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St. Paul and Culture

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In this article, Fergus King examines the writings of St. Paul, particularly the letters to the Romans and the Galatians and the first letter to the Corinthians, in an attempt to discern Paul's attitude toward culture. Taking issue with H. R. Niebuhr's identification of Paul with his "Christ and culture in paradox" paradigm, King argues that Paul's--and by implication, Christians'-- attitude toward culture is--and should be--complex and flexible. Paul's criteria regarding the acceptability of such cultural practices as eating food offered to idols and Jewish circumcision are, first, soteriological and, second, pastoral. The question of the suitability of cultural practices for Christians is not an abstract one, but one that must be answered in the concrete context of Christian life: Does a cultural practice or value diminish faith in Christ? Does a practice or value place obstacles before one's own faith, or the faith of others? Rather than thinking in terms of a universally applicable principle, King suggests that the Christian attitude toward culture should be shaped in relation to human salvation and authentic community life.

Affiliations: 1: St. Mark's Theological College, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania


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