- 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 (73 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,351 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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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.
Let me say that the best understanding of the creation mandate is not about changing the world at all. It is certainly not about "saving Western civilization," "saving America," "winning the culture war," or anything else like it. The reason is that so much of the discussion surrounding this kind of world-changing is oriented toward the idea of controlling history. The presumption is both that one can know God's specific plans in human history and that one possesses the power to realize those plans in human affairs. There is a fine line between presumption and hope, as Aquinas observed, but in our culture, such presumption nearly always has tragic consequences (95).
Hunter proposes that the role of the Church is to move towards what he calls "a theology of faithful presence" ... "the vocation of the Church is to bear witness to and to be the embodiment of the coming Kingdom of God" (95).
The latter part of the book is more theological, Hunter presents the failed approaches of the Christian Right, the Christian Left, and the Neo-Anabaptist and presents a fourth approach entitled a faithful presence within. In summary, a theology of faithful presence, argues that Christians should be involved in every sphere of culture living out the presence of God's shalom towards all men. Hunter argues that even though we cannot change the world, we can still have an impact on culture, if and only if Christ' presence is lived out through believers in every realm of culture.
For a balanced view on how the Church should engage culture read this book (Hunter), David Van Drunen's Living in God's Two Kingdoms, and Tim Keller's Generous Justice. I found Hunter's book cited in the endnotes of Generous Justice, stumbled on a few online reviews, and decided to read it. Conclusively, this book has made a profound impact on my understanding of Church and Society. This is a must read for pastors and theologians.