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December 02, 2004



the seeker sensitive model has often confused me, and i was involved with one for some time. it seems to me that when people are looking for a new church, they are basically saying they want a new and different option in life. so why do these churches provide only what the culture around them is willing to give? and what becomes of jesus then? is he just this new guy that you begin to hang with who just smiles a lot and nods and is very gentle and won't confront you on the things you do in life? basically, i think these churches are just playing it safe, and that really scares me.

Dino Zaragoza


Good discussion starters. I like the blending of the second and last one. I think there are some "emerging churches" (whatever that means) that are trying to incarnate Christ in the culture and see God at work in culture rather than draw such a strong dichotomy between "church" and culture. I think Len Sweet has underscored that. They are interested in helping the poor...concerned about the AIDS epidemic...envrionment....consumerism...and individualism...but at the same time trying to impact culture through the creative arts (not cheesy stuff either) but through film,dance, various kinds of liturature ect. I think of MOSAIC in Los Angeles who are seeking to become that kind of community

I also think it is difficult to try address some of your concerns and issues because they can be quite polarizing. I see the hypocrisy in your concerns, but they seem to be much more difficult questions in my estimation. For example, how do you pastor a family who have sons and daughters fighting in Iraq and hold such strong pacifist views...how can you encourage and be sympathetic towards them? How do you battle consumerism when it certainly isn't going away and is such an ingrained and view of life? When is too much? Is consumerism evil in itself? Same questions can asked about individualism.

These are things I continue to struggle through.

Whisky Prajer

"Resident Menno," here, with an additional question. Niebuhr's characterization - "Christ against culture" - seems appropriate to past Anabaptist approaches. Current Anabaptist efforts seem bent on finding the fabled "Third Way." Is there possibly a "Sixth Model" we can construct?


I think the partial answer to Daniel, at least from my perspective, is the market driven church. Noll and Hatch and others have written about American religious history and the unintended consequence of not having a state run church, or even a heavily institutionalized church. If you lived in a Catholic culture, you would most likely attend your local parish, but in America's free-for-all, you had the combination of religious experimentation and a direct rejection of seminary-trained, tradition-bound clergy. The result was small churches who had to essentially "sell" themselves to the brethren. If this church didn't provide what the people wanted, they walked to another church. Challenging people to live vastly different lives than the culture around them was tenable only if the people already felt alienated from that culture. Fast-forward to today's church and you have a church that cannot speak out against affluence lest it lose its wealth and aspiring wealthy members. Those elements of culture it challenges are already threatening to their members (homosexuality, drugs, abortion). Anyway, that is a partial explanation, at least.


I can really only comment on the last one of the five. Christ transforming culture. I would tend not to lump Wesley in with that group. The only reason I can say that is that I know the perspective that Niebuhr wrote from (and I had a class on this in undergrad and the book was the textbook.)

I would tend to say that the Christ Transforming Culture zietgeist is the one that I come from. I would tend to associate it more with the reformed churches (as a branch started by Calvin.)

I agree that Niebuhr's understanding of anabaptism seems not to match up 100 percent with my experience...older forms of anabaptism perhaps.

My two cents.


Your comparison of "seeker churches" to the more liberal churches works only if you work within Niebuhr's framework, a framework that is useful but far too simplistic. If the only thing you take into account is the churches' relation to culture, then you cannot not draw fair lines of distinction. The seeker model churches that you are talking about do not in any significant way resemble the classic liberal churches that you mentioned. While the liberals did not overtly demand "conversion" they did elevate the "golden rule" and the "greatest commandment," both of which demand a modification in behavior that seeker churches do not seek in any way. It is the idea of loving your neighbour and your enemy that are novel in Christ's ethic; liberals embraced these imperatives while the seeker churches reject them. So regardless of their statements regarding conversion, it is clear that liberal theology does indeed command a conversion of behavior if not of direct belief. To categorize them with this contemporary farce of a church movement is largely unfair.



You only feel that way because you're a liberal. You can say the liberal churches demanded a conversion of life, but it's completely undemonstrable from the way the members of those churches have lived for the most part. It's not an accident that the liberal churches tend to be the wealthiest. Golden rule my hiney. They talked about it a lot...

Scott Jones

Nice comments Greg.

