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May 08, 2009


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Travis Greene

Have you read Yoder's critique of Niebuhr's typology? I can't remember much of the specifics, but I remember finding it compelling. He takes great issue with Niebuhr's attitude toward Anabaptist thought as basically "that sounds nice, but you're irrelevant".

Michael W. Kruse

I haven't read Yoder's critique but Stackhouse quotes from it with affirmation. I think Stackhouse might frame it this way.

A. Niebuhr created a typology not a taxonomy.

B. Niebuhr inappropriately attacked Christ Against Culture on the basis of a taxonomic use of his typology.

C. Yoder and others discredited Niebhur's attack on Anabaptists.

D. Some therefore conclude that the typology has been discredited.

E. In fact, Niebuhr's misuse of his own typology is what was discredited, not the typology itself.

F. Therefore, the typology is still useful if used as a typology.

When this book was discussed at Jesus Creed it was clear to me that some of the Yoder/Hauerwas club were so antagonistic toward any credibility being given to Niebhur's typology that they shut there minds to anything else Stackhouse had to say. That is unfortunate because I don't think they have understood the use and purpose of ideal types, and Niebuhr didn't help his own cause.

Josh Rowley

Great summary. I've been interested in this subject since attending Austin Seminary several years ago. It was the time of the 5oth anniversary of Niebuhr's "Christ and Culture" lectures there--which would later become his famous book. Marsden and others visited, speaking on the continuing relevance of Niebuhr's typology. Marsden was fairly critical of it; he argued for some kind of hybrid approach to culture.

Have you considered (or does Stackhouse consider) the possibility that a focus on converting individuals is really an example of "Christ and culture in paradox"? It seems to me that this focus largely ignores social or cultural issues. Thus, Christians who have this focus seem to be preoccupied with evangelizing culture ("Christ") while having a mostly apolitical attitude toward "culture." The paradox is that individuals need converting, but Western culture is largely acceptable as is (even "Christian").

Michael W. Kruse

Stackhouse actually touches on Marsden’s critique. I haven’t read it for myself but I think Marsden is treating Niebuhr’s work as a taxonomy instead of typology. You only need hybrids if you are trying to describe real world situations instead of ideal types.

I can see how the Paradox option might comport well the personal-evangelism mode that ignores social/cultural issues. I don’t think that is the only group that fits here. I believe personal evangelism is important, but so are social/cultural issues. Here is the rock and the hard place I live in.

Paradox can be used as excuse for not taking responsibility for social cultural change. I want to resist that trap. But the other side is epistemic certainty. Many transformationists, IMO, (whether religious right, liberationists, Hauerwasians, etc.) have too great a certainty about two things:

1. Our ability to grasp the complexities social/political realities and the ramifications of changes.

2. Our ability to accurately ascertain what the Kingdom of God is and how it should engage the present context.

In other words, there is a lack of epistemic humility. So I find myself in constant frustration with both the “evangelism only” crowd and the idealistic transformationists. I’ve never found a home with either.

Josh Rowley

Love the phrase "epistemic humility"--used it myself in a different context just the other day.

I think you're right that one of the weaknesses of the "Christ transforming culture" type is its idealism. However, I'm not sure Hauerwasians fit this type. Hauerwas is critical of persons who make the goal of the church the transformation of society rather than simply being the church. He sees the transformation of culture as a potential by-product of the church being the church. Perhaps Hauerwasians might be better described as "Christ against culture" minus the withdrawal...?

Michael W. Kruse

"Perhaps Hauerwasians might be better described as "Christ against culture" minus the withdrawal...?"

I think that is probably fair.

I think groups like the religous right or liberationists are overly confident in their political agenda. That meets my first criteria.

I haven't read a lot of Hauwerwas but what I perceive from many enthusiasts strikes me as an overly confident understanding of which things are of the Kingdom of God and which aren't. (criteria 2) That is why I picked on them as an example.

My experience is that I tend to provoke a response from all them that I'm too compromised; not radical enough.

Josh Rowley

Ah. I'll read you a little longer before judging you.

Michael W. Kruse


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