From Dave: Dave Thom, a frequent contributor here, passed on Andy Crouch's thoughtful review of the book we did a little preliminary discussing of last week--To Change the World, by James Davison Hunter. Andy (briefly a congregant with us here in Boston) has written a book that, itself, made a splash along these lines last year called Culture Making. I thought this might forward our conversation a bit. Can we change the world? Should we? Let us know what you think!
Near the end of his masterful book To Change the World, we discover that James Davison Hunter does not believe we should (or can) change the world. Nor should we be " 'redeeming the culture,' 'advancing the kingdom,' 'building the kingdom,' 'transforming the world,' 'reclaiming the culture,' [or] 'reforming the culture.'" It's a surprising turn, given that a casual reader might naturally think, for the first hundred pages, that To Change the World is about how to change the world. And therein, as they used to say, lies a tale worth telling.
It is a tale of three "essays" originating in a talk that Hunter gave a number of years ago, also called "To Change the World," which has circulated widely among leaders in the evangelical movement. The substance of that talk, with its analysis sharpened and extended, forms the first of Hunter's three essays in To Change the World, and it maps fairly neatly onto the "irony" signaled in his subtitle.
The irony is that there is no phrase more beloved to a certain kind of Christian than "to change the world." But in Hunter's persuasive account, the strategies those very same Christians have pursued are, by themselves, woefully incapable of changing the world. (Hunter's greatest interest is clearly Christianity's theologically conservative varieties, though he attends to mainline and progressive Christianity as well.) One group focuses on personal renewal and national revival, while another—championing a "Christian worldview"—locates the necessary condition for cultural change not so much in the heart as in the mind. Either way, the premise is that once the hearts and minds of ordinary people are properly revived and informed, the culture will change. "This account," Hunter says flatly, "is almost wholly mistaken."