Recently I did read something about their being a sixth way to structure the relationship, but I forget where I saw it (may have been in McClendon). I'll have to go look.

Scott Jones

"There," of course, not "their."


Of course I feel that way because I'm a liberal, but while many affluent people have associated themselves with the the liberal church for reasons similar to those used by people in mega churches (they make them feel good and don't demand much of them) there were many historical philanthropists associated with liberal Christianity. While the institutions that arose from liberal theology might not demand the kind of conversion that the New Testament seems to demand, I think that the theology itself implies that it is necessary. I don't really care to defend the institutions anyway, but many have found the Kingdom by following the teachings of liberal Christianity. Gandhi comes to mind.

P.S. You used to try to convince me that I wasn't a liberal anyway. Does this mean you've given up on me?

A Progressive Christian

I thought the sixth way was "Churches who try to ignore culture, because they want you to keep coming, and if they talk about it someone will get mad and leave." As a Methodist myself, I'm thinking maybe that's what you meant by High Church Methodism. 8-)

Kevin Powell

If one wants to be faithful to the gospel, then there is a necessary tension between Christ and culture. Yes, being a follower makes demands on exisiting loyalties and ways of life. But one can use culture to communicate the Jesus' message of the Kingdom, or else the message would have no relevance to the world. Jesus used examples from ordinary living to teach God's extraordinary activity. But the "relevance" card can be overplayed, which is why we have the megachurch phenomenon.

My experience with liberalism is that it can be divided into two camps.

1) The "everyone is nice so let's all be nice to one another" side.


2) The sermon on the mount/great commandment crowd (Ghandi was used as an example). These liberals tend to focus on the social conversion where conservatives speak only of a personal conversion.

Personally, I don;t think you can have social conversion without personal conversion. Society is made up of individual people, not cleary defined groups

I've always found Niebuhr's divisions too clean.

Just some thoughts,



More comments than I expected on this one. I'll answer several briefly.


You pastor the parents of soldiers the way you do any other parents. Sure you can be sensitive, but the Church needs truth-telling today like never before. The consumerism questions are difficult. I think you find a level where you're not completely withdrawn from culture but not participating in the cycle (i.e., allowing the media to tell you what you need). There are other questions that are valid: Should I buy stuff from China; should I shop at Wal-Mart; should I buy organic; support local businesses if it means paying more; etc. There's also the question of whether I'm giving to charities/churches. How much debt do I have? How much should I spend on house/car/clothes? Everyone will come down at different places, but the questions need to be asked, and we have to feel free to talk about sin in this area.


Since my heart has been captured by Yoder, I hope there is a sixth way. I didn't like Niebuhr's examples of Christ against culture. He could have used Menno Simons or other anabaptist communities to show how it can be done successfully, at least to a degree.


I put the Presbyterians in the third and fifth. Wesley belongs in the last because in Niebuhr's model the idea was that enough people would get "saved" that the culture would eventually change. The Presbyterians don't teach that, obviously, but since they tend toward postmillenialism, they do anticipate a golden age brought on by the Gospel. That view may be all but dead in Reformed churches. I don't know.


Funny. And I know you're joking. I put high-church Methodists in there because of their similarity to the Anglican/Episcopalian appreciation for education, speculative theology, and investigation.


Good points. I didn't like Niebuhr's divisions, but he did write the book fifty years ago. Even then there is a problem with seeing culture as this monolithic institution. However, I like your divisions of liberal churches. I tend to agree. I wonder what Cheek thinks.


Yes, I've given up. You're a liberal. I'm okay with that, as you know.


I think that Kevin's divisions are pretty good, while of course there is some cross-over, but I'm sure you guys know that so I won't bother going into it. The thing I don't understand is the statement about no social conversion without personal conversion. If you mean that the individuals of society must be converted to the Kingdom perspective and lifestyle in order to achieve social conversion, then I think I'd have to be a fool to argue with you, but if you mean that there must be a conversion of belief along with the acceptance of Christ's ethics, then I think you're wrong. Gandhi is the example that's used most often, but there are many other people who induced major changes in society in favor of the Kingdom without assenting to the theological points of Christianity. Gautama and Thich Nat Han are other good examples, and so is Martin Luther King if you demand the right amount of orthodoxy.

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