In “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” Wendell Berry expresses the nature of Christians who are often regarded as indifferent and unconcerned about caring for God’s creation. Similarly, Yeager and Stassen’s provide a discussion that incorporates a response to Wendell Berry’s position of Christian’s role in ecological crisis. Without rebuffing the fact that Christians have become irresponsible, intolerant, and undisturbed residents, Niebuhr starts with a protracted debate of the “persistent problem,” which is the progressive challenge of getting relevant reactions from Christians concerning culture. After admitting that Christians have one response about the challenge, he drafts taxonomy of five classes to illustrate the comprehension and evaluation of the complex relationship between Christianity and culture including a short list of strengths and weaknesses. With the basic knowledge of Richard Niebuhr’s typical typology of Christian ethics within secular communities and the consideration of the analysis of Yeager and Stassen’s discussion of Niebuhr, the essay will turn to a critical evaluation of Wendell Berry’s position. The position concerns the “enduring problem” as a response to the inherent tensions between Christ’s demands and those of different cultures on Christian morality.
Nierbuhr’s book Authentic Transformation commences with an introduction in which he expresses “the enduring challenge.” There has been a challenge of linking Christianity and development since Christ’s time. Niebuhr assumes a methodology that takes different approaches to looking at the problem. None of the responses is considered as conclusive. The book represents an attempt to address social proponents who regarded Christianity as a danger to acceptable civilization. The proponents are the same ones who indicted the Christianity religion as falling short in contributing positively to Western culture.
Yeager Diane explores the practicability and challenges of the “Social Individual in the Pilgrim Church” as well as God’s active power and pragmatic presence and of the pilgrimage, evangelical, apostolic, and pioneering church roles in the society. Glen Stassen H then undertakes measures to establish what he considers precise and measurable Christological standards to assess genuine changes in society through the church’s influence. Stassen’s conclusion of the text marks his resolve to reflect on three past essays to deliver an elaborate dream of the operational embodiment of morality in society via the Christian community’s observation and presence.
Yeager acknowledges Niebuhr’s perspective of the pluralistic basis of Christianity. The inference is that the Christian religion is singularly gospel and is often articulated in the dialect of a plurality of traditional circumstances. Consequently, she turns to examining the social assessment of Niebuhr’s interpretations particularly concerning what some opponents have asserted is his perception to be ignoring the social framework and scopes of exercising power in many societies. Her criticism of Niebuhr’s typology is because she thought it fails to make the relevant value judgements. Yeager upholds that whereas Niebuhr undoubtedly promotes spiritual change as important, she nevertheless acknowledges the requirement for the church to integrate faith and social action in an effective manner. In an attempt to reinforce the perspective, she implores Martin Hengel, who is a professor and historian of the New Testament. Thus, socio-political changes do not bring about God’s reign but rather by the “changed heart” that can singlehandedly bring about new community of humans that do good.
A point to note in the discussion by Yeager includes her stress on Niebuhr’s distinction that the Empire of Rome was not developed by the Christians but rather the church nursed and baptized the current states and cultures. With this argument, the discussion becomes stronger that God’s dynamic presence and pragmatism, the change outcome of the conversion of faith and Niebuhr’s three roles of the Christians (pastoral, pioneering and apostolic) actually transforms the power and framework alignments within communities.
However, the historical course of this idealism has proved to be somewhat unpredictable because of the profound status of participant observation of numerous Christian societies. The status has considerably transformed as the societies gained economic and political influence in the main cultures of their periods. A few examples of the extremities and abuses that happened when social structures of Christians contributed a lot and engaged with the secular world include the Manifest Destiny, the contemporary European colonization, and reconnaissance, the Crusades and the Inquisition of Spain. Once more, the challenges and the reasons for Niebuhr’s “enduring challenge” become evident and important to people and furthermore during the time of postmodernism, pluralism, international interaction of cultures and cultural wars.
