My previous post said “Bad Religion” is my favorite book this term; James Davidson Hunter’s “To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World” is a close second. My affection for Hunter’s book isn’t because I’m wholeheartedly agreeing with his views on culture or cultural change, but because he’s taken hold of my assumptions on culture and kicked them around a bit and shown me some weaknesses in them.
I’d like to reflect on these comments; he provocatively states, “revival would have a negligible long-term effect on the reconstitution of the culture.”  He goes further “the call to this generation of Americans to repent and pray for revival to renew the values of the national culture may be welcome, but no one should be under any illusion about its capacity to fundamentally transform the present cultural order at its most rudimentary level.” Hunter isn’t attacking evangelicalism; he comes across as highly respectful of Christian faith. He continues this argument with “Invitations by Christian leaders to fast and pray are most worthy, but their main effect will be to renew the church rather than keep America from “losing its soul””.  The issue is that evangelicals hold this common view of culture, and how culture changes: culture is primarily a matter of hearts and minds, a view that based in the philosophy of idealism.
If I was pressed to define culture, I’d share the popular view that it’s primarily about values, which can be consistent with a biblical worldview or with a natural worldview. These two-world views create a tension in our American culture that Christians know all too well. A natural, Darwinian-supported worldview will be godless and amoral; the values that result will be, and are, widely reflected in the culture. Both worldviews believe that the repository of values is in the “hearts and minds” of the people. Cultural change, in this view, becomes a straightforward proposition: change a person’s values and you’ll ultimately change the culture. Hunter cites three tactics in which Christians are working to change the world or culture: Evangelism (aka spiritual renewal), political action, and social reform. So the popular belief is that culture changes regardless of the tactic (spiritual, political or social); “cultures changes when people change or as Charles Colson put it, transformed people transform cultures.” 
Yet Hunter goes on to argue that popular view of cultural change is almost wholly wrong.  To be fair, and clear, Hunter is supportive of evangelism for the sake of offering Christ, for transforming the life of the individual. He is also supportive of Christians engaged in political action and social reform yet he’s clear that “such engagement may be worthy, but if the end is to ‘save civilization,’ it most certainly naïve, by themselves or even together, evangelism, politics and social reform, then, will fail to bring about the ends hoped for and intended.”  Hunter goes on to offer an alternative view of culture and cultural change with eleven propositions all of which make it clear that culture is bigger than the individual: it encompasses history, institutions, symbols, etc. His view of cultural change is top down, it comes with no small amount of tension and change, and it isn’t one person at a time.
As an evangelical I have tremendous respect for Chuck Colson, James Dobson, Bill Bright, and others like them. If you asked me for a representative sampling of American evangelical leaders from the former generation I’d gladly name them. Hunter clearly documents that they all believed you will change the world, change the culture, by introducing people to Christ. And I’d likewise follow that train of thought. But then – why hasn’t it changed? America has a greater percentage of people confessing faith in Jesus, close followers of His teaching, than anywhere else in the world. One could criticize the quality of our faith but still America also has the greatest percentage of believers who take their faith seriously enough to find practical ways to live it out. Where is the cultural change our leaders promised?
Could it be the desire to change the culture—change the political, social, educational systems—isn’t really the mission of the church? We’re called to “go and make disciples”; “make more followers of Jesus through our witness.” That witness of Jesus can and should engage the culture using all our abilities, gifts, talents and interests – as a vehicle of our witnesses. However, the fruit of the witness is changed lives, not changed culture. Let’s be careful not to confuse method and mission.
 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), 46.
 Ibid, 47.
 Ibid, 16.
 Ibid, 17.
 Ibid, 47.