Every day, when I enter my office, this is the picture I see behind my desk. Both of these framed pieces were given to me by close friends after I participated in ministry events and campaigns with them. On the left is a token from a conference where I taught. It is a challenge to remember that if I can only muster enough courage, I can bring about change. On the right is a reminder of a fundraising campaign my sons and I participated in that raised a significant amount of money to aid in the eradication of Malaria. Both of these pieces remind me of powerful times in my life, but they also remind me of how far I still have to go and how much work remains to really change the world.
Hunter’s To Change the World, though a thick academic read, was an important message for the church. The book contains three essays that explain: (1) we cannot change the world if we continue doing what we are doing now;(2) the hubris of adopting a political model of change; and (3) the potential of the “faithful presence” of the church within the culture. His challenging incarnational approach to ministry was encouraging and hopeful.
I found Hunter’s approach to the idea of power especially intriguing. Lately, I have found myself increasingly uncomfortable with the way, over time, I have embraced a power-driven approach to ministry leadership. Utilizing the best resources available in the corporate business world, I have applied a systems-based, optimization-obsessed model to the Christian organizations I am part of, all for the cause of world-change. Hunter has invited me to consider that this is not the real power available to us. Perhaps God is asking me to focus less on the efficiency of the church, and more on the presence of the church.
Hunter discusses the power God gives to us in creation:
“To be made in the image of God and to be charged with the task of working in and cultivating, preserving, and protecting the creation, is to possess power. The creation mandate, then, is a mandate to use that power in the world in ways that reflect God’s intentions… The question for the church, then, is not about choosing between power and powerlessness but rather, to the extent that it has space to do so, how will the church and its people use the power that they have?”
He then discusses this power that, in opposition to political power, rests within everyone:
“…the core teachings of Jesus as they bear on “social power” or “relational power”, the power one finds in ordinary life. It is exercised every day in primary social relationships, within the relationships of the family, neighborhood, and work in all of the institutions that surround us in daily life and therefore it is far more common to people than political power [which] tends to be experienced as an abstraction.”
I am challenged by the problem of political power Hunter identifies within the church, particularly his reminder that it is not Christians who bring about the Kingdom of God, but God alone who accomplishes this. He has graciously invited us to be part of this renewal. It is not our responsibility to ensure social well-being. Rather, Hunter says, “the vocation of the church is to bear witness to and to be the embodiment of the coming Kingdom of God.” The point of the church is not to change the world, but to be a witness to the world that something better is coming.
At the close of Hunter’s book, I find myself in a repentant posture for the hubris I have been guilty of. Given the fact that my tendency is always to work harder and longer in order to move change forward, I am humbled and encouraged by the idea that perhaps the bravest thing to do is not to charge in, bearing the responsibility to change culture, but to simply live within it as a representation of God’s desire for the renewal of all things. Though I am still wrestling with how to do my part in “enacting shalom,” I am leaning into the fact that there is so much more to consider.
Given the helplessness I have felt in the past few weeks, Hunter’s answer to the question of, world change is an encouraging one.
“Against the present realities of our historical moment, it is impossible to say what can actually be accomplished. There are intractable uncertainties that cannot be avoided. Certainly Christians, at their best, will neither create a perfect world nor one that is altogether new; but by enacting shalom and seeking it on behalf of all others through the practice of faithful presence, it is possible, just possible, that they will help to make the world a little bit better.”
 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).
 Ibid., 181-4
 Ibid., 187
 Ibid., 285