DMINLGP

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

People of The Way

Written by: on February 28, 2019

These people who have stirred up trouble throughout the world have come here too, and Jason has welcomed them as guests! They are all acting against Caesar’s decrees, saying there is another king named Jesus![1]

James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World builds on his previous work, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, by continuing to describe the complexity of culture. He reveals the naivete of the American church in believing that changing individual minds and hearts, becoming a special interest group in Washington, or focusing on change “from the bottom up” will make the cultural difference that truly changes the world.[2] Hunter addresses the religious right, left and neo-anabaptists and why none of their approaches will bring about a cultural shift. He concludes by providing an alternative approach as “faithful presence” and describes the need for this presence in all sectors of society in order to truly have influence that brings about transformation. He notes, “A healthy body exercises itself in all realms of life, not just a few.”[3]

In reading Hunter’s work, I was struck by his historical account in chapter five and reflected on the reference in Acts 17 about followers of The Way, as the early church was called. Obviously, their influence was significant as they are described as stirring up trouble throughout the world. These cared for the poor, widows and orphans, engaged with political leaders, and in Acts 17 we read Paul’s exchange with intellectuals in Athens. They were people of little and people of great means, uneducated and the elite. Though persecuted, literally, they never took a victim posture as Hunter describes of the religious right today. The American church’s “dominant religious narratives make it all but impossible for Christians to wield political power in a way that is not motivated by ressentiment over perceived injury by the secular culture.”[4] Instead, people of The Way believed in the God’s original mandate to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Not as a conquest, as the current rhetoric is propagating in “saving America,” but as a “faithful presence” embodying the Kingdom of God as salt and light, an alternative to what is, through a multi-faceted, layered network.[5]

Hunter uses the people of the Babylonian exile as an example. The setting of Jeremiah’s prophetic promise in Jeremiah 29:11 is often overlooked when quoted in some circles today. The promise of a future and hope was given to people who were taken captive, living in a land they did not call “home” and among a people they were starkly different from. Yet, the instruction to them was to make themselves at home there. Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and allow your daughters to get married so that they too can have sons and daughters. Grow in number; do not dwindle away. Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the Lord for it. For as it prospers you will prosper.[6] To grow in number and not dwindle away sounds familiar to “be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth” in Genesis 1:28.

As Hunter argues, using the statistics of Christians in America, the majority is not necessarily what provides effective influence. Simply “filling the earth” in number has not brought about culture change. Could it be that being fruitful and subduing the earth is what Jeremiah described as making themselves at home and working toward the peace and prosperity of the city and praying for it?

In 2015 Pastor Larry Osborne published a popular book entitled, Thriving in Babylon: Why Hope, Humility and Wisdom Matter in a Godless Culture. He uses the story of Daniel as an example of Jeremiah’s instruction. He focuses on Daniel’s optimism, humility and wisdom as keys characteristics as Hunter defines as “faithful presence.” He shows Daniel’s rise in influence in government and the voice he was given with the Kings he served while staying true to his values and faith. He also outlines some church history and then poignantly addresses the Church in America saying, “The periods of our greatest influence were not necessarily the periods of our greatest faithfulness…a powerful church is not always a faithful church.”[7]

 

[1] Acts 17:6b-7 NET

[2] James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2010), Kindle Loc. 386.

[3] Ibid., Kindle Loc. 1328.

[4] John Crosby, “To Change the World,” First Things, no. 213 (2011): 63.

[5] Ibid., Kindle Loc. 1324-1336.

[6] Jeremiah 29:5-7 NET

[7] Larry Osborne, Thriving in Babylon (Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2015), Kindle Loc. 2007.

About the Author

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Tammy Dunahoo

Tammy is a lover of God, her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the V.P. of U.S. Operations/General Supervisor of The Foursquare Church.

6 responses to “People of The Way”

  1. Thanks for this Tammy. Your post made me think of this news item recently circulating social media: http://bit.ly/2XnOwJw – African Methodism will not bow the knee to US progressivism.

    While I’m a fan of the West, I understand the need to decouple Christianity from America’s version of it. I’m not suggesting that our faith can somehow be disconnected from culture because that’s impossible. Rather, we must be constantly vigilant of the “rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” that so often times derail us from what Hunter calls “faithful presence within.” Good stuff.

    • mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

      Thanks, Harry. I’m curious about your words “decoupling Christianity from America’s version of it” and my curiosity is what version that would be? I say that because there are so many versions that dwell here and it is more divided all the time. I think we would be hard pressed to truly describe America’s version with any level of agreement. Maybe that is the “version” you are describing.

  2. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    Oh Tammy that final quote is so powerful isn’t it? Particularly in light of a year of scandal and truth telling in so many of the most powerful American churches! And how much of we come to resist rejoicing when we are persectuted for the gospel? Instead we whinge about or worse, try to mobilise it as part of policital identity! So would it be prudent to tease out the difference between powerful and influential? Are we called to be influential but not powerful? Or persistently present but not powerful? What kind of power ought we reject and what kind of power might we be called to take up afresh? Thank you for your perspective, I suspect we could have a good conversation on these things! Bless you my friend!

    • mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

      Yes, we could! Jenn, I am convinced that influence is what we have been called to (salt and light) and that comes from our very being, how we live our lives. The mobilizing around a political identity has been painful to watch and the division it has caused in the church has been heart wrenching. I love Hunter’s solution of “faithful presence” and dream of a church that settles into this as our Spirit shaped sense of “being” in the world.

  3. mm Mary Mims says:

    Thank you, Tammy, for your post. I especially like the end where you quoted about the periods of our greatest influence. I hear many people talk about times when Sunday was revered, no stores were open and you could not buy any alcoholic beverages on Sunday. But those days were also days of great social unrest against injustice in the US, so it was not really a time of great faithfulness for the church!

  4. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Tammy, Thanks so much for your post and your Larry Osborne quote. In my limited view and experience, I totally concur with his assessment. I guess that is why I so appreciated Hunter’s promotion of faithful presence for the duration. What do you think is the best way to develop leaders who promote faithful presence throughout their circles of influence? Many blessings,

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