James D. Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World is book that gives Christians hope that their faithful presence can make a difference in a chaotic near end-times world culture. Hunter’s world changing model is not about power, politics, or religion. Instead, the author says the world can be changed by the incarnational lives of Christians who struggle to resist Satan while living out their calling and existence in full view of their communities, all the while projecting a faithful presence to Christ. I am excited to engage Hunter’s ideas on faithful presence, how he relates to spiritual warfare, his views on the impact of pluralism, and his practical recommendations on how to implement a God honoring presence into the church and community.
Hunter’s thesis suggests that presence and place matter to God and the “theology of faithful presence” is the result of the Word and the world coming together through God’s spoken word. I connect with this theme because I trained to become a market-place chaplain where the ministry of presence helps reach the least reached and hard to reach places in the world. I also personally relate to his “practice of faithful presence” as a kind of incarnational leadership that crosses all boundaries, cultures, paradigms, and comes to rest in “God in the person of Jesus Christ.” Miller summarizes Hunter’s faithful presence initiative as the solution to the world’s problems, according to Hunter, because “He rejects all notions of redeeming the culture, advancing the Kingdom, transforming the world, or reclaiming culture.”
Hunter engages the peripheral concepts of spiritual warfare in many areas of his book by relating his Biblical theologies on truth, righteousness, justice, faith, salvation, and peace. For example, when Hunter discussed how Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness with “political power” he expanded the narrative context by introducing the effect of principalities and powers. I found it interesting that Hunter says principalities and powers are a “paradox” that function to maintain order in society, within God’s permissive will, that give direction and unity to people, but “they also separate people from the true God.” His example of how government works, even as a distorted and false theology, uses force in a positive manner that helps maintains chaos and restrains human evil.
Pluralism is another theme that Hunter uses to show how the church changes and is assimilated into the world culture over time. My dissertation question is “Why has the North American church become desensitized to the effects of spiritual warfare.” Hunter’s discussion on pluralism is one of the reasons church leaders become blinded to the schemes of the devil. He says that even through missionaries, evangelists, and the body of Christ engage the world, “it will experience the pressures of assimilation to the world.” Hunter says it is “difficult if not impossible to resist, and even in resisting, the church can assume the character and content of the world around it.”
Hunter also uses the term “post-Christian” to describe the world, culture, context, and community. For example, “the future of the church in a post-Christian world,” “American culture has become post-Christian,” and “darkness is deepened in a post-Christian context” expresses Hunter’s deep frustration with the current state of Christendom. Smith summarizes Hunter in his review and says that the “church is in exile” and commends Hunter who calls Christians to unite around their “core beliefs and practices” and focus on fulfilling the Great Commission while honoring God.
Hunter writes like a Protestant evangelical but seems to promote a Neo-Anabaptist bias that he calls a political theology. Anabaptists are well known through the Mennonite, Brethren, Quakers, Amish, and Hutterite denominations. Hunter describes the Neo-Anabaptist as “model for a genuine Christian witness in the context of” the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Rubio’s review says that even through Hunter is critical of Anabaptists, he “shares their desire for strong theological foundations, their emphasis on faithfulness over effectiveness, and their focus on formation.” I really connect with Hunter’s plain but powerful support for faith-based schools, businesses that break out of the capitalist mode, and artists and others who use their God given talents to unite communities. King in his review also gives Hunter credit as “he describes a company that aims to re-define the obligations of private business differently from the way they are normally thought of.”
My wife JoAnne and I started a market-place ministry business almost five years ago that I think resembles what Hunter describes as breaking out of the capitalist mode. We started our business as a ministry to our employees, fellow contractors, and FedEx staff. We share our lives, our faith, and our help to anyone the Lord puts before us. Our business plan is simple; God owns the business, we are his stewards, and we give God honor and glory for our calling and service to others. In conclusion, I like Hunter’s work that gives the contemporary Christian a back-to-the-basics approach to how to live out their faith in their home, neighborhoods, and work. I am glad to see Hunter promote the ministry of faithful presence as a practice and solution to help our messed-up world.