the golden compass and relating to culture part

My friend Ty wrote a recent post on many Christian's reaction to the fantasy movie The Golden Compass. There's certainly been plenty of news coverage.

I had wanted to write something, but I haven't read the books or seen the movie. And as much as this should stop many of us from speaking up (out of simple humility), it often doesn't. Ty has read the things, and has that foundational moral authority to add to the conversation.

But of course, here I am, commenting. Much of my interest and what I'm currently studying is Christianity, culture, and communications, so perhaps we'll forgive a few wider observations.

The Real Issue is Theological Worldview
To the extent I've listened in on conversations between Christians about the movie, they've been about what percentage Phillip Pullman is atheist, or if CGI polar bears are anti-church. But if we listen closely, we realize the argument isn't about the message of the movie. It's about theology. "How should Christians relate to culture?" is an operative Christian question since the 1st century. People don't tend to put this in their "Statement of Faith" (right under "The Bible" and "The Holy Spirit" sections). But most Christian communities have pretty strong views on how this is supposed to work. The difficult part is that most couldn't articulate that.

Some of the Options
What are some of the theological "options?" Meaning, are there a number of competing views that faithful Christians through time have had? Yep. The most famous were written by theologian H Richard Niebuhr. The book was called Christ and Culture (1951), and he came up with five possibilities he saw in church history:

1. Christ against Culture.
Essentially: Culture is something to be fought or guarded against.
Overheard: "Come out from them and be separate."
Who: Strong versions of this are associated with Christian fundamentalism or Christian separatists. Monasticism. Tolstoy.

2. The Christ of Culture.
Essentially: The highest/best Christian culture culminates in Christ's teachings.
Overheard: "God is love"
Who: Mainline/Liberal Christian denominations. Social gospel. Kant.

3. Christ above Culture
Essentially: Culture can embody limited grace and truth but is essentially flawed; Overheard: "Jesus is the coming King"
Who: Catholic Church. Some Reformed tradition. Justin Martyr. Thomas Aquinas.

4. Christ and Culture in Paradox
Essentially: They are in separate spheres, like church and state.
Overheard: "Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is God's"
Who: Luther.

5. Christ the transformer of Culture
Essentially: Engage culture with the gospel, try to change it.
Overheard: "let's go change the world for Jesus"
Who: Today's moderate evangelicals, but many people seem to like this one. Augustine.

(That's a quick sketch, and I'm sure I don't have it 100% right. But that's the idea.)

The thing is, these examples can be misleading, and they've gotten a lot of critique in recent years. Guess I'll have to do a few more posts on the subject. Eventually we may even get back to Christians and movies.