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

How did Jonah Get Ninevah to Change, Anyway?

Written by: on March 15, 2018

Nope. Not much. I did not enjoy the first part of this book! And here’s why…every argument I had for lasting social transformation was shot down, one by one, by our author. It’s as though he was reading my mind ahead of my every proposal.

I started out by supporting real change by holding to a Christian worldview like Chuck Colson argued. [1] Hunter deep sixed that one (so has Dr. Jason in our Zooms). Then I thought about individuals changing society one heart and one mind at a time, like with Focus on the Family’s Truth Project.[2] Hunter begged to differ. Me oh my, he eventually threw shade on Pope John Paul II, Billy Graham, and the Bible itself [3], for crying out loud! If Lincoln, Churchill, MLK, Mandela and Mother Teresa [4], were mistaken in their approaches, maybe I should just jump in the Yellowstone River and get it over with.

I thought I had the final answer without having to read the rest of the book—REVIVAL. Certainly, that is the answer for true alteration! Much to my chagrin, Hunter poked holes in that idea, too. [5] Made me want to give up. If a holy freaking revival doesn’t work for real change, through repentance and prayer, what will?

So how does Hunter think the world is permanently changed? Would the 3% total of gay marriages have been a focus if heterosexual marriages were wildly successful, instead of the supposed 50% failure rate? Would abortion have been legalized if societies valued human life in all its forms, instead of practicing slavery for monetary gain of entire races based simply on the color of their skin? Evidently not, once again, per our author. These “culture wars” are unwinnable because of unqualified idealism. [6] Now I am getting really frustrated!

I somewhat understand why various reviewers like John Coleman stated this book was, “Troubling, inadequate.” [7] Even Hunter himself states, “…infinitely complex. Any attempt to provide a neat summary, therefore, will inevitably fail to grasp the intricacy and subtlety of the reality it seeks to describe.” [8]

Made me wonder with my critical thinking skills, if the only constant in true lasting change was difficult ADVERSITY. Makes a little sense to me. Perhaps, we only change through crisis, because we certainly don’t change through comfortableness. For example, Christianity exploded dramatically throughout history through the adversity of persecution.

Also, makes me wonder what effect LEADERSHIP has on lasting change. Obviously, it matters. But if others have failed before us, why would our leadership matter?  The only constant I can find in effective leadership for lasting change is the HOLY SPIRIT. Thankfully, after doing a word search through my Kindle for this book, the Holy Spirit comes up often in Hunter’s thinking.

To be honest, I did not dwell on the politics section of this book. Here’s why, I am flat out exhausted by the games politicians play on BOTH sides of the aisle. Besides, I do not believe government is our answer.  Although I support the Scriptural mandate to respect those in governmental authority, I am not placing my hope in them!

Alas, Hunter grabs my attention to suggesting the answer to lasting change may lie in a theology called “faithful presence” where we bear witness to and be the embodiment of the coming Kingdom of God. [9] Breaking down the intention of this ideology, I appreciated the author explaining what is meant by “Faithfulness” and to be faithful in our own generation. [10] Taken a step further, not only faithful presence, but “faithful presence within” [11] fully marked by place, pursuing others like God pursues us, identifying directly with others, and loving sacrificially… [12]

In closing, the simplest way for me to apply what I think I am learning from this book, is to share about a family from our church. Heartbreakingly, they had to bury their 13-day old baby. Not a single person could truly help this family work thru crushing grief with simple words or even kind actions. To put it mildly, they were suffering in the deepest fog humanly possible. I will never forget the mom fully draped over the coffin of their child as the funeral home tried to lower the casket into the ground. Nothing in our training had ever prepared our church for such a crisis. All of us struggled for lasting help for the searing mourning that was taking place.

Now, three years removed from that experience, I asked the family to teach me how to help others in the same situation.  I will never forget the mom simply saying, “All people can do is be there. Don’t say anything, don’t have to do anything, can’t explain it, but the people who helped the most ministered to us by their PRESENCE.”

Makes more sense to me now after reading this book…


[1] Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World the Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of

Christianity in the Late Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. p. 6.

[2] Ibid., p. 24.

[3] Ibid., p. 13.

[4] Ibid., p. 17

[5] Ibid., p. 46.

[6] Ibid., p. 25.

[7] Coleman, John A. Book Review: To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility

of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Vol 72, Issue 1, 2011. Los Angeles: Sage

Journals from Sage Publishing. p. 219.

[8] Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World the Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of

Christianity in the Late Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. p. 76.

[9] Ibid., p. 95.

[10] Ibid., p. 197.

[11] Ibid., p. 237.

[12] Ibid., p. 242.


About the Author

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

12 responses to “How did Jonah Get Ninevah to Change, Anyway?”

  1. M Webb says:

    I think the water in the Yellowstone is still a little cold for baptizing, but maybe you can get near one of those hot springs that God created just for a situation like this.
    I did not go through the pain on this book that you did. After reading the reviews, looking at the index, and table of contents, I went right after Hunter’s proposed solution. I think that helped me be less bothered by his Anabaptist-Neo-Anabaptist bias. I trained to be a market-place chaplain and focused on being a first-responder chaplain. The Ministry of Presence is so simple looking, but so powerful helping the lost, dying, needy, and grieving come into the presence of God. Hunter is not discovering something new, it has been around since the creation. It is so simple, so straightforward, so unassuming, that it would be just like God to use it, right?
    So, we are not a human battery to power the machine world of the Matrix, but we are an incarnational being, if we are in Christ, that the Holy Spirit uses to give glimpses of Christ, reflecting His image, and drawing others toward God. And who says that is not good enough?

