Reflecting on James Davidson Hunter’s To Change the World

I’ve been trying to be more diligent about updating the blog, but trying to accomplish that while I am in the middle of reading about two books a week for the next month and a half is going to make my comments sporadic anyway.  I’ve read a few already, but this one has really stuck out and, to this point, has been one of the more significant books I’ve read in a good while.  Hunter addresses the Christian’s responsibility of “world-making” given by God in Eden.  In three thorough and challenging essays Hunter examines the historical precedence for ways in which humans have been “world creators” or “culture-makers,” critically examines and critiques the current way Christians have funneled all world-creating energies to the enterprise of politics, and offers, in the final essay, a new proposal for Christians relating to the surrounding culture and “world-making” as being “faithfully present” within it.  Politics, Hunter contends (rightly, I believe), has come to define the world for Christians.  The presupposition that the way to affect the world and get things done most effectively happens through politics is so thoroughly ingrained in the psyche of people it’s almost beyond the ability of most people to consider an alternative.

Based on his examination of major culture shifts in history and a critical assessment of current initiatives for changing the world [(Conservative, Liberal, and neo-Anabaptist) – all which, he contends, promote the same false-directive: political action is the course of action for world-changing] Hunter proposes a broader understanding of the Christian’s involvement in culture.  He offers a two-fold approach to faithfulness in culture: affirmation and antithesis.  For Hunter, Neo-Anabaptists are deficient in their affirmation for culture (a fair criticism) as it is too disconnected.  There is much in creation that still reveals the beauty of its Creator.  However, the reality is that creation remains tinted.  This is not a call to an altogether different world, but rather an imagining of the ways in which God intended.

Much more could be said in reflecting on Hunter’s work.  His study is thorough, serious, and grounded.  I have questions and believe his proposal will need to be tweaked and adjusted as it endures critical evaluation, but this is a major step forward in an emerging field.  This will be a prominent text in the emerging field of cultural engagement pervading theological studies.  It may not be overstating the case to say that Hunter has provided the Christian community with a major contribution that will need to be considered by all who tackle the culture/faith discussion in the near future.


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