Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Are Good Intentions Enough?

Written by: on May 3, 2014

Are the good intentions of Christians enough to engage and change the world?  Can Christians pray long enough, hard enough and loud enough to affect change in the world?  Are there enough Christians to fully embrace God’s call on their lives to change the world? Are Christians engaging in enough critical thinking that will help bring life-giving change in a complex and diverse world? Is this enough or is there more?

In his book, To Change the World: the Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, James Davison Hunter cites a variety of denominations and para-church organizations from various traditions that continue to be engaged in the world to seek ways to change it for the better. Although their efforts and intentions may be honorable and sincere he questions whether that is enough. There are Christians today who have been yearning for something different, who recognize that the older paradigms of engagement are fundamentally flawed and are discovering an alternative.[1]  Throughout his book, Hunter challenges the present culture changing movements that have misunderstood the relationship of power to Christian ideals and have not been effective in bringing about change.

Hunter contends that in order to understand how to change the world one must begin with an understanding of what is to be changed.[2]  But is that enough? According to Hunter the essence of culture is found in the hearts and minds of individuals, through the values and ideas that people live by. Yet he argues that if culture is the accumulation of values and the choices made by individuals on the basis of these values, how is it that American public culture is so profoundly secular in its character?[3]

“To Change the World,” consists of three essays in which Hunter challenges contemporary Christian attitudes regarding culture, change and its engagement in the world.  The focus of these essays is the social imaginary that serves as a backdrop for the ways in which the majority of those in America who call themselves Christians engage the world.[4]

It is in his third essay where Hunter identifies new technologies of information and communication as a source of cultural change and engagement in the world.  According to Hunter these technological changes can be liberating and empowering but they can also be profoundly disorienting and deeply incapacitating.[5]  Hunter argues that a theology of faithful presence is what is needed to fully engage with the world around us.


A theology of faithful presence calls Christians to enact the shalom of God in the circumstances in which God has placed them and to actively seek it on behalf of others.[6]   Jesus calls his followers to “go into all the world” but often we neglect to look at the people and places right in front of us.  We often read this scripture as solely geographically.  We think about sending out missionaries to be God’s presence in the ends of the world.  Yet this is only part of the story.

Hunter stresses the great commission can also be interpreted in terms of social structure.  He states that the church is to go into all realms of social life.[7]  In other words, the church should be sending people out, discipling, mentoring and providing financial support in all types of vocations not only those that have to do with the pastoral/church ministry.  Hunter states that when the church does not send people out to these realms and when it does not provide the theologies that make sense of work and engagement in these realms, the church fails to fulfill the charge to “go into all the world.”[8]  He goes on to say that the pursuit of faithful presence in all spheres of life, then, will have social consequences.

I’m often bothered by the fact that Christian leaders tend to place more emphasis and support in church/ministerial vocations. We often do a good job in challenging young people to consider a “call to ministry.” But what about a call to vocations that encourage innovative ways where Christians are practicing faithful presence within and in so doing, living and working toward the well-being of others? [9]  It is in such a call that perhaps we can begin to see the transformation of culture in business, the arts, medicine, housing, etc.

Christians, at their best, will neither create a perfect world nor one that is altogether new; but by enacting shalom and seeking it on behalf of all others through the practice of faithful presence, it is possible, just possible, that they will help to make the world a little bit better.[10]


[1]  James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford University Press: New York, 2010) Loc. 5291, Kindle Edition.

[2]  Ibid., Loc. 131.

[3]  Ibid., Loc. 396.

[4]  Ibid., Loc. 126.

[5]  James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford University Press: New York, 2010) p. 239

[6] Ibid. Loc. 5405.

[7] Ibid., p. 257.

[8] Ibid., p. 257.

[9] Ibid., p. 269.

[10] Ibid., p.286.

About the Author

Miriam Mendez

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