Hammett on Emerging Church 5.0

Intro, 1, 2, 3, 4, and now . . .

I need your help on this one. Dr John Hammett brings a challenge to the emerging church. Its a valid question and deserves an answer. If you have tracked this series up to this point, perhaps you could help us out by giving your response – just give one answer to this poll. But wait until the end of this post before you decide.

John Hammett wants to know “Are there occasions when you take the posture of Christ against culture?” I know Hammett is identifying “postmodernism” as the word we use to define the culture we work in. Many of us no longer use that word because of its misunderstandings. But the question is still legitimate, whatever we call the culture we live in and respond to with the Gospel.

In his paper An Ecclesiological Assessment of the Emerging Church (pdf), Hammett turns to Niebuhr’s 5 approaches to culture:

” . . . their [emerging church] understanding and appropriation of postmodern culture is crucial.

In his classic work
Christ and Culture, Richard Niebuhr gave five classic ways in which the church has related to culture: Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ and culture in paradox, and Christ as the transformer of culture. Of these five models, those in the emerging church could possibly accept any of the five as legitimate responses except for the first, for that model sees the need for the culture to change to conform to Christ, rather than for the church to adjust its methods and message in light of the culture. Yet there are a number of voices in contemporary evangelicalism that have, in effect, advocated this model as the appropriate response to postmodernity.37″

Bill Arnold, who has blogged about the emerging church on occasion, has a good summary of the points on his blog [save you buying the book].

Christ and Culture (intro) “Basically, he says that culture is:

1. always social (individuals cannot be a culture unto themselves)

2. a human achievement (it’s not a natural phenomenon, it’s something we create)

3. concerned with values that are chiefly intended to enhance our own well-being

4. focused on the “temporal and material realization of values.” (p.36)

5. “concerned with the conservation of values” (p.37)

6. pluralistic (in any setting there will be a variety of individuals with their own unique set of values)”

Niebuhr present five categories for the ways in which Christians choose to interact with culture. Take a quick look at each one

Christ against Culture

Christ of Culture

Christ above Culture

Christ and Culture in Paradox

Christ the Transformer of Culture

Sooo . . . which one would you chose? Time to take a vote. There is no right answer. Just choose ONE answer that best describes either you or your emerging church.

I might take a separate poll for Fundamentalists at a later stage because i am interested to see where they place themselves. But if you identify with the emerging missional church in all its forms, go ahead and choose one. And I would really like to hear of examples of a choice between Christ or culture.


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • People might classify this as “Christ the transformer of culture”, but I tend to look at it as “Christ the redeemer of culture”.
    Transformer (to me) describes a thought process that pre-ordains one right cultural expression and idea.
    Redeemer embodies the idea of making man right with God no matter the cultural expression, idea, location, etc…
    Just my thoughts.

  • Roger says:

    This is a great excercise Andrew. I’m very interested in the question as well. At this point, 75% have chosen “Christ the transformer of culture.” I hope people will also comment here about why they chose the option they did. What exaclty are people doing that they view as Christ transforming culture, or redeeming it, etc.?

  • andrew jones says:

    yes – which areas.
    i would guess social, justice and economic would be high.
    economic was high for Jesus also (Zaccheus) He spoke a lot about finances as a strong visible sign of inner repentance and transformation.

  • 80% now with the Transformer.
    Why? For my wife and I. moving in the circles of the arts, there are numerous opportunities to take the messages offered and ‘redeem’ them through the message of the cross. The examples are too many, but suffice it to say that, our attempts at employing any other perspectives (Above, Against, etc.) have met with less ‘success’ in extending the kingdom into unreached people groups in the States.
    Andrew, it was one of Mark’s (http://demarkation.blogspot.com) statments back in ’99 that really got me thinking. It went something like this:
    “You see, you (Criswell bible college students) come here to Lower Greenville SMU’s bar area in Dallas) and walk up and down the street, passing out tracts that will be dropped on the ground and forgotten as trash. Our job (He and Dawn as cultural missionaries) is to be the one sitting next to the guy who got the tract, sipping a glass of wine with him and asking, ‘So, what do you think about that?’
    It is all about approach. We “parachuted in” and then went “home” to our cozy cultural homes. Mark and Dawn were living there on Lower Greenville, drinking there, playing and celebrating Christ there.

  • Christ wants to be all in all: this implies transforming culture.
    However, there are a couple of problems. First, Jesus changes hearts first and then that flows out to a changed culture. We often try to change culture, before hearts have been changed. That makes us seem overbearing and judgmental.
    Second, we have difficulty distinguishing the parts of our own culture that need to be changed. If you lived in the Roman empire it would be easy. Christians in the USA and NZ can easily have blindspots regarding their culture. We can often confuse our culture with Christ, thus failing to allow him to transform our nation.
    Ron Mck

  • ScottB says:

    Speaking from a USAmerican context, I think issues like race relations including slavery and the civil rights movement are examples of Christ against culture. A more recent example is Walsh and Keesmaat’s treatment of globalization and consumerism in Colossians Remixed.
    As for the poll, I think it’s a faulty premise. There is no one stance that’s always valid. I think all are true in various contexts, and even in the same context. What is to be redeemed and what is to be opposed? That’s the question of contextualization, I think.
    Another excellent discussion is Bevans’s Models of Contextual Theology where he discusses various approaches to contextualizing the gospel – some parallels to Niebuhr’s stuff, I believe, based on Bill’s summaries.

