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