In his book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, James Davison Hunter does a great job of pointing out the utter futility in daring to dream that we can change the world for Christ. He looks at many of the strategies that have been or are being employed and then shows why they will not work; “In brief, the model on which various strategies are based not only does not work, but it cannot work. On the basis of this working theory, Christians cannot ‘change the world’ in a way that they, even in their diversity, desire.” Hunter shatters the dreams and visions of many valiant Christians and says that beliefs such as, “If you have the courage and hold to the right values and if you think Christianly with an adequate Christian worldview, you too can change the world. [He states that] this account is almost wholly mistaken.”
While this could be very distressing for those who have placed their hope in strategies and institutions, I found it refreshing to hear his perspective. For years now, I have shared many of his frustrations. When asked, “Why did you write To Change the World?”, Hunter’s responded, “I wrote this book because I saw a disjunction between how Christians talk about changing the world, how they try to change the world, and how worlds –that is culture–actually change. These disparities needed to be clarified.”
The reality is, Christians spend a lot of time talking about changing the world. This is a noble goal, but the reality remains, as a nation we seem to be falling further from God rather than drawing closer. In frustration, we grasp at any straws that would offer hope. Many Christians swallow the kool aid offered by ministries that just need a little more money to fund the necessary changes to influence government policies or get the right person elected. After years of well meaning ministries, are we any closer to the goal? After electing the “right” politicians, are we morally closer to God’s standard? I love Hunter’s quote, “conservative Christians are often called the ‘useful idiots of the Republican party.’” I would add my own side note that the same could be said for Christians who support the Democratic Party. The fact is, politicians do a great job of exploiting Christians, without them even know it.
So, can we change the world? Before looking for the answer, I would like to pose the question; Is it even a noble quest to desire and work toward a dominate Christian culture in America? It may seem almost sacrilegious to even raise such a question, but I cannot help but remember the Roman Empire and Medieval Europe; They were dominated be a “Christian” culture, yet did little to reflect Christ. Another question is, what aspect of American Christianity would we want to influence our culture? As I look at the Christian church, I see much that I am not proud of. “The problem for Christians…is not that their faith is weak or inadequate…[but that] they have also been formed by the larger post-Christian culture.” It is strikingly obvious that, in many respects, rather than the Church influencing the culture, the culture has influenced the Church.
So where does that leave us? “What is really needed is a different paradigm of Christian engagement with the world, one that Hunter calls “faithful presence”–an ideal of Christian practice that is not only individual but institutional; a model that plays out not only in all relationships but in our work and all spheres of social life. Hunter brings us back to the essence of our call; “For Christian Believers, the call to faithfulness is a call to live in fellowship and integrity with the person and witness of Jesus Christ. There is a timeless character to this call that evokes qualities of life and spirit that are recognizable throughout history and across cultural boundaries.” The Church so easily gets rapped up in strategies, power plays, and political agendas and forgets to be the Church. As the Church of Jesus Christ, we are called to follow the example of Christ. Hunter points out four key characteristics of Jesus’ power:
- His power was derived from his complete intimacy and submission to his Father.
- His rejection of status and reputation and the privilege that accompanies them.
- Compassion defines the power of his kingdom more than anything else.
- The noncoercive way in which he dealt with those outside of the community of faith.
Living a life worthy of our call will make a difference in our world!
 James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, ©2010), 5.
 Ibid., 17.
 Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with James Davison Hunter.
 Hunter, 128.
 Ibid., 227.
 Amazon Book Description
 Hunter, 197.
 Ibid., 188-191.