  • Kester says:

    Nice work Andrew. Reading what Arnold says about culture, I’m reminded of once hearing something along the lines of ‘indiginous people living in mud huts are not allowed a lifestyle. Only a way of life.’ Why? Because Niebuhr appears to be putting forward a view of culture that is something we can choose to be a part of, a lifestyle choice. I’d disagree with that. Culture is not something we opt in or out of. Perhaps, culture IS our relationships, our stories; the momentum of our interactions and actions.
    What people tend to push around as ‘culture’ is the high art crap. I’m not going to put this well, as short of time, but this is not culture, just another example of people projecting their stories large, and creating desires for others to be part of them.
    If culture is simply the momentum of our relationships and actions, then perhaps there is no bad or good culture. No bad culture to be redeemed, risen above, transformed, opposed. Perhaps there are just good and bad inter/actions.
    So to reflect on your poll, if pushed I’d be a transformer. But we need to appreciate the individual responsibility that such a view brings. It’s not some ‘thing’ out there that Christ is transforming. It’s the infection of the Spirit in each one of us individually… It’s how we treat the butcher. What we decide to make. What we decide to write. How we respond to what others have written… From a distance it looks like culture. Day to day, it looks like what each one of us chooses to do….
    Maybe. I might be wrong™

  • andrew jones says:

    thanks kester
    scott – the slavery issue is big also in UK – some of the emerging church/alt. worship crowd have taken the initiative to stamp it out through protest4.com – but even here, to say Christ against culture seems to me a half measure. We are against (slavery) but we are FOR releasing and retraining the girls caught in trafficking. which is more like transforming culture to me – if you follow it through
    i know its hard for a complex mind to answer a reductionist poll.
    thanks to those of you who are trying. i know that (as hammett says) there are moments for all these to be appropriate.

  • Brodie says:

    Niebuhr’s catagories are wrong headed. So it’s also wrongheaded to try and place emerging church or any other expression of church within these catagories. Let Hammett use these catagories but that should not rail road “us” into being defined by these catagories by also using them.

  • I know this may be to “postmodern” but to limit myself to only one would be an inaccurate description of how I live faith. It seems to me that you can find Christ doing all of these throughout scripture. He adapts his approach to fit the person, the need and the situation at hand.
    What I really wanted to address is…
    John Hammett wants to know “Are there occasions when you take the posture of Christ against culture?”
    Of course there are. Where I live the divorce rate is over 60%. The fact that my wife and are are still together after 15 years is a direct stance against culture.
    In addition, I work a regular job and everyday I have to take a stand against lying, cheating, and a whole host of issues. I take stances against the abuse, addictions and apathy.
    There are many issues that I take a stand on that are against culture…and I honestly believe the reason the people I live and work with aren’t turned off by the stances I take is because I have not limited myself to only one of the five choices. The result being since they know my heart they are willing to listen.
    In summary, Why are so many critical of the emerging church? Why do they make the accusations they make? Maybe it’s because many of our stances are against the safety and security of the church culture they are comfortable with. Which, to be honest is yet another choice Christ against Religious Culture.

  • Scott,
    I can see your point about being “against” the culture of divorce. However, as Andrew pointed out, our role is not just to be against the things that are wrong and indicators of the brokenness of our world. If we only stand up and say we area against something and, in the end, do nothing to intentionally allow the kingdom break through in the culture, we are falling into Jesus’ warning in Matt 25. “When I was… you didn’t…” The logical conclusion is that instead of doing something proactive, we just sit back and talk about the condition of those who are broken in our midst.
    So, again, it is not just enough to be against. We must do something proactive to change the situation.

  • O…I totally agree…that’s why I first stated that to paint me as one only would be inaccurate.
    My statement is more aimed at those who are critical of the emerging church and saying that we are never against anything that’s sin. Some have even gone so far as to say we are “soft on sin”. I haven’t seen that. Was Jesus soft on sin when the woman washed his feet or was he soft on sin with Zacheus? There is my point.
    Many of the emergents that I know do take stands against culture in the very proactive way that you mention. Our critics can’t seem to see that?
    Many of the emergents I know will never be asked those questions mentioned in Matt. 25…why…because we are there.

  • Andrew
    interesting thing to host
    and yes i voted with the pack, and why not?
    i agree there is an artificial nature to Niebhurs categorys. indeed i can’t see how the first makes sense unless its a heresy ;o) the incarnation blows a big hole through christ against culture unless it is to transform it from within. the ‘outside’ postion is rendered void by Christ. we ar all in culture like it or not and influneced by it. there is not such thing as a non inculturated faith. that applies to Christ first and us after. trouble is some christians have not seen thsi and pretended there is such a thing as ‘christian culture’ separated out from culture in general. as i read it there is only christians in culture working throuhg culture to see how the kingdom of God comes uniquely to birth in this time place and culture.

