DMINLGP

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

Presence Over Power

Written by: on February 28, 2019

University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter published the seminal work, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, in 2010. As much talk in the Evangelical ethos centers around engaging culture or transforming the world, Hunter’s work was much anticipated then and continues to be influential now. In summation, his thesis is that the method in which Christians have tried to change culture through “idealism,”  that is, the belief that by changing the hearts and minds of individuals, whether by conversion to Christ or by direct engagement with ideas, the culture as a whole can be changed, is mistaken.[1] Instead, Christians should engage in “faithful presence” within the culture knowing that only God can/will transform the culture at the consummation of the kingdom.[2]

In reviewing Hunter’s work, Richard King states, “Hunter’s book is a welcome effort to think seriously about religion and public life, church and state, spirituality and secular culture in the United States.”[3] On the other hand, King does bring to light some of the shortcomings of Hunter’s work saying, “Not surprisingly in a book that seeks to conceptualize certain historical and sociological phenomena, To Change the World suffers from excessive abstraction and a lack of concrete examples. Not until the end does Hunter offer a few examples of what “faithful presence” might mean.”[4] While King is right in pointing out the lack of examples of “faithful presence” Hunters work offers much correction to one-sided thinking of what engaging the culture has come to look like in the Western Church.

In my area of research, Spirit-led leadership through relational leadership as a means to engage the next generations. Hunter’s work can provide valuable insight and helpful strategies for implementing a solution. He writes,

It is important to underscore that while the activity of culture-making has validity before God, this work is not, strictly speaking, redemptive or salvific in character. Where Christians participate in the work of world-building, they are not, in any precise sense of the phrase, “building the kingdom of God.” This side of heaven, the culture cannot become the kingdom of God, nor will the work of Christians in the culture evolve into or bring about his kingdom. The establishment of his kingdom in eternity is an act of divine sovereignty alone and it will only be set in place at the final consummation at the end of time…Perhaps it will be that God will transform works of faith in this world into something incorruptible but here again, it is God’s doing and not ours.[5]

What is his solution, “faithful presence”. Hunter defines “faithful presence” as to bear witness to and to be the embodiment of the coming Kingdom of God.[6] This theology is not about power, domination, secluding from the world but the opposite. It is about being incarnate in the culture in such a way that the world (people) are seeing a foretaste of what is to come. As Hunter says, “the call of faithful presence gives priority to what is right in front of us— the community, the neighborhood, and the city, and the people of which these are constituted.”[7] In short, it is all about relational equity that points to a relational God that cares as much about your spirituality as your work. Barna research has indicated that Gen Z is incredibly career-driven and success-oriented and a possible in route towards reaching them is implementing faith and work ministries.[8] I do think “taking God out of the box” is a valued solution to engaging all generations and notably Gen Z. Resources such as https://www.theologyofwork.org/ and  Weber’s work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, sheds light as to how not to overemphasize success over faithfulness and how to implement calling into a career.

 

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[1] Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Cary: Oxford University Press USA – OSO, 2010. Accessed February 28, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central, 17.

[2] Ibid., 195-206.

[3] King, Richard H. 2011. “James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.” Society 48, no. 4: 359-362, https://georgefox.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.georgefox.idm.oclc.org/docview/871163935?accountid=11085. 359.

[4] Ibid., 361.

[5] Hunter, To Change The World, 233.

[6] Hunter, To Change the World, 253.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Gen Z: Your Questions Answered.” Barna Group. Accessed February 28, 2019. https://www.barna.com/research/gen-z-questions-answered/.

 

About the Author

Mario Hood

Most importantly, I am married to the love of my life, Misty Hood, and I'm kept on my toes all day every day, by my son Dalen and daughter Cola Hood. I also serve as the Next Generation Pastor at Church On The Living Edge in Orlando, Florida, under the leadership of Senior Pastor, Dr. Mark Chironna as well as being a Youth and Family Life coach.