Posted on May 28, 2010, in Culture, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I am glad I could be a catalyst in this discussion. Sometimes I amaze myself with all the brilliant thoughts that flow from my mouth. This time I credit my indepth knowledge of this particular book for my steller insight. You are welcome.

  2. Now Brian decides to talk…:-)

    What may be the most devastating part of Hunter’s analysis is that not only do Evangelicals misunderstand culture and how to change it, but even worse – they probably don’t even understand who THEY are. Or, at least, their account of who/why they are is not entirely accurate so as to be useful long-term. The narrative of a) populism “every sheep a shepherd” as the catalyst for transformation (read: anti-authoritarianism); and b) individualism actualized through the visionary leadership of a heroic pastor who “gets it” is part and parcel of EV self-understanding. It shapes our piety and is how we read our history.

    I am afraid that while Hunter might be right, he will not be understood by us. He is asking us to have a completely different (and in the short-term) less satisfying self-understanding.

  3. Not only that, but the the idea of changing the world is itself rooted in the DNA of American evangelicalism (actually, American identity as a whole). Just look at the social transformation emphasis rooted in puritanism, revivalism, and the social activism of the Wesleys and the 19th century “Benevolent Empire.” So are some of our defining movements and each had a vision for world changing. So, to come along now and tell us that we should have a completely different focus, that’s a pretty big pill to swallow.

  4. But I’m still struggling to understand how Hunter’s proposal works out in practical, concrete situations. For example. We briefly discussed the issue of gay marriage last night. What does a “faithful presence” look like in a community struggling with an issue like this? It’s easy to say that our calling as the people of God is to live faith kingdom lives and leave the world changing to God. I like the rhetoric of “faithful presence” and “human flourishing.” But, what does that look like on the ground?

  5. He gave some vignettes towards the end of the book that made a gesture toward fleshing this out (around p. 270 or so). I don’t remember the issue of gay marriage, but he did use abortion as an example. He said a way of dealing with this issue publicly but not politically (as Americans would assess political) would be for Christians, in say Illinois, to hold a press conference and say that they have organized and will adopt 10,000 children in the state regardless of health, race, or gender. That is tangible, public, and pro-life. It also assumes a level of institutional coherence among evangelicals that might not exist.

    I don’t know what that would look like for gay-marriage. Maybe we could start by agreeing not to divorce one another at such alarming rates.

  6. Thank you for your very thoughtful response to the book. You might want to check out where case studies of how this might be applied are cited.

    Also the following was posted yesterday as a part of The Human Nature Project Report of The Clapham Institute.

    It is not a debate over facts, but frames. As George Lakoff acknowledges, “People think in frames. To be accepted, the truth must fit people’s frames. If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off.” We are witnessing old facts bounce off a new frame.

    Books that challenge long established paradigms or frames are assured to create controversy. Such is the case of James Davison Hunter’s new book, To Change the World (Oxford, 2010). There have been two main responses: 1) To minimize the differences – thereby marginalizing the significance of the new frame and 2) To misinterpret his views by interpreting them through a political lens – thereby questioning the facts in light of the old frame. The first approach basically says, “This is what I’ve always held. I’m all over “faithful presence.” In this manner one can co-opt the argument without acknowledging the paradigm shift required by it. The second suggests that Hunter is a “quietist” or an “Anabaptist.” Hunter suggests that in order to abandon the habit of equating the flag with the cross and the public with politics, the church might well consider taking a “time out.” Without an intentional pause – which is simply a tactical suggestion – one can hardly imagine that the paradigm shift will be realized by those actively engaged in public life. For many this suggestion is incomprehensible. Those who insist on seeing the public life through a political lens view this idea as abdication.

    Neither is an accurate description of the approach that Hunter is advocating. Rather, he is saying simply that the move to politics should not be our first recourse or our only recourse to public issues. It has its place, but it is not primary. As Lewis wisely noted, if you make a secondary issue primary, you will get neither the secondary nor the primary. So here, if you make politics primary, you will get neither the political results nor the cultural results desired. It is, in short, a failed strategy both for the church and for society. It results in the church taking public postures that are “functionally Nietzschean” and undermine the Gospel and goals to which we aspire.

  7. James De Young

    I’ve not read the book, but have heard about it. My concerns are the following:
    1) Is the author British or American? I think one’s background affects what he says about political effects.
    2) Does he take into consideration the unique character of America’s founding and history?
    3) Does not our involvement in culture have a political aspect to it?
    4) Does he relate to the paradigm that a faith of a people influences/determines public morality; and this in turn affects legislation (political matters)? Or to put it differently, that morality is the bridge between faith and culture?
    5) How does the paradigm of “already but not yet” affect the author’s approach?
    I may be totally out of the loop in raising these questions, since he may deal with all of them, but I get the sense from Marc’s analysis that the author seems to generalize overly much. His treatment of the abortion issue (and the proposal about gay marriage as another issue) seems somewhat lacking to me.

    • Thanks for the questions, Jim. Here are my thoughts.
      1) Hunter is American (as far as I know) and teaches at the University of Virginia.
      2) He definitely understands the unique character of America as a country, though he does not deal specifically with the founding of America in this particular book. (He may elsewhere.)
      3) Hunter would argue that it depends on how you define “political.” If you simply mean that cultural engagement requires participation in the public sphere, then yes. But, Hunter generally uses “political” in reference to the exercise of coercive political power. And, in this sense, he would argue that we not only don’t have to “do politics,” but we shouldn’t.
      4) Kind of. He affirms that this can happen, his concern is when we make this our focus. Our emphasis shouldn’t be on changing society (that gets us into trouble), but on living faithfully in the world. Whether society changes as a result is up to God.
      5) I’d say this is an important part of his framework. I think he’d say that the already/not yet is what grounds the necessity of faithful presence in a broken world.
      Your conclusion may stem more from my own lack. I spent the least amount of time on the end of the book where he dealt with more practical issues, and I haven’t used the website at all where he gives more specific examples.

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