    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  2. Jason Turbeville says:

    It seems this book hit you like it hit me. What is the purpose of my leadership if such great people (Graham, Lincoln, Teressa) failed in Hunter’s estimation. Yep, it is the true change brought about by the Holy Spirit that changes us and we as Christians need be be better at following Him, marriages and all…So how do we as leaders point the way? By being the men and women that God has called us to be, always looking to Him for our answers, praying for our enemies, loving them regardless. I think that is the best answer…


  3. Shawn Hart says:

    Jay, your frustration is the reason I am not a big fan of reading all the latest books; the reality is that nothing works all the time and nothing is guaranteed to fail all the time. I have found that I have had great success with some ministry methods at one church, only to find them fail at the next. For this reason, I believe the best success to ministry is our motives. If we are seeking to truly do God’s will, I know He will grant it success; it may through one saved soul or a 1000, but if it is God leading, then He knows what His expectations were. If we believe God is in control, and every soul saved is valuable, then how can we fail after that. For me, it seemed that was part of the point of this book though, not to pick on our methods, but rather to hold us accountable to our motives.

    So what makes you feel as though you had a successful ministry program?

    • Jay Forseth says:

      To me, the most successful ministry “programs” in our church were when people truly went two steps forward and stayed two steps forward (not two forward and two backward). I certainly understand it was only by the grace of God, that HE did the transforming. Somehow he decided to work thru us broken vessels. To God be the glory!

  4. Greg says:

    Thanks for your honest journey and frustration with this book. I, like Mike, skipped to what I thought was the important areas. I walked away thinking not that my work was meaningless but it was another
    Reminder of my reliance on the presence of God as a guide. Powerful story at the end and a great reminder of being the representative of God doesn’t need an Shawn fa or words.

  5. Jennifer Williamson says:

    Hey Jay, your title grabbed my attention, but then you didn’t bring Jonah and Ninevah into the post. I felt like Hunter did say that there were moments when one person had a significant impact on a culture (like Jonah and Ninevah), but that it wasn’t the norm. Maybe I’m just a little thick, but could you please connect the dots for me between your title and the point you are making in your post? Thanks!

    • Jay Forseth says:

      So glad you asked Jenn! I hope to bring it up tomorrow if I have an opportunity during the Zoom. Seems to me Jonah did not do a single thing that this book recommended, yet an entire town changed dramatically…

  6. Dan Kreiss says:


    I understand your frustration as you read through the list of efforts to ‘win’ back the culture that Hunter suggests all failed. We have tried for decades to no avail. And, had I not spent so long in NZ I might yet be attempting to wage those battles but that experience transformed me. Faithful Presence as Hunter suggests is not some form of subtle attempt at changing culture one person at a time, but a recognition that our main role as Christians is not to live in tranquility with our surrounding society but to share the love of Jesus by being present with people in all walks of life and in a multitude of circumstances. That includes people and circumstances that had we been able to ‘win’ the culture wars we might not have had to deal with in the same way. But, alas, I don’t think Jesus ever attempted to wage a culture war, nor did Paul. They both sought to be present and transform the nature of people’s connection with their creator. May you and I both be available for that task with others as long as we have breath.

  7. Very engaging post Jay! I loved reading how you went through all your solutions to change the world (cracked me up). And then how you ended your post with…”I will never forget the mom simply saying, “All people can do is be there. Don’t say anything, don’t have to do anything, can’t explain it, but the people who helped the most ministered to us by their PRESENCE.” Wow, what a perfect example of faithful presence, and I have to say I see that phenomena in my office on a weekly basis. People often just need you to be present with them as they work through their crisis.

  8. Chris Pritchett says:

    Striking post! You raise some very important questions, and I feel like I read the book a little differently. I mean, you’re right, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, MLK, Lincoln, Wilberforce, Billy Graham- these people changed the world! Absolutely! But maybe that wasn’t what they set out to do, necessarily. Or maybe it was. But all they could really do was to be faithful to what was placed before them, one opportunity, one day at a time. And the Spirit grabbed each of them and summoned them in pretty classic prophet biblical tradition. And I thought this is precisely what the author was suggesting – a sort of faithful, long obedience in the same direction, and if anything is going to change, it’s going to be solely the work of the Spirit. Isn’t it striking that in the Jonah and Nineveh account, Jonah simply cried out, “40 days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” No instruction. No call to repentance in that moment. No list of credentials. No claim or desire to change the world. And the text says, not that they believed Jonah, but that “they believed GOD” and repented. Jonah did not set out to change the world. But God had other plans. And maybe that is the humble call of the church in this age?

  9. Jean Ollis says:

    Thanks for sharing your story of heartbreak from the death of a child. Perfect example of faithful presence! I agree with Hunter in that we can’t continue to think we can “solve” the problems of the world. How will this idea reframe your ministry approach?

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