Cultural engagement -- it has been several years since I first read Neibuhr's Christ and Culture. It captured my interest then and did again related to Witvliet's investigation of what the relationship should be between the church's worship liturgy and the culture we find ourselves in. Though I agree with critics who view Neibuhr's categories as somewhat inadequate and limiting, they remain excellent launching off points for discussion. I was particularly interested in Witvliet's use of Stephen B. Bevan's Models of Contextual Theology, and in particular, Bevan's "Synthetic Model" -- which "looks for a synthesis 'between one's own cultural point of view and the points of view of others' instead of constantly focusing attention on the particularities of a given contextualized theology" (p.111). I admit that my gravitation toward "both-and" postmodern thinking is in view here. Nonetheless, I resonate with the synthetic model in that it seems to both embrace and guard against the enculturization of Christian liturgy. What Witvliet posits toward the end of chapter four seems huge: "In sum, the twin dangers that cultural engagement seeks to avoid are 'cultural capitulation,' on the one hand, and 'cultural irrelevancy,' on the other." In every case of cultural engagement, there must be a yes and a no, a being in but not of, a continuity and a discontinuity with accepted cultural practices" (p.119).
As the product of an evangelical megachurch (chapter 11 was quite spot-on), I have grown increasingly suspicious of how evangelicals have frequently favored culture-pleasing evangelism over culture-shaping theology. Worship Seeking Understanding was therefore a refreshing read for me for many reasons, not the least of which being its emphasis on how important theology is (biblical, historical, systematic) in the shaping of liturgy -- not just the "what and how" of liturgy but the "why."
Within many denominational structures, there seems to be a persistent "push" and pressure to employ culturally proven and effective practices in the "growing" of the church. Such an emphasis has, in the past, driven the seeker-sensitive model of how many evangelicals "do" worship and church. Despite some heartfelt retractions by evangelical leaders, the role which culture should play in the worship and life of the church is not always an easy or cut-and-dry endeavor.
I look forward to any reactions, thoughts, or questions you might have in response.