Powers and Participation (Christian Ethics) Paper
Wendell Berry’s "Christianity and the Survival of Creation" says: "The complicity of Christian priests, preachers, and missionaries in the cultural destruction and the economic exploitation of the primary peoples of the Western Hemisphere, as of traditional cultures around the world, is notorious. Throughout the 500 years since Columbus’ first landfall in the Bahamas, the evangelist has walked beside the conqueror and the merchant, too often blandly assuming that their causes were the same. Christian organizations, to this day, remain largely indifferent to the rape and plunder of the world and of its traditional cultures. It is hardly too much to say that most Christian organizations are happily indifferent to the ecological, cultural, and religious implications of industrial economics as are most industrial organizations. The certified Christian seems just as likely as anyone else to join the military-industrial conspiracy to murder Creation. If we read the Bible, keeping in mind the desirability of those two survivals — of Christianity and the Creation — we are apt to discover several things about which modern Christian organizations have kept remarkably quiet or to which they have paid little attention."
A central question regarding Christianity and culture is whether and to what degree structures of cultures are often devices of social control and oppression, and what should be the response of Christians, both individually and collectively.
In a paper (1,500-2,000 words), address the following:
From your reading of Yeager’s and Stassen’s discussion of Niebuhr, how might they respond to Wendell Berry’s position as stated above? Develop your thoughts.
Prepare this assignment according to the APA guidelines found in the APA Style Guide, located in the Student Success Center. An abstract is not required.
The reading assignment for this paper is: 1. Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture Read chapters 2–4.
The book requirement for this paper is: . Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture Stassen, G., Yeager, D., & Yoder, J. (1996). Authentic transformation: A new vision of Christ and culture. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. ISBN-13: 9780687022731 (Print text is required)
The Lecture for this paper is attached below
Contexualization of Christian Worldview: Christ and Culture: Proposals of Yeager and Stassen
Having laid a foundation for knowing the basics of H. Richard Niebuhr’s classical typology of Christian ethics in secular societies and having considered John Howard Yoder’s analysis and critique, the discussion now turns to additional critical perspectives on the enduring problem of how to respond to the tensions between the demands of Christ and of cultures on Christian ethics.
Diane M. Yeager looks at the viability and challenges of the "Social Self in the Pilgrim Church," including the strength of true conversion; of the experiential and active presence of God; and of the Church’s apostolic, pastoral, pioneering, and pilgrimage functions in the societies in which it resides.
Glen H. Stassen then endeavors to develop what he calls specific and somewhat measurable Christological norms to evaluate genuine transformations in society through the influence of the Church. Stassen concludes the text by seeking to draw on all three previous essays to present an integral vision of the effective incarnation of Christian ethics in society through the presence and witness of the Christian community.
Participant-Observers in Shaping Cultures: Onward Christian Soldiers!
Yeager turns her attention to looking at the social analysis of Niebuhr’s formulations, especially regarding what some critics have said is his seeming ignoring of social structures and dimensions of the exercise of power in human societies. Yeager maintains that while Niebuhr certainly advocates for spiritual transformation as a priority, he nonetheless recognizes the need for the Church to effectively integrate faith and social action (Stassen et. al., 1996). She invokes Martin Hengel, a New Testament professor and historian, to reinforce this view:
• Thus the reign of God is not brought about in the first instance by socio-political transformation, but by the "transformed heart" which alone "is capable of new human community, of doing good." (Stassen et. al., 1996, p. 93)
A salient point in Yeager’s argument involves her emphasis on Niebuhr’s distinction that "the Roman Empire was not the creation of the Christian community, but present nations and cultures were ‘nursed and baptized by the Church’" (Stassen et. al., 1996, p. 115). By saying this, the argument is advanced that the transformation effect of the conversion of faith, the dynamic presence of God in the Church, and Niebuhr’s three functions of the Christian community (apostolic, pastoral, and pioneering) actually changes the structures and power alignments in societies (Stassen et. al., 1996).
The historical outworking of this idealism, however, has proven to be quite inconsistent due to the deeply involved participant-observer status of many Christian communities as they gained political and economic power in the ascendant cultures of their eras. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, Manifest Destiny, and modern European reconnaissance and colonialization of much of the earth are but a few examples of the excesses and abuses possible when the Christian social structure becomes too participatory in and very much of the secular world. One recognizes once more the challenges and why Niebuhr’s "‘enduring problem’ that he grapples with is so important, and even more so in our time of pluralism, postmodernism, global encounter of multiple cultures, and culture wars" (Stassen et. al., 1996, p. 10).
Returning to the Center: Thine is the Kingdom!
Stassen set out to demonstrate (and develop a theologically solid apologetic) that Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture framework is thorough, applicable, and able to be expressed in terms of concrete norms for the social conduct of the Church in society.
The imperative dynamic of Stassen’s argument is that the framework calls the Church back to the sovereignty of God in terms of a theocentric faith that both confronts and transforms the cultures in which it is expressed (Stassen et. al., 1996).
Stassen et al. (1996) draws on Niebuhr for three essential characteristics that typified eras when transformative faith impacted the societies in which it flourished:
• Belief in the sovereignty of God over all of life
• Belief in the sovereign God as the living, dynamic, eternal Judge and Redeemer
• Belief that God’s will is known with structure and content
Working from these foundational assumptions, Stassen endeavors to develop what he calls "concrete, theocentric norms within the limits of historical realism" (Stassen et. al., 1996)., hoping to head off the critiques of abstraction and idealism that have frequently been directed to Niebuhr’s framework. While confessing that they are not exhaustive, Stassen (in Stassen et al., 1996) nonetheless regards his seven norms as "fundamental tests of the extent to which we are being faithful to God’s revelation in Christ" Judging, but forgiving, healing, and breaking down the barriers that marginalize or exclude
• Delivering justice
• Evangelism, preaching the gospel, and calling for repentance and discipleship
• Nonviolent transforming initiatives
• Loving your enemy
• Mutual servanthood
It is not incidental that Stassen regards these theocentric norms, and the specific actions that flow from them, as veritable means of deliverance of the Church and its surrounding cultures from the "kingdoms" of this world that they might together become the "Kingdom of our God and of His Christ!"
In trying to express a new vision for the Church, Stassen pays homage to the importance of Niebuhr’s seminal thinking in Christ and Culture, and also draws on the three preceding essays (Yoder’s, Yeager’s, and his own), holding that their critical insights "point in mutually complementary directions for the church in our multipolar society" (Stassen et. al., 1996, p. 13).
Stassen’s detailed analysis puts essential emphasis on what he had termed earlier as incarnational correction (Stassen et. al., 1996), illustrating from historical realism the need for the Church to continually evaluate itself in terms of Niebuhr’s three essential functions of the Christian community: the apostolic (believing and proclaiming that God in Christ is Redeemer), the pioneering (believing and modeling that God in the Holy Spirit is living and dynamic in human societies and cultures), and the pastoral (believing and caring that God the Father is Creator and active in healing and forgiving sinners, outcasts, and even society) (Stassen et. al., 1996).
Stassen, G., Yeager, D., & Yoder, J. (1996). Authentic transformation: A new vision of Christ and culture. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
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