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To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and…
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To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity…

by James Davison Hunter

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Showing 5 of 5
Good critique of typical Evangelical theories of culture. Weak on critique of "Neo-Anabaptists". Proposal was quite disappointing. ( )
  KameronEdenfield | May 13, 2016 |
I have a habit of trying to finish almost any book that I start reading, especially, books that are favorably reviewed. This habit, more or less, forced me to slog through this very tedious tome.

It's not that I didn't, by and large, agree with the premise of the book, it's just that I think the author is riding a hobby horse and couldn't get off. My best summation would be "DUH"! The author is saying many very important, but obvious things, over and over and over and over again. Did I mention "shalom" and "faithful presence" because the author uses these catch words over and over and over and over again, apparently thinking that these key words, and saying them often, will be saying anything more powerful than what has been said by Christians for the last two thousand years.

Micah 6:8 says "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD requires of you, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" This Old Testament reading pretty much sums up the entire book and I suggest, instead of spending time reading this repetitive book, that you find some tangible way, in your own community, of living this out. ( )
  Tower_Bob | Nov 11, 2015 |
A really excellent book. ( )
  chriskrycho | Mar 30, 2013 |
By divine intent humans are world changers - mandate at creation, affirmed by covenants Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ the first born of creation
Today Protestant Orthodox evangelicals are wealthy and of high influence YET declining in influence, ideas, imagination. Fair question - why do evangelicals by their numbers not produce more change? Esp when smaller groups i.e.Jews do
  sjmonson | Dec 1, 2012 |
Hunter sets out, over three essays, to deconstruct and then reconstruct the Christian's relation to culture.

Essay I begins by describing how Christians often view culture and the means by which to change culture, that culture is ultimately an individual thing and that by reforming individuals one can reform culture. Hunter then demonstrates that such is a misguided and wrong way to look at culture-- culture has been and remains the product of historical traditions constantly shaped and reshaped by elite forces within the culture. He goes through history and shows how, partly by historical accident, and partly by the work of the elites, how Christianity has and has not influenced cultures since its origins.

Essay II is a fundamental reconsideration of power. He describes first how Christians have been drawn into the philosophy of power and domination, and then shows how our culture has politicized everything. Over three chapters he describes first the "Christian Right," then the "Christian left," and then what he calls "neo-Anabaptism," the anti-political theologies of Yoder, Hauerwas, et al. The descriptions attempt to show how each group looks at the world and the challenges therein and the myths they propagate to justify their ideology and participation; his descriptions are, on the whole, even-handed, and if he singles out a particular group for more criticism, it is actually the "Christian left".

And then, in what should be required reading for everyone, in Essay II and chapter 6, he demonstrates the fundamental problem:

All three groups have legitimate grievances and concerns. There is merit in the argument each presents. Yet they all bitterly oppose one another. And they all politicize their concerns.

Hunter, on the basis of many modern sociologists, then suggests that there is a distinction between "democracy" and "the state." "Democracy" does involve the politicians and the voters, but the real power is in "the state." "The state" includes the bureaucrats who end up doing most of the real work of governance and regulation, unelected, present regardless of administration, and only accountable in times of crisis, with their goal mostly in terms of efficiency. More indirectly, it would also feature the forces in our society that determine political direction-- think tanks, political committees, and others who may never stand for election but seem to be pulling the strings. Hunter draws out the two implications: first, that the state is not as subject to the electoral will as is often naively assumed (on the basis of idealistic founding documents), and secondly, that politics and government are not sufficient for the task of solving challenges of social ills or deterioration of values. He also shows how Christians are partly responsible for politicizing moral values, emphasize voting over actual responsibility in "political" action like personally helping the needy, caring for elderly, adopting children, etc., and how they ultimately are working to destroy the culture they are trying to save. He concludes the section by lamenting how all three groups are fueled by bitterness, anger, and resentment, and how none of these are really constructive.

