Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Christ and Culture

Cristina Martinez


by Cristina Martinez

During my sophomore year I sat in a “Christian Ethics and Modern Society” lecture at Princeton University eager to learn what Christian scholars, both liberal and conservative, thought about the controversial topics of abortion, homosexual marriage, just war, and religion’s place in the public sphere. When we read Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, I had trouble deciding what the proper relationship should be between Christ and our world today. Niebuhr lays out several theories that pose Christ and culture as either friends or enemies. The chapter I found most convincing was entitled “Christ the Transformer of Culture.” The whole semester I wrestled with what it meant to be in the world but not of it. What place should Christians play in society, especially in the realm of public policy and politics?

The more I studied issues of human rights, child welfare, and the structural racism embedded in our institutions I could not help but think that government programs—by themselves—were incapable of fixing the deep injustice so many in our world face. The poor, needy, and oppressed need a Savior, not just a handout. In light of this knowledge I continued to wonder how I could combine my passion for social justice with the faith that had transformed my own life. If government alone was not the answer, was there a better way? What about the good government could do in the services it provides to those in need? I’ve wrestled with these questions throughout my college career and was pleased to hear Gideon Strauss, Senior Fellow at The Center for Public Justice, discuss them in a lecture he gave at Princeton earlier this semester. He stated that working for justice is a way we show gratitude towards God—it is a form of worship. The desire to correct wrongs in society through political activism does not have to be antithetical to Christianity; the two can work together in a powerful way. 

It seems that many Christians are hesitant to participate in politics while others are more inclined to advocate for militant political crusades in the name of Christ. There has to be a better answer that lies somewhere in the middle, and I believe that answer is found in scripture: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” (Romans 13:1, 3a ESV)

Governments exist to be a terror to bad conduct; they “are not a terror to good conduct.” Laws, government programs, and government officials cannot scare a man into being moral and good. While the government can develop programs that help fight injustice, those programs alone will not convince men to do the good that is necessary to prevent many injustices from occurring in the first place. Government programs provide a partial solution to the evils that take place in our world, but resolving the problem of evil goes deeper. Christ has commanded Christians to encourage those around them to love justice and mercy. The government makes clear what is illegal, but Christians are to use God’s principles to further show the world what is good. The combination of using governments to correct injustice while encouraging people to act more justly offers a solution that solves current needs and prevents future problems.

So instead of complaining about government officials or abstaining from politics altogether, Christians must stand up for godly values because they are good for society. If we truly believe that Christ is a Savior, our culture cannot be outside of his reach. This spurs me on to fight the good fight and stay involved in politics and policy-making in order to use the government that God has placed on our earth to fight injustice, but also to do so with the knowledge that it is my responsibility to exude Christ-like character in everything I do. God has called Christians to be constantly transformed into his likeness and to “to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8). In order to obey those commands, Christians must “do justice” by voting and pushing for godly policies in the political realm, but they must do so while walking in the humility of Christ.

—Cristina Martinez is a senior at Princeton University, concentrating in Anthropology with a certificate in Values and Public Life.  She encountered the Center for Public Justice this fall at an event hosted by Manna Christian Fellowship featuring Center for Public Justice Senior Fellow Gideon Strauss.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”