DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

CHANGING THE WORLD: JOINING GOD IN CHANGING CULTURE

Written by: on April 5, 2014

I am intrigued and encouraged by the willingness of people to give. A Midwest City recently did a survey to determine how city resources might be best used for the benefit of the community.[1] The survey revealed a surprising underlying resource. The greatest resource was not in facilities and programs but rather the “community” itself. It was revealed that over 55% of community members served as volunteers and an additional 34% would get involved if asked to volunteer. Although it would take a much more comprehensive study to determine the depth of commitment to volunteerism in this case, the fact that almost 90% of the community is willing to “give back” or “give something” makes a significant statement about what the community values.

James Dawson Hunter in To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, indicates that culture, as commonly understood, is determined by what people value and the decisions that people make based on their shared values.[2] He would add an additional dimension in most all concepts of culture that includes the relationship between “word and world,” that is to say, the manner in which values are enacted or lived out in the world.[3] Hunter does see this simplistic concept of culture as “almost wholly mistaken”.[4] He provides a rather comprehensive, or one might say “macro” concept of culture that encompasses seven detailed propositions that clarify culture and four propositions concerning how culture changes.

Hunter’s work is well documented and academic, however, it does, at least to some extent, conceal his social theory. After presenting his seven propositions[5] that constitute culture, he makes the statement, “the idea that changing a culture mainly by changing the hearts and minds of ordinary people is looking less and less plausible.”[6] Hunter see culture changing as something that is beyond the power or influence of the individual. He notes the fallacy of indicting Christian Believers for failing to “Change the World.” It is typically charged that “…the reason Christians do not have more influence in shaping the culture is that Christians are just not trying hard enough, acting decisively enough, or believing thoroughly or Christianly enough.”[7] Rather, Hunter sees the problem to be at the institutional level where power and control reside as the culprit in failing to effect cultural change reflective of Christian values and belief.

Hunter does acknowledge there is a place for individual or small community in changing culture. He notes, rightly so, that it is the mandate that Believers be part of God’s mission, joining God as God’s creating image. “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.”[8] However, Christian input and ultimately the ability to influence or change society is limited to the extent of influencing the creation of “culture-producing institutions”[9] in society. It is undeniable that Christianity has accomplished great good through a myriad of ministries to the needy, poor, disable and “remarkable good is accomplished. But these achievements are largely rooted in and belong to the local church or parish.”[10] Consequently, Christians, Hunter states, “have been absent from the arenas in which the greatest influence in the culture is exerted.”[11]

Hunter sheds a great deal of light on understanding Christian witness in the present era. Here again, I would personally prefer to see his concepts as applicable at the personal and local level. He addresses witness in the modern world from the conservative and progressive perspective while acknowledging that both approaches “understand [the] important parts of the puzzle of the contemporary world.”[12] “If this is true,” He notes, “…engaging the world with integrity in our time requires a rethinking of the particular challenges to authentic Christian witness that derive from this historical moment.” It is necessary to understand that Christian faith and witness is enhanced or hampered by the “cultural wineskins” that contain the gospel.

Hunter notes several approaches to presenting the gospel in the contemporary culture: 1) The defensive paradigm “seeks to create a defensive enclave that is set against the world.”[13]  It is the engagement of society, in all aspects, by maintaining orthodoxy and orthopraxy as paramount in the face of the challenges presented in pluralistic contemporary culture. A defensive posture is militant in its attempt to defend against apostasy and reestablish the prominence of Christianity. 2) The relevance paradigm seeks to address relevant social issues. The emphases is not on defending the faith but rather, identifying with “people’s felt-needs … for the church to resonate better with the world …”[14] 3) The puritan which seeks to preserve truth (gospel purity) though isolation by extricating “itself from the contaminating forces of the world and by so doing, return to its authentic witness.”[15]

The faithful presence of the church incarnate in the world is the wineskin which Christianity can use to take the gospel to the world.  He suggests a constructive opposition (antithesis) in tension with and affirmative validation of ideas and approaches as the church is the Word incarnate in the world. The Christian sells oneself out to the fulfillment of gospel present in the world. Here, Hunter does see the fulfillment of faithful witness as the presence of the individual Christian in the world. “Against the limitless horizon of a will that is ever seeking its own fulfillment and pleasure, faithful presence calls believers to yield their will to God and to nurture and cultivate the world where God has placed them.”[16]


[1] Raymond L. smith, April 4, 2014, “We Are Warren Survey,”  Warren Tribune: TribToday, http://www.tribtoday.com/page/content.detail/id/602475/We-Are-Warren-survey-results-in.html?nav=5021, Accessed April 4, 2014.

[2] James Dawson Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World [New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010], Kindle, 6.

[3] Ibid., 239.

[4] Ibid., 17

[5] See: Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary “1: something offered for consideration or acceptance; 2a : an expression in language or signs of something that can be believed, doubted, or denied or is either true or false.”

[6] Ibid., 40.

[7] Ibid., 22.

[8] Ibid., 4

[9] Ibid., 83.

[10] Ibid., 91, (emphases mine).

[11] Ibid., 89.

[12] Ibid., 199.

[13] Ibid., 213.

[14] Ibid., 215

[15] Ibid., 217.

[16] Ibid., 252

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