, and unless we understand that this is not an academic proposition, but the real framework of our existence, we will not see clearly through our situation. For everything in the Orthodox Church points toward a way of life; the Church is connected to all aspects of life. Yet we are deprived of this connection because, upon leaving our churches on Sunday morning, we return to a culture which was not produced, shaped, or inspired by the Orthodox Church and which, therefore, in a way is deeply alien to Orthodoxy.

WOW!This little introduction to this booklet really floored me…he really hit the nail on the head in terms of what I have been thinking lately. I’ll be frank: oftentimes I hate our culture – I despise it and judge it as destructive and dark. I am sorely tempted to side with the “Christ against Culture” crowd and withdraw into a commune of like-minded individuals. But, there is also a small non-cynical side of me that wants and hopes to see our culture transformed…but, assuming it is possible, into what and how? I am anxious to read more of what Fr. Schmemann has to say in this work.

We ought to stand and ask ourselves, what has made this American culture? Who fathered it and then who mothered (nursed it) into maturity? As much as I did not like the tone of Frank Schaeffer’s (son of the more well known theologian with the same name) book
Dancing Alone
, it does not prevent me from seeing a good deal of truth in it. I would recommend it, at the risk of having it offend some people.


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