James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World – my 2 cents

Posted by on Aug 22, 2010

If you haven’t heard about James Davison Hunter’s recent book, To Change the World, you should at least acquaint yourself with its basic argument. This is one of those rare, earthquake-shaking books that will be discussed for many years to come – and rightly so. The implications of his line of thinking are far-reaching, especially for those in the academic and political arenas.

You can find some great reviews and discussions of the book at Christianity Today’s numerous websites, so I won’t retrace all the steps taken there.

(A good starting point might be Andy Crouch’s review, followed up by Chuck Colson’s response).

See: http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2010/mayjun/hownotchangetheworld.html)

The gist of Hunter’s argument is that the evangelical world has been going about its various attempts to change the world in the wrong ways. Indeed, perhaps the very idea of changing the world is off point. It is certainly wrong to assume that cultural change will occur inevitably once enough individual lives have been changed.

In a closing section of his final of 3 essays, Hunter summarizes, “…I have argued that cultural change at its most profound level occurs through dense networks of elites operating in common purpose within institutions at the high-prestige centers of cultural production” (274).

I certainly agree and would love to engage in numerous discussions with other Christians about how this may shape our future efforts for the sake of the kingdom.

My one complaint with Hunter’s book is that it seems to settle for some pretty low goals. It feels like his evaluation of the past and prescription for the future omits much of the supernatural. The very last sentence of the book reads:

“Certainly Christians, at their best, will neither create a perfect world nor one that is altogether new; but by enacting shalom and seeking it on behalf of all others through the practice of faithful presence, it is possible, just possible, that they will help to make the world a little bit better” (286).

My recent studies of past revivals makes Hunter’s vision seem rather weak. As we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” I have to wonder if we’re asking the Lord of Hosts to do something significantly more than just making the world “a little bit better.”

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