Others have written about James Davison Hunter’s To Change The World, enough so that I almost feel like the late-comer to the party. Let me encourage you, for example, to read through Jay Guin’s analysis of the book.
Still, I feel that Hunter’s subject matter aligns so closely with matters near and dear to my heart (and oft written about in this blog), that I’d like to take some time to look at this book. Today I’ll do a bit of a review, or at least an overview. Later I’ll examine some of the ideas in a closer way.
The full title of the book is To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. The title is intended as a bit of irony, mainly because Hunter will argue that Christians can’t change the world without being changed by the world in the process. He contends that the world is changed not only through ideas (worldview) but also through elites, networks, technology, and new institutions. World-changing implies power, power that typically is defined in terms of conquest and domination. When power is seen primarily in terms of political domination, it becomes the opposite of what Christians are called to be.
Hunter analyzes three types of Christian politics: the Christian right, the Christian left and the neo-Anabaptists. He calls these views toward culture, respectively, “defensive against,” “relevance to,” and “purity from.” He sees these groups as utilizing ineffective means for engaging culture.
Hunter argues that the principal issues to be addressed are difference and dissolution: how do we relate to a world that is not our world and how do we deal with the “deconstruction of the most basic assumptions about reality.” (p. 205) The solution that Hunter proposes is “faithful presence.” Using Jeremiah 29:4-7 as his textual base, Hunter says that Christians should maintain their distinctiveness but do it in a way that serves the common good. He observes,
“In short, commitment to the new city commons is a commitment of the community of faith to the highest ideals and practices of human flourishing in a pluralistic world.” (p. 279)
In the end, Hunter says that Christians shouldn’t worry about changing the world, because the world, and history, cannot be controlled and managed. He states,
“To be sure, Christianity is not, first and foremost, about establishing righteousness or creating good values or securing justice or making peace in the world. … But for Christians, these are all secondary to the primary good of God himself and the primary task of worshipping him and honoring him in all they do.” (pp.285-286)
Hunter says that Christians won’t create a perfect world, but will help to make the world a little bit better.
Chapter abstracts of the book can be found on Hunter’s website.