Essay II concludes with an analysis of power and the reality that we all have some form of power in life and our goal ought to be proper stewards of such power.

Essay III is an attempt to be more constructive. Hunter speaks of the challenges of difference and dissolution-- how do we handle the fact that people in our world (and our culture) are different, and how do we walk the tightrope between conformity to versus isolation from the world? He then describes the three prevalent attitudes toward culture when it comes to dissolution-- "defensive against," "relevance to," and "purity from," i.e., the attitudes of the Right, the Left, and the "neo-Anabaptists," respectively. He then shows that all three really do not work-- the first leads to what has happened, almost complete irrelevance, the second would go too far the other way, and the third does not respect our need to be the "city on a hill".

Hunter's thesis is that we should instead seek a "faithful presence." We are to be within society and culture as faithful disciples of Christ. He speaks of the imperative of the Great Commission in more terms than merely geographic-- we ought to "go to all nations," meaning not just every nation-state on every continent, but also into every profession, every group, every institution, and live faithful lives to Christ, based on faith in Christ, hope of the resurrection, and love for everyone.

Hunter is a denominationalist and ecumenist, but on the whole, his analysis is spot on. Christians are not impacting culture because they've put all their eggs in the political basket whereas the places where culture is nutured and formed are almost entirely without Christian witness, and therefore, without Christian participation. He instructively cites Jeremiah 29:4-7 and God's calling for Israel in exile as a parallel: we are to make sure that YHWH is Lord, but we are to live our lives in the place of our "exile," seek its welfare and thus our own welfare, and things will be as well as they are going to be.

The book is most certainly worth consideration. ( )
2 vote deusvitae | Nov 3, 2010 |
Showing 5 of 5
added by Christa_Josh | editJournal of the Evangelical Theological Society, David P. Smith (Dec 1, 2011)
 
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0199730806, Hardcover)

Product Description
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.

Hunter begins with a penetrating appraisal of the most popular models of world-changing among Christians today, highlighting the ways they are inherently flawed and therefore incapable of generating the change to which they aspire. Because change implies power, all Christians eventually embrace strategies of political engagement. Hunter offers a trenchant critique of the political theologies of the Christian Right and Left and the Neo-Anabaptists, taking on many respected leaders, from Charles W. Colson to Jim Wallis and Stanley Hauerwas. Hunter argues that all too often these political theologies worsen the very problems they are designed to solve. What is really needed is a different paradigm of Christian engagement with the world, one that Hunter calls "faithful presence"--an ideal of Christian practice that is not only individual but institutional; a model that plays out not only in all relationships but in our work and all spheres of social life. He offers real life examples, large and small, of what can be accomplished through the practice of "faithful presence." Such practices will be more fruitful, Hunter argues, more exemplary, and more deeply transfiguring than any more overtly ambitious attempts can ever be.

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:14 -0400)

The call to make the world a better place is inherent in the Christian belief and practice. This book looks at why efforts to change the world by Christians so often fail or have gone tragically awry and how Christians in the 21st century might live in ways that have integrity with their traditions and are more transformative. The author appraises the most popular models of world-changing among Christians today, highlighting the ways they are inherently flawed and therefore incapable of generating the change to which they aspire. Because change implies power, all Christians eventually embrace strategies of political engagement. He offers a trenchant critique of the political theologies of the Christian Right and Left and the Neo-Anabaptists, taking on many respected leaders, from Charles W. Colson to Jim Wallis and Stanley Hauerwas. He argues that all too often these political theologies worsen the very problems they are designed to solve. What is really needed is a different paradigm of Christian engagement with the world, one that Hunter calls "faithful presence"--an ideal of Christian practice that is not only individual but institutional; a model that plays out not only in all relationships but in our work and all spheres of social life. He offers real life examples, large and small, of what can be accomplished through the practice of faithful presence. Such practices will be more fruitful, he argues, more exemplary, and more deeply transfiguring than any more overtly ambitious attempts can ever be.… (more)

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