All four models of Christian interaction with culture have strengths and weaknesses. I see two models in particular that have detrimental weaknesses and the other two that offer greater strengths.
I think we can briefly identify the good in the Relevance Model and in the Counterculturalist Model before dismissing them both as overall strategies that are fundamentally flawed. The Relevance Model rightly notes that the church must adapt itself to an ever-changing world. Contextualization is an ongoing task for the church, and there really is no question as to whether or not we will contextualize, but only how well or poorly we will do it. With that said, however, the Relevance Model goes too far by accommodating the Christian faith to the demands of the world, blunting the sharp edges of God’s revelation and obscuring the offense of the cross. On top of its utter lack of faithfulness to the truth, the Relevance Model doesn’t even succeed in what it sets out to do, which is to keep Christianity relevant. Liberal churches are empty shells of their former selves, as the broader culture has realized that a church with nothing distinctive to say is not worth listening to. The latest incarnation of liberalism, which is the “Christian” accommodation to the sexual revolution, will end in the same sad condition. The Relevance Model constantly pushes itself toward irrelevance.
The major strength of the Counterculturalist Model is that it focuses on maintaining the purity and holiness of the church. Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option has an attractive quality about it, for I fully agree with Dreher that Christian institutions that are separated from the larger culture have an important role to play in the maintaining of faithfulness through difficult times. However, this model fails as an overall strategy at the point of mission and broader cultural influence. I believe Scripture presents faithfulness on the part of the church as (to use a phrase from Russell Moore) “engaged alienation.” The Counterculturalist Model gets the alienation part right, but has nothing much to say with the engaged part. Ultimately, I think this model represents a failure to love our unbelieving neighbors as we are called to do, for it basically leaves the world to itself.
With appreciation for what is good in both of the above views, I cannot envision either as an overall strategy that would be faithful to the call of Christ. But what about the Transformationist Model and the Two Kingdoms Model? I will discuss these in more detail in the next installment. In the meantime, let me hear your thoughts.