  • ScottB says:

    Andrew – I hear what you’re saying. When I look at it from that perspective, I begin to wonder if there isn’t a bit of the more traditional evangelical view of the world passing away in the emphasis on “against”. In other words, given the typical focus on heaven over against earth and eternity over against the present, it’s only natural in that schema to take a view of Christ against culture. The cultures of this world will pass away, so there isn’t a point to transform them.
    On the other hand, the view that seems more common in the emerging church is that culture is being redeemed, not passing away. Transformation then is a natural impulse.
    I could be wrong, but it’s interesting to consider.
    And along those lines, I’d definitely lean towards transforming.

  • nate custer says:

    Andrew – I think the bar you set for “Christ Against” – that for Christ to be against the culture, we must be against something and not for anything else related to it – is quite high.
    To give a firm reply to Hammett we draw a line, showing how we are support the idea of Christ against culture (human trafficing) and beleive in coupling it with Christ Transforming (release and retrain).
    In my own ministry context, the element of culture I find Christ calling me to stand against is the culture of despair I see in my kids lives.[1]
    I find myself trying to give voice to the apocalyptic worldview that in spite of what they see, things are not as they seem. The idea that there is hope.
    Given the counter-cultural roots of many of the people Hammett seeks to criticise I am honestly suprised that his suggestion is being taken seriously at all. The very act of living your life outside of the so many of the popular meta-naritives is an incarnational rebuttal. Its also best I can tell one of the main models of how Christ responded to culture.
    Am I missing the thrust of this?
    1: When I say “The culture of despair
    ” it is really a remixing of Francis Schaeffer’s Line of Despair. My father suggest to me there is a 100-150 year time lag between ideas in philosophy and science, and their expression in the every day descisions of most people.

  • the blicks says:

    Not all of us are bright enough to read and understand all this unfortunately. But I had an experience last week which might be a response. I watched a young couple with more than a few piercings (everywhere). Dressed in black and leathers they kissed hurting each other. He left. She sat on the bus bench with Sam and I.
    “Excuse me,” I asked, ” What culture is this?”
    ” No culture” she answered. ” I like this band. I thought this morning I’d dress like this.”
    We talked about the band. Then I tried again.
    ” So it’s a sort of rock culture?”
    “I guess,” she said.
    Then the conversation became really interesting. She said she’d thought I was one of those Christians who’ll whip out a tract with “Are you saved?”
    I admitted immediately that I WAS a Christian. I was interested in people. 10 minutes later we parted on excellent terms. She offered info and asked forgiveness for JUDGING ME!!!!! WITHOUT me asking another question. I’d learnt that she’d grown up in a Christian home, that she followed her brother in rebelling. That he was now studying to be a minister in Norway and that she was going to visit him. That she was scared. We both agreed that the disabled like Sam are the real people who show how they really feel. Often they express in body language what we conceal e.g. hurt feelings. I pray that this is to be continued. I can pray in the meantime. Let those who have discernment interpret…….love fleur

  • Bill says:

    Thanks for the links, Andrew. I have concluded that there are many problems with Niebuhr’s typology, but it’s still a useful discussion starter.
    I see a little of me in all of the categories, accept maybe “Christ Against Culture.” I lean toward the transformationist view, but for some reason feel a certain tension about assuming I know what needs to be changed about other peoples’ values. I want to submit to the authority of Christ, but at the same time, I want to remember that my understanding of Christs’ values are conditioned by my own cultural perspective.

  • Dana Ames says:

    God wants to reconcile ALL things in Christ.
    Transformational, for sure, with all the caveats the good thinkers above have put out there.

  • Bill says:

    Are you assuming that all things are in need of reconciling? Is there nothing that’s fine (i.e. pleasing to God) the way it is?

  • Dana Ames says:

    here are a few things I know.
    God called his creation good. Yet it has been waiting for a release that has something to do with the fullness and glory of God’s renewed humanity in Jesus. I think his own good creation and our Kingdom-rooted attitudes and actions are pleasing to him. We are not pleasing to him all the time, but it doesn’t depend on us. It’s all to do with Jesus, God incarnate.
    God has to be big enough to be able to reconcile all things, someday, somehow, in Jesus. This does not mean calling Evil good. It’s that God’s plans are much bigger. There’s a lot I don’t know- I don’t know all the whys and I surely don’t know the hows, but this is what makes sense to me.

  • Bill says:

    I think that there are parts of culture that are neutral, or amoral. That’s why I ask. So the question becomes, “What parts need redeeming?”
    This is why I don’t think it’s so easy to just land in a “transformationist” camp and not acknowledge any other way of thinking.
    I think perhaps people are not getting a full picture of the different types.
    Anyway, I don’t want to come off as picking on you. Sorry if I was rather confrontational.

  • zimmerBlog says:

    TallSkinnyKiwi: Hammett on Emerging Church 5.0

    Here’s an interesting blog entry where someone asks how the emergent church can approach culture as Christian. He asks, in a poll, which one of Richard Niebuhr’s 5 ways to relate to culture best describes the approach of your emerging-missional church?…

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