DMINLGP

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

Changing the World

Written by: on April 14, 2015

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.”[1] 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.”[2]

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.”[3]

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.’”[4] 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.”[5] 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.[6] 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.”[7] 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:

  1. His power was derived from his complete intimacy and submission to his Father.
  2. His rejection of status and reputation and the privilege that accompanies them.
  3. Compassion defines the power of his kingdom more than anything else.
  4. The noncoercive way in which he dealt with those outside of the community of faith.[8]

Living a life worthy of our call will make a difference in our world!

 

[1] 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.

[2] Ibid., 17.

[3] Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with James Davison Hunter.

[4] Hunter, 128.

[5] Ibid., 227.

[6] Amazon Book Description

[7] Hunter, 197.

[8] Ibid., 188-191.

About the Author

mm

Brian Yost

Brian is a husband and father of three. He works with Free Methodist World Missions and is currently serving in Latin America.

7 responses to “Changing the World”

  1. Jon Spellman says:

    Brian, “I would like to pose the question; Is it even a noble quest to desire and work toward a dominate Christian culture in America?” Hmmm….. After this Semester, and the utter deconstruction process we’ve walked through in terms of whether or not the church is the source or solution to the culture’s ills, I’m not sure. Historically, the Kingdom of God has thrived in and through any culture, secular, oppressive, ambivalent, whatever, the Kingdom of God persists. Maybe our goal should be less about transforming the culture into whatever our opinion of “right” may be, and just get about the business of making disciples?

    J

  2. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Love this post….Thanks Brian! And like Jon above, I really like your question, “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 seems like the church through our programs and strategies like to do everything we can except actually build relationships with people. You question is brilliant because it highlights our fixation with strategies whereas we should be spending time with people…building disciples. Thanks Brian.

  3. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Brian, I really agree with the thinking that our over-selling radical world change through our passion, hurts our integrity in the long run. Your line, “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.” The worst part is I think we often miss the amazing things God is actually doing in our lives, the lives around us and even our communities when we are trying to create grandiose vision statements and big successful pictures of how awesome we can be if we follow Jesus. I am thinking, these days, there is just something more compelling about an authentic, honest call to humble obedience to contribute goodness in the simple that is more the way God intends for us to find him and the life he calls us to.

  4. mm Dave Young says:

    Brian, Love it. You discerned the main issue at hand, that we are called to be ‘witnesses’ of Jesus Christ. Not necessarily shapers of culture. You went further brought out the problem that the culture is doing a fairly good job of influencing the church. You know it all reminds me that Jesus was pretty clear that the world hated him and that it would hate his followers too. Conversely, or inversely… I’m not sure. He called us to love others, the world would know we’re Christians by our love. It seems Jesus made this stuff simple and we’re masters at making more complex.

  5. mm Mary Pandiani says:

    Brian, I appreciate your focus about returning to our sense of call – just why are we here?! And then you build on the idea of integrity with that call as well as living it in a worthy manner. It seems our journey is more about the way it is done rather than the end result. Hunter brings to mind the value of our relationship with God as our focus. So now whenever I feel like I wish I could change things, my prayer returns to being present to God, trusting in His desire and capacity to do the changing that is part of His plan. Thanks for the reminder of the key characteristics as a way to offer that prayer.

  6. mm Travis Biglow says:

    Amen Brian, we do have a heroic concept about winning the world for Christ. I too like Hunters take on this concept. I think that Christians are not even thinking about changing too much where they are. Not everyone but may think this way

Leave a Reply to Travis Biglow Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *