Thursday, June 24, 2010

Spinning Our Wheels?

I finally finished James Davison Hunter’s book, To Change the World – The Irony, Tragedy & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. The book really delivers in the realm of social theory, explaining why Christians are mostly ineffective in their efforts to “change the world”.

In fact, “changing the world” should not be our primary focus, he suggests. And he laboriously makes the case that despite our country being nearly 80% “Christian,” the influence of Christianity is, to a great degree, ineffective. Further, he suggests, rather than positively influence society, Christians (especially the Christian Right) have instead come across as angry, bitter and resentful.

A significant part of the problem, he says, (and I’m greatly oversimplifying here) is that the Christian Left, the Christian Right and the neo-Anabaptists, all have chosen, in one way or another, politics, policies and law as the target areas in which to “penetrate” in order to change society.

This will surely fail, he says (two thirds of the book is given to explaining why), and his proposed alternative is what he calls and defines as “faithful presence.” “A theology of faithful presence,” Hunter says, “calls Christians to enact the shalom of God in the circumstances in which God has placed them and to actively seek it on behalf of others.”

This should be done in our daily living, rather than through the political or legal systems as is seemingly the current focus, he offers. You can see that simply understanding what he means and how it should be implemented is a significant challenge - but a worthy one - and one for which the book is very much worth a read.

The book does not end on a particular high note. His own assessment of his theology suggests that even if Christians and the Church could live according to his concept of “faithful presence,” his best prognosis is that we may be able to live in “a better world.”

I think I might have titled the book, Spinning Our Wheels?

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