From Hesselgrave (Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally, 2nd ed., 116):
Niebuhr's analysis is very instructive and helpful if his categories are not taken to be rigid and their representatives are not considered to be antagonistic to one another in every case. The main problem with Neibuhr is that he puts Bible authors and writings at odd with one another. From a biblical point of view there seems to be some value in emphases that fall under categories one [Christ against culture], four [Christ and culture in paradox], and five [Christ as transformer of culture] and, quite possibly, three [Christ above culture].My response: Hesselgrave's response actually seems to validate Niebuhr's 5-point scheme. If the Bible seems to express various ways of responding to culture, then Niebuhr is simply pointing out that different groups of people gravitate to different passages. This does not mean that the Bible contradicts itself, and logically, not all of the positions can be correct. But as with the baptism debate, different groups use their own passages to justify their positions; they can't all be right, but they all have their own justifications. So the biblical data can be interpreted in different ways, and Niebuhr simply points out the different ways that people interpret various passages.
From Bolt ("Some Reflections on Church and World, Worship and Evangelism," Calvin Theological Journal 27 : 98-99):
There are two significant problems with Niebuhr's typology, in my judgment. (1) The sociological continuum of alienation/accommodation tends to overlook the most important variable—what kind of society /culture are we talking about? One cannot speak about world-affirmation or world-denial in the abstract. A Christian response to a pagan culture will be different from a response to a culture that is open or friendly to Christian commitments. Accommodation or alienation? It all depends. . . . (2) In the second place, Niebuhr's "Christ transforming culture" position is blatantly universalistic and inclusive. Its mindset is a kind of modern and liberal Constantinianism. To the degree that the church submerges its identity, downplays its particularity and distinctiveness, and commits itself to a universal project of transformation, it is true to the transformational vision. Niebuhr's vision is a version of the peculiarly modern (Enlightenment) universal ideal. Modernity downplays the particular and exalts the universal. The basic modern conviction about religion is that, at bottom, all particular religions are really the same. Once the husks of particularity (specific traditions, stories, practices) are stripped away, certain basic kernel ideas (e.g., love, brotherhood, justice, peace) are the real essence of all religions. Since this is the case, all religions can join in a common ecumenical project for a better humanity, a better world. Individual particularity must remain a private matter. The result is a religion that is private and individualistic.
My response: 1) It's both biblical and historical (from Augustine to Van Til) to affirm the antithesis. Given that the City of Man and the City of God are always competing, a spectrum from alienation to affirmation seems legitimate. Transformation may be easier in some cultures, but an open door to transformation does not mean that all Christians joyfully walk through that door—some Christians would simply rather talk about the church-in-exile, no matter what kind of conditions exist.
2) Bolt's second point provides generic reactions to transformation, regardless of the biblical foundation for such transformation. Charges of modernity, enlightenment influence, liberalism, social gospel fuzziness, etc. all appear, explicitly or implicitly. However, none of the charges are necessarily warranted. For example, a transformational position does not necessarily strip away particular practices or submerge the identity of the church.