James Davison Hunter’s “To Change the World” Review (Chp. 2)

Posted: June 20, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Book Reviews, Christ & Culture
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“To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World” by James Davison Hunter

Chapter 2: “Culture: The Common View”

Hunter begins this chapter by stating his intent, “…one must begin with an understanding of what is to be changed” (p. 6). Hunter proceeds with offering a synopsis on what he considers the “Common View” of culture.

Attempts to define the essence of culture have offered varied definitions. One is “values”, essentially that which defines the hearts and minds of the individual. Values are essentially moral preferences based on what we value.

Another attempt prefers to speak of “worldviews”.  This is the “big picture” in how we understand the world and our place in it.

Christian and political attempts at transformation have always targeted the minds and hearts of the people, assuming that once you win that battle you can get people to make desired decisions. Hunter offers 3 major  strategies that have been employed by Christians to win the “cultural battles”:  1) Values and the Tactic of Evangelism, 2) Values and the Tactic of Political Action, and 3) Values and the Tactic of Social Reform.

The “tactic of evangelism” reasons that the more Christians, the better the world will be, therefore investing all resources into evangelizing. A saved soul leads to a transformed person, which leads to a transformed culture, or so the rationale goes. Hunter states the logic of this view, “…if people hearts and minds are converted, they will have the right values, they will make the right choices, and the culture will change in turn” (p.10).

Bill Bright, who led Campus Crusade for Christ, thought that Spiritual revival in the land would heal the culture of the ills of crime, drug addiction, divorce, violence, suicide, pornography, etc. What is sad is that while one assumes that Christians would be qualitatively improved in these areas from their pagan friends, studies show that this is not necessarily true. Recent studies have shown that professing Christians are indistinguishable from non-Christians in regards to divorce rate, pornography, among other “vices”. I agree that Christians’ “fruit” should be somewhat distinct from non-believers, but this is not always the case as many Christians still struggle with besetting sins that some think would automatically disappear in conversion.

The “tactic of political action” essentially focuses on the political arena as the central means of changing the world. I think we are all to familiar with Christian attempts to coalesce a voting bloc committed to electing certain candidates as the means to changing the nation. Sadly, many of the Republicans who led the revolution in 1994 and later voted to impeach president Bill Clinton, were themselves entrenched in adulterous relationships, including none other than Newt Gingrich himself. I personally think that legislation needs to be just and do think that the civil magistrate can have a powerful affect on the ills in society. Many have said that simply outlawing abortion wouldn’t necessarily make us a righteous nation. I agree in one sense that laws that criminalize certain actions can’t change the heart of people, but I do believe it can be a powerful deterrent to those undesired actions. The magistrate bears the sword to punish evil and inflict fear. As a Christian, I can be happy that certain behaviors are restricted, but my fellow believers have mistakenly bought into the notion that the battle ends with successful legislation. The mom who would have aborted her baby may now choose to have the baby, but it might mean she will resent the baby, fