Friday 28 April 2023

Brad East (and Trevin Wax) on Church and Culture

Brad East has an article on Mere Orthodoxy – ‘Once More, Church and Culture’ – which, for those interested in the area, is well worth checking out.

It’s a longish piece, though Trevin Wax has a helpful summary here.

Writing from a US perspective, East starts with the reality that ‘Christendom is no more’.

He goes on to offer a helpful sample of some of the typologies on offer in the ‘church and culture’ debate, highlighting what he sees as some of their limitations, before proposing an alternative.

His brief survey limits itself to H. Richard Niebuhr and James Davison Hunter.

His criticisms of Hunter’s ‘faithful presence’ view is that it is ‘deeply American… deeply modern and Western’, that ‘it is a proposal by and for the upper-middle class’, and that it ‘suffers from an overly sanguine view of the professions and institutions in which Christians are called to be present’.

His own alternative is presented ‘not in rejection, but as an appreciative modification and extension of their proposals’.

‘As I see it, there is no one “correct” type, posture, or model. Instead, the church has four primary modes of faithful engagement with culture. They are inevitably overlapping and essentially non-competitive with one another. Which mode is called for depends entirely on context and content.’

Here are the four modes:


‘The church is always and everywhere called to resist injustice and idolatry wherever they are found’.


‘The church is always and everywhere called to repent of its sins, crimes, and failures’.


‘The church is always and everywhere called to receive from the world the many blessings bestowed upon it by God’.


‘The church is always and everywhere called to preach the gospel, which is the word of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ’.

The several benefits of this fourfold model, according to East, are that ‘it does not privilege any one mode’; that ‘it does not prioritize work as the primary sphere in which the church encounters a culture or makes its presence known’; that ‘it does not focus on any one class of persons within the church’; that ‘little here is measurable in terms of external or tangible impact’; that ‘there is no specific social arrangement or political regime either presupposed or generated by this proposal’; that it ‘understands that the faithful presence of the church is a differentiated presence’ (sometimes settling down, sometimes moving out, where ‘the fidelity of the church’s witness is measured not only by its presence to the world but also by its difference from the world’).

I read East’s article and summarised it here before reading Trevin Wax’s post, which also offers a helpful parsing of the issues.

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