December 14, 2010
I began reading James Davison Hunter's book, To Change the World, during the summer. In my early reading, I believed it was an important book so recommended it in my Blog with a promise to come back to it when I completed it. Subsequent to that entry I asked three friends to read it with me and interact with it and each other.
The book did not disappoint me. It is a careful study of ways culture has been changed over history, including our most recent attempts to do so as the Church. The chapters on "The Christian Right," "The Christian Left," and the neo-Anabaptists are worth the price of the book. But it delivers much more.
Three essays, each with multiple chapters, make up the presentation. Essay 1 demonstrates how Christians have attempted to change culture. He argues that every change in history revolves around a network of elite leaders. Among leaders in the church today we lack a Christian community that is strong enough to change culture significantly. There is a will to see change, but the community is weak in areas such as art, literature, politics, sciences, where culture might be impacted. Identifiable Christian leaders reside on the periphery of the rest of culture.
Essay 2 argues that change requires power and the exercise of power tends to follow, even among Christian communities, a course of conquest and domination. Political power is embraced by the Christian right and left, and the language of politics is adopted by the neo-Anabaptist movements epitomized by John Howard Yoder and Stan Hauerwas. Power exudes all kinds of problems in itself.
Essay 3 examines Hunter's proposal for a way forward for cultural engagement that is not "defensive against," nor "relevant to," nor "pure from" engagement. How should Christians engage the world? He calls for "faithful presence." Jeremiah 29:4-7 and 1 Peter provide models for what he means by faithful presence. Faithful presence enacts the shalom of God in whatever circumstances or culture one finds. The end result will be the commitment by people of faith to live with the highest ideals and practices that attempts to bring the whole world into wholeness or shalom.
With this agenda every aspect and role of human life would come into play. Tensions will need addressing with faithful presence, tensions within the Christian community itself and tensions with the world. One of the memorable statements Hunter makes addresses the tensions: " . . . accommodation must always be critical and resistance must always be humble" (283-284).
I found myself agreeing with Hunter's argument, made much better in his own words than my remarks here.
If we give ourselves to faithful presence with our creator, God himself, we will worship and honor him and God will bring the end result he desires.