Evaluating the Christian’s Engagement with the World – James D. Hunter

Change-world-Hunter-2010In this essay, I consider the ways in which Christians in much of their diversity actually think about the creation mandate today, examining the implicit theory and explicit practices that operate within this complex and often conflicted religious and cultural movement. Let me emphasize that I am not just talking about Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, in spite of the fact that they have been the loudest, most energetic, and most demanding of all Christians in recent decades. This essay and the ones that follow are concerned with Christianity in its variety – at least much of it: conservatives as well as moderate and progressive, Protestant as well as Catholic. The subject of these essays is the social imaginary that serves as a backdrop for the ways in which the majority of those in America who call themselves Christian engage the world. I contend that the dominant ways of thinking about culture and cultural change are flawed, for they are based on both specious social science and problematic theology. In brief, the model on which various strategies are based not only does not work, but it cannot work. On the basis of this working theory, Christians cannot ‘change the world’ in a way that they, even in their diversity, desire. But that is just the beginning; the entry point for a longer reflection on the Christian faith and its engagement with the world.

Such is the way James Davison Hunter introduces his main subject and theme in his significant book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford University Press, 2010), p.5. His opening chapter, the end of which is quoted above, is part of his first essay titled “Christianity and World-Changing.” A friend and educator put me on to this book (a copy of which we have in the PRC Seminary library), so I have begun to dig into it. It is not a light read, but that is good; I will enjoy the challenge. This is worthwhile “meat” to chew on.

After reviewing the contemporary models for “changing the world,” the author ends the second part of that first essay with these words:

At the end of the day, the message is clear: even if not in the lofty realms of political life that he [the British social reformer William Wilberforce] was called to, you too can be a Wilberforce. In your own sphere of influence, you too can be an Edwards, a Dwight, a Booth, a Lincoln, a Churchill, a Dorothy Day, a Martin Luther King, a Mandela, a Mother Teresa, a Vaclav Havel, a John Paul II, and so on. If you have the courage and hold to the right values and if you think Christianly with an adequate Christian worldview, you too can change the world [p.16-17].

But here’s the rub according to Hunter: “This account is almost wholly mistaken.”

How so is what we will examine with him in the months to come. Be prepared to put your “thinking caps” on! 🙂

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