DMINLGP

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

Should We Change the World?

Written by: on February 28, 2019

I think James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World delivers on explaining the irony and tragedy of Christianity in the late modern world. As I read, I kept hoping that it would also deliver the possibility as well. And I believe it does.

I agree with Hunter on his broad categories of what the Church’s response has been to the pluralism, post-Christianity and dissolution of culture in America. In fact, I see part of myself in each of the following reactive positions: defensive against; relevance to; and purity from.[1]It would appear that I have practiced syncretism as I have struggled with the reality of Christianity in my specific, daily context.

Defensive Against

My upbringing is one of evangelical conservativism and I have no doubt that a discussion of this book’s premise with my family, or most of my colleagues, would underpin what I already know – conservatives are scared and angry about what has been ‘taken’ from them by humanistic secularism. We must, therefore, win as many as possible to Christ and fight hard against the social and moral issues of our time. Hunter’s metaphor is poignant and sad: ‘one hand has been open and offering the good news of the gospel, while the other hand has been tightened into a fist ready to fight.’[2]I would be lying if I did not admit I have a few toes in this camp.

Relevance To

While not announced publicly, my husband and I have a non-profit that has recently absorbed the Catalyst entity[3]. My husband spent the last quarter of 2018 appointing a board of directors and is currently the chair. Imagine my surprise when Hunter uses Catalyst almost exclusively when explaining the ‘relevance to’ category. His reference to our obsession with celebrity Christians, rebranding ‘the church’ campaigns, and the vagueness of its mission stung a bit, but he is not wrong[4]. Suffice it to say, we also have a few toes in this camp as well.

Purity From

This is a more recent response I have considered, especially as I have moved toward ecumenical spiritual disciplines and have been drawn to what Christian mystics and monastics through the centuries have to offer to modernity. I have been frustrated that my fundamentalist background shielded me from the gifts of withdrawal from the world and the retreating to spiritual community. As I have studied the roots of monasticism in the Middle Ages I wonder about their antidotal relevance today. They do ‘sanctify time, as if to show that all time belongs to God and our use of time finds meaning only if we do our tasks, both religious and secular, to honor and serve God.’[5]Yes, I have a toe or two in this camp, if even theoretically.

 

Lamenting and grappling with our loss of mainstream influence (defensive), adapting our ecclesiology to connect with culture (relevance), or establishing a separatist movement (purity) have value to offer moving forward. But what Hunter asserts is that none of them is adequate for the task at hand. We need a more holistic approach and Hunter offers hope of an alternative way forward. He dismantles all hope of ever recovering our ‘Christian nation’, but presents a theology of ‘faithful presence’ instead. Faithful presence – where we affirm what we have in common with the secular and resist what demises shalom and where we deeply love one another.

My personal research interest was piqued with the application in his third essay that included a holistic approach to work and the primacy of loving God. Hunter’s work will make an important contribution in my study because he values the goodness in work and indeed, spends a great deal of time defending it. But he also cautions against its idolatry.[6]His thorough entreaty of holding what we do for God subservient to knowing and loving God himself is a real treasure to me – both in with my research topic and in my life.

I conclude with a longer quote from Hunter that resonates deeply with my experience and research direction. So how do we change the world?

The question is wrong because, for Christians, it makes the primary subservient to the secondary. By making a certain understanding of the good of society the objective, the source of the good—God himself and the intimacy he offers—becomes nothing more than a tool to be used to achieve that objective.

To be sure, Christianity is not, first and foremost, about establishing righteousness or creating good values or securing justice or making peace in the world. Don’t get me wrong: these are goods we should care about and pursue with great passion. But for Christians, these are all secondary to the primary good of God himself and the primary task of worshipping him and honoring him in all they do . . .[7]

 

 

[1]Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, 214-9.

[2]Ibid., 215.

[3]https://catalystleader.com

[4]Hunter, To Change the World, 215-6.

[5]Sittser, Gerald L. Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries. InterVarsity Press, 2013, 97.

[6]Hunter, To Change the World, 247.

[7]Ibid., 285-6.

About the Author

Andrea Lathrop

I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, a wife, mom and student. I live in West Palm Beach, Florida and I have been an executive pastor for the last 8+ years. I drink more coffee than I probably should every day.

7 responses to “Should We Change the World?”

  1. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Such a personal reflection and openness. As a student and a person, you are a triumph. The first lesson of learning is to face your own defensive walls and the second is learning to ride dragons. The first is the path of seeing a bigger world, the second the joy of living with something you do not understand, but don’t have to kill.
    When you use the word ‘relevance’, what happens if you replace it with ‘incarnational’? They aren’t the same, but they are both powerful for different reasons. I’ll leave that for you to ponder.

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Digby – I am humbled by your encouraging words. It means a great deal – I read it aloud to my husband. 🙂 You are a gift to me. I love the thought about relevance and incarnation and their similarities and differences. Promise to dwell on that!

  2. mm Sean Dean says:

    Thanks for your reflection on a book that possibly hit a little close to home for you. I’m intrigued by your research topic because I am a pragmatist and a better understanding of why we do the work is an important thing. Thanks again.

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Sean, thank you for your response. I am on a journey like you and am also interested to see where I end up. Ha! I can say that my appreciation for work has increased through my studies so far – especially good work, no matter the sector, that advances shalom on earth.

  3. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thanks for your honesty and vulnerability, Andrea. I wonder what would happen in the Church and in the world, if Christians quit trying to “get our Christian nation back,” quit trying to change the world and just focused on changing myself and loving my neighbor. I witnessed it today. I spoke in a church that truly reflects its community and the transformation of lives was palpable. People from all walks of life beside one another as family. They were more concerned about people than culture, more aware of each others’ needs than society’s as a whole. I saw a picture of what I think Jesus modeled, people being about people. And, the influence they have in their city is amazing. Wrestling with these concepts after this experience today.

  4. mm Mary Mims says:

    Andrea, I can relate to your post because I feel like I have had a toe in each of the camps. However, although I loved Hunter’s book, I do think that we have made small changes to the culture even if it is in the creation of a sub-culture. I am sure there are many who are saying you have and are making a difference in their lives. Is this not a practice of God’s faithful presence?

  5. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Andrea, Thanks so much for going above and beyond to describe how each one of Hunter’s forays affects you personally. I always appreciate seeing how a text will enrich someone’s research area. Thanks as always for demonstrating how you are wrestling with the issues as well as Hunter’s challenge in particular. Thanks again, very helpful.

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