- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (April 14, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199730806
- ISBN-13: 978-0199730803
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.2 x 6.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,844 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World 1st Edition
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The call to make the world a better place is inherent in the Christian belief and practice. But why have efforts to change the world by Christians so often failed or gone tragically awry? And how might Christians in the 21st century live in ways that have integrity with their traditions and are more truly transformative? In To Change the World, James Davison Hunter offers persuasive--and provocative--answers to these questions.
Written with keen insight, deep faith, and profound historical grasp, To Change the World will forever change the way Christians view and talk about their role in the modern world.
Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with James Davison Hunter
Q: Why did you write To Change the World?
Hunter: I wrote this book because I saw a disjunction between how Christians talk about changing the world, how they try to change the world, and how worlds --that is culture--actually change. These disparities needed to be clarified.Q: How does this build on your previous work?
Hunter: One way it builds on my earlier work is that it provides a bigger picture of the nature of cultural conflict, why Christians seem to be neck deep in it, and why the approaches that they take in cultural conflict are so counterproductive. This is a response to some of the earlier work that I have done on the nature of culture wars and alternatives to them.
Q: Who do you hope reads this book?
Hunter: The audience I had in mind was the diverse communities that make up American Christians and their institutional leaders--those who think about the world we live in today and how best to engage it. Those who think about these matters will find here a useful guide.
Q: What three things do you want readers to take away from reading this book?
Hunter: The primary ways of thinking about the world and how it changes in our society are mainly incorrect. There is an answer to the question of how to change the world, but how it actually changes is different from how most people think.Most people believe that politics is a large part of the answer to the problems that we face in the world, and so a second insight would be the limitations of politics. Political strategies are not only counter-productive to the ends that faith communities have in mind, but are antithetical to the ends that they seek to achieve. A third thing that I would like for readers to take away is that there are alternative ways of thinking about the world we live in, and engaging it, that are constructive and draw upon resources within the Christian tradition. In the end, these strategies are not first and foremost about changing the world, but living toward the flourishing of others.
From Publishers Weekly
To change hearts and minds has been the goal of modern Christians seeking to correct a culture deemed fallen and morally lax. Hunter (Culture Wars), a distinguished professor of religion, culture, and social theory at the University of Virginia, finds this approach pervasive among Christians of all stripes and in every case deeply flawed. It can even undermine the message of the very gospel they cherish and desire to advance. In three essays—groups of chapters developing a concept—Hunter charts the history of Christian assumptions and efforts, investigates the nature of power and politics in Christian life and thought, and then proposes a theologically sound alternative: what he calls the practice of faithful presence. This practice has benevolent consequences... precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world... but rather it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth. Well reasoned and thought provoking, Hunter's corrective argument for authentic Christian engagement with the world is refreshing, persuasive, and inspiring. (Apr.)
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Top Customer Reviews
This is one of the more challenging books I've read; I purchased it after it was highly recommended by a friend and mentor, however it took several attempts to make it all the way through. The information is dense and many of the early chapters are somewhat abstract and ideological, and so especially those without a strong background in history and political science might make slow progress through the first essay. The language can be slightly technical without a ton of definitions if you aren't versed in this culture, and Hunter seems to be writing to a more academic audience than many books are written for today. Keep going; your work will pay off and you'll start to see the pieces connect later in the book. More than that, you'll understand why he wrote this way, and be glad he did.
To me the second Essay was perhaps the most valuable part of the entire book, offering through explanations on the Christian right, the Christian left, and Neo-Anabaptist's have historically (and continue to) tried to change the world. Hunter will eventually call these views as part of paradigms he'll label "Defense against, Relevance to, and Purity from". For those involved in politics, Christian Ministry, or Philanthropy his explanations are fair, detailed, and helpful to see what people believe, how they got there, and the strengths and weaknesses of their position, as far as it comes to "changing the world." It is a helpful reference and builds some compassion for those friends or opponents you don't quite understand; you may not agree with them, but here's what they're thinking.
In his Third Essay, Hunter unpacks the idea that while we often look to politics as a way forward to change our world and culture around us, this will be entirely inefficient and overall ineffective in the long run. Instead, he'll argue that what we need is a "faithful presence" in the world around us; wherever that may be. His argument in essence is that culture almost never has been changed from the bottom (the masses; unlike those seen as key "culture makers" such as key politicians and celebrities) up, and so the church should stop trying to tell Her members that they can change the world if they try hard enough, one person at a time. This leaves Christians frustrated, burnt out, discouraged, and ultimately defeated, possibly even questioning what God can do.
Instead, we are to represent Christ by honoring him with our lives, but also in working for the betterment of all - especially the weak, broken down, and forgotten, "enacting shalom and seeking it on behalf of all other through the practice of faithful presence," Through living through love and serving others, we are committed to the welfare of others, even when times are tough, as an act of worship. Through this, friends and neighbors may come to worship Christ as Savior, which is a magnificient thing. But this is also being actively involved in bringing the kingdom of God here on earth, and shows a Gospel and a theology that isn't self-focused; a rare and beautiful thing in the world.
At the end, his argument is that our goal as Christians is not to make America a Christian culture, but instead to live as Christians in the culture we find ourselves - perhaps a harder point. Most of us will likely find that we can't change the culture, but we can affect the world we live in, and we're called to do so.
I've tried to hit the high points without giving away too much, and hopefully I haven't failed in both areas. It was insightful, educational, encouraging and convicting, and left me with much to think and chew on, even where I may have not entirely agreed with Hunter. It may challenge some of your assumptions and worldviews on politics and change, too.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book to almost all, with the warning that it's tough going for some of it, and it may not lead you where the title suggests. But sometimes, that's a good thing too :)
Ironically, it is in the very stated goal of the book (a presentation of a new "possibility" of Christian presence in the West) that the author falls short. His explanation of a new, fourth way, a "Faithful Presence" in the culture, does little more than to reiterate a cultural approach that has always been present in faithful believers in the culture. (He notes, as examples of the Faithful Presence, car dealerships that seek a fair, equitable compensation package for their employees, businessmen funding private schools in low-income neighborhoods, art gallery owners funding the art showings in low-income areas of Washington, DC, etc.) It is not that the author's solution, a Faithful Presence, is untrue. It is simply that it is not new, as he exemplifies in his excellent application of Jeremiah 29:4-7 (exiles seeking the peace and prosperity of the host nation). While his application is not new, it is a powerful reminder of a biblical, more powerful opportunity of impact in our culture than the pathetic culture wars still being fought by the old school Religious Right, or the antiquated liberalism, some of which is now being adopted by the current "seeker-friendly" churches, and many "emergent" churches.
All in all, this is a fascinating read, well worth the investment of time. However, if you are interested in a simple, biblical approach to current faithfulness in the culture that does not involved political war-making--go straight to the final section of the book. If you are interested in reading about what has gone wrong, and what is presently going wrong, with current mainline liberal and conservative religious moments in American, dive in at its first pages.
We need more books like this that begin to not just critique biblical faith and the churches culpability in the demise of biblical faith in America but a fresh perspective on how to extract the western mindset out of the biblical faith so that we can live faithfully as exiles in a foreign land seeking its welfare as a prophetic community that points toward the New Jerusalem.