Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Practical Theology

First Advisor

Joel Biermann

Scripture References in this Resource

John 17:14-15; Acts 7:22; Daniel 1:8-21; 1 Corinthians 9:22; 1 Corinthians 2; 2 Corinthians 6:17


Watts, William J. “Grammars of Transformation: Saving Evangelical Cultural Engagement.” Ph.D. diss., Concordia Seminary, 2018. 137 pp.

Evangelical Christians have been struggling to offer a thorough and unified account of cultural engagement for the last several decades. H. Richard Niebuhr’s “Christ the Transformer of Culture” type has supplied evangelicals with the most influential rhetoric on the proper relationship of Christians and the church to the culture at large. However, this consensus is collapsing in the wake of new ways of speaking of cultural engagement that largely downplay or altogether avoid the language of transformation. The emergence of these new ways of speaking, that is, “grammars of cultural engagement,” signals the important and formative role of language in uniting one’s stated theology and suggested practices regarding cultural engagement. This dissertation argues that language is the way in which theology and practice is formally constituted in cultural engagement, and thereby serves as a control on the thought and life of the church. Because language is so formative and prone to ambiguity and imprecision, especially with respect to metaphors used in cultural engagement, no single grammar of engagement should be considered exclusively normative for the evangelical church. Grammars should be tethered to sound theological belief, and should allow such theology and contextual discernment shape how they are expressed linguistically with an eye toward practice.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.