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

Faithful Resistance

Written by: on February 28, 2019

University of Virginia Professor James Davison Hunter breaks his text down into three distinct sections, a very “Trinitarian” formula, as he shares his thesis on how Christians can help transform the modern world in his award winning text, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.  The first section describes Hunters view that God has chosen humanity to positively impact the world. “To be Christian, is to be obliged to engage the world, pursuing God’s restorative purposes over all of life, individual and corporate, public and private.  This is the mandate of creation.”[i] Needless to say, this quote speaks deeply to me as a good portion of my research has been in how communities can help restore creation.  Hunter goes on to list eleven propositions about how Christians can rethink culture to better impact the world, my favorite being number four which implores believers to re-imagine how they understand the concept of power.

In the second section, Hunter describes a variety of the issues facing Christians in furthering their worldview, including the potentially (‘probably’ to Hunter) tragic results of putting too much trust in the geopolitics.  Brilliantly, and lucidly, Hunter critiques the Christian Right – too defensive, the Christian Left – too relevant, and the Neo-Anabaptists – too chaste, and then provides his preferred paradigm which he calls a “faithful presence within.” This faithful presence within is deeply tied to both creation and the incarnation and is the Christian worldview that Hunter best expects will “help to make the world a little bit better.”[ii]

Hunter’s final section further dives into the faithful presence within concept.  Stating that the Christian life is perpetually lived as “a community of resistance”[iii] he furthers this point by claiming that Christians “must renounce the dominant script of the world and embrace the alternative script that is rooted in the Bible and is enacted through the tradition of the church.”[iv] Perhaps best described in the following quote Hunter’s vision of a faithful presence within happens when nothing separates or distracts a Christian from living out their faith in all that they do.  “When the Word of all flourishing – defined by the love of Christ – becomes flesh in us, in our relations with others, within the tasks we are given, and within our sphere of influence – absence gives way to presence, and the word we speak to each other and to the world becomes authentic and trustworthy.”[v]  This says Hunter “is the heart of a theology of faithful presence.”[vi]

This text has left me with two main thoughts.  The first is how much I agree with the main crux of Christianity being against the dominant culture.  The majority of the Bible was written by individuals that were not members of the dominant culture.  Much of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament was written while in exile, or by prophetic voices speaking against the Hebrew culture, even while that culture was being occupied by a foreign empire.  Much of the Greek Bible or New Testament was written in the shadow of the Roman Empire, and even Jesus was crucified as an enemy of the Roman state.  How Christians live out our call, our faith, and our life is Biblically directed to be subversive to the dominant culture.

However, my second thought is more of a question.  I am uncertain how to gauge the numerous differences in interpretation of faithful presence within.  While my hope is all Christians strive to care for others in all that they do, how we do just that varies greatly.   How do we qualify what truly is living with a faithful presence within?



[i] James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World,(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 4

[ii] Hunter, Change, 286

[iii] Hunter, Change, 235

[iv] Hunter, Change, 237

[v] Hunter, Change, 252

[vi] Hunter, Change, 252


About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

9 responses to “Faithful Resistance”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Great post Jacob. I think your questions are very valid and hit close to home. As Sean wrote about in his post, a lot of Christian thought they were being faithful in voting for Trump but now as it has played out seems like a very bad decision. Outside of the political arena employing faithful presence may look different from place to place. You mention that creation care fits into this faithful presence concept, how do you see that playing out in today’s culture?

    • Rev Jacob Bolton says:

      Thank you Mario! A few quick thoughts:
      * through the act of gardening
      * anytime someone experiences the divine while in nature
      * if . . . and when . . . someones faithful presence from within inspires/calls them to further creation care

  2. Digby Wilkinson says:

    To answer you question on faithful presence, I don’t think the answer can be found in the paradigms of American or English cultures. Even when Christians in America or the UK try to live in the radical edge of current Christian thinking, it is still based on prodominant cultural thinking. The culture wars of most Christian churches are internal, not external. If you want to undertand the unique nature of faithful presence, you need to look to churches and church Christian communities who live of the edge of truly non Christian worldviews. And it’s an interesting view : Sometimes it results in the violence of Liberation Theology when combine with forms of Marxism. Alternately the thinking of René Padilla who emphasised evangelism and social responsibility in the same context. Faithful presence become much more raw in contexts where the consequences of forms of faithful presence are rather stark. We get to write about it wrapped in the feather duvet of higher education, but it’s perhaps better to observe it where faithfulness means something concrete to the givers and the receivers. Just a thought.

  3. Sean Dean says:

    I’ve been trying to come up with a good answer to your question, but I think Digby did it better than I can, so I’m going to reference his answer and agree. That being said I think it will vary a lot based upon where you find yourself. In a predominantly Christian world view it’ll look distinctly different than in a culture that is opposed or out right aggressive towards Christianity. I think that a lot of Hunter’s thoughts revolve around that variability of cultural location.

  4. I enjoyed reading your post Jacob. I realize that the prevailing public culture is almost always contrary to true Christian Faith and at times hostile, yet we’ve to remain faithful witnesses of Christ within the same context. To retain a faithful presence then means to live the Christian Faith within this prevailing culture as the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

  5. Jenn Burnett says:

    As always, I appreciate your thoughts Jacob. As a non-American, I find myself constantly trying to understand the American context as it is considerably different than my own. (In spite of our shared Netflix). One of the things that I am very curious about stems from your comments on Christianity always being against the dominant culture. I do agree this is a common theme in scripture. However from here, it seems (I am very open to correction here) that at least some regions in America have cultural Christianity as the dominant culture. At least the prominent voices seem to be so. And yet they continue to project themselves as the oppressed underdog. The effect appears to be the dominant group in positions of privilege react to the marginalized as if they (the underprivileged) were oppressors and resist recognizing their own acts of oppression. They seem to graft their Christian identity into the context of the oppressed Christians of scripture so fully, that they fail to see their own context is actually one of privilege. The result is Christian, Caucasian, Heterosexual men, claiming that they are oppressed and must ‘resist the culture.’ Is this just media/social media hype or is this a very real American issue? (Very genuinely curious here.) Whether my perceptions are accurate or not, how might we recognize when Christianity is actually the dominant culture and how does that affect what our call looks like when we plant Christianity in a culture where it is privileged rather than subversive? (Non of us are particularly proud of the crusades these days.)

    • Rev Jacob Bolton says:

      Great questions Jenn. And it certainly isn’t just an American issue. Numerous leaders throughout time have weaponized/politicized Christianity, using it as a tool as they tried to achieve their devious ends.

      That said, you have articulated one of the many issues with American society, and certainly a key one with a large swath of Christians. Much of it stems back to Biblical interpretation and what the ultimate “end” of a life of faith truly is . . . but I still think that there has to be a communal element tied in to the entire thing. I just dont know the best way to articulate that.

  6. Mary Mims says:

    Jacob, great post, although I do not totally agree that Christianity should always be against the dominant culture. I think there are times we are with the culture as when Paul said in 1 Cor 9:22-23, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” I think when the culture is against God, we choose God, however, there are cultural things that do not matter. I think this is one way to practice God’s faithful presence of love.

  7. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Jacob, Great summary points within a great post. Yes, biblical orthodoxy was written and communicated from the margins within a dominant culture. Perhaps, this is why Paul reminds us that we are citizens of heaven. Your question of, “How do we qualify what truly is living with a faithful presence within?” is worthy of much rumination. Perhaps the metric of truly living with a faithful presence within is best measured by our Triune God and the dominant culture we are trying to influence for his purposes? I wonder. Thanks again for great thoughts to ponder.

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