Niebuhr's Christ and Culture

H. Richard Niebuhr has posited five different relationships that the Christian has with culture, and since information technology is part of our culture, we can also apply these categories to the computer:

The first two choices are the extremes. Opposition means that the Christian opposes all cultural artifacts as "worldly." For information technology, this would mean that the Christian would see the computer as just one more instance of depravity, one more example of how sin infects everything we do. Agreement takes the other extreme, where Christians finds their religion to be fundamentally compatible with the culture around them. Here, the computer is simply an extension of God's good creation, put here for us to develop and use as we wish.

The last three choices are somewhere between the extremes. The "Christ above culture" option was advocated by Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas would look at the computer and see it as a fine product of culture, but as such, it could never approach the sublime beauty of Christ. The tension option, advocated by Martin Luther, places the Christian in a tension between Christ and culture. We are in the world but not of it and must be careful not to estrange ourselves from the world, but at the same time not to embrace it either. In short, we are citizens of two worlds that are often at odds with each other. Applied to information technology, the computer may be used, but with care not to indulge too deeply.

The final option fits within the Reformed tradition, as advocated by John Calvin (following some of the work of the early church father Augustine). Calvin believed the appropriate relationship between Christianity and culture was a transformational, or re-formational approach. The Christian must recognize three truths: first, that culture is a manifestation of God's good creation, an outgrowth of human creativity and community; second, that sin deeply infects every part of the creation, including human culture; and third, that we can redeem culture in the name of Christ. This redemption is a transformation of culture by seeking, enhancing, and celebrating the original good we find in cultural artifacts while identifying the effects of sin (and working to reduce those effects). The computer is a cultural artifact that Calvin would treat no differently. It is an extension of God's good creation and thus has wondrous potential. However, it also exhibits the deep effects of sin. Christians are thus called to transform information technology in the name of Christ. This book attempts to take just that approach, demonstrating the intrinsic, creational good that can be found in information technology, recognizing the deep effects of sin, and suggesting ways to begin transforming this important aspect of our culture.

Source: Niebuhr