Stassen set out to validate and establish a religiously dominant apologetic for the Christian society. The apologetic is that the framework by Niebuhr of culture and Christ is rigorous, pragmatic and can be articulated in terms of tangible standards for Christian’s social practice within the society. The vibrant and imperative nature of Stassen’s discussion is that its structure advocates the Christians to return to God’s sovereignty in the form of a theocentric trust, which talks about and changes the cultures where it is demonstrated. Stassen reflects on Niebuhr’s argument that provided the three main attributes, which attributed periods when revolutionary faith changed the communities in which it ensured: believing in God’s dominion over all other life, believing in God’s sovereignty as the dynamic, saviour, and eternal judge, and believing that the will of God is identified with framework and material composition. With the outlined critical assumptions, Stassen seeks to establish the things he terms as “tangible theocentric standards within the scopes of historical pragmatism” with the hope to address the criticisms of idealism and abstraction, which have regularly been made against Niebuhr’s structure. Whereas affirming that these are not definitive, Stassen nevertheless considers the seven principles as “significant tests of the scope to which Christians are being faithful to the revelation of God in Christ” – healing, being merciful and breaking all the barriers, which exclude or discriminate. The seven norms are: love your enemy, justice delivery, preaching the gospel, evangelising and calling for discipleship and repentance, nonaggressive initiatives of transformation, prayer and common servant hood. It is unusual that he considers the theocentric standards and the particular practices, which stem from them as absolute path of salvation of the church and its neighbouring principles that they may unite to become “God and Christ’s Kingdom.”
From the readings of Yeager and Stassen about Niebuhr, it is clear that they react to Wendell Berry’s stance as articulated in “Christianity and the Survival of Creation.” The cultural destruction and economic exploitation by various Christian leaders has been evident in the society. Moreover, Christian institutions largely remain ignorant of the abuse and plunder of the universe and of its classical cultures, environment, and theological implications. The Christians seem to contribute in killing God’s creation and they largely remain quiet over important issues as well. Therefore, based on Yeager and Stassen’s discussion, Christians should conduct themselves in a manner that brings glory and honour to God in a world culture that is increasingly rebellious to Christ and his wisdom. Therefore, Christians have an obligation within their communities to respond to the societal frameworks of social control and oppression at both the individual and communal levels in an attempt to abiding by God’s will.
We can do it today.
To sum up Stassen mentions the significance of Niebuhr’s seminal reasoning in Christ and culture in his attempts to illustrate a new direction for the church. He also reflects on Yeager’s, Yoder’s and his own essay maintaining that their significant perspectives point in common complementary paths for the Christians in the multifocal society. Stassen’s compressive assessment puts significant stress on what he had termed previously as incarnate correction demonstrating the necessity for the church to assess itself persistently in relation to Niebuhr’s three significant roles of the Christians. The roles are: believe in Christ as saviour, believing and modelling of God’s Holy Spirit as living and vibrant in human cultures and societies, and the belief in God as the creator, healer and forgiver of sins.
- Berry, Wendell. “Christianity and the Survival of Creation.” CrossCurrents(1993): 149-163.
- Marsden, George. “Christianity and cultures: Transforming Niebuhr’s categories.” Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary 115 (1999): 4-15.
- Stassen, Glen Harold, Diane M. Yeager, John Howard Yoder, and H. Richard Niebuhr. Authentic Transformation a New Vision of Christ and Culture. Abingdon Press, 1996.
- George M. Marsden, “Christianity and Culture: Transforming Niebuhr’s Categories,” Insights 115 (1999): 4.
- Glen H. Stassen, D. N. Yeager, and John Howard Yoder. Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 3.
- Stassen, Yeager, and Yoder, Authentic Transformation, 9.
- Ibid, 93.
- Ibid, 115.
- Ibid, 10.
- Ibid, 13.
- Ibid, 27.
- WendellBerry. “Christianity and the Survival of Creation.” CrossCurrents(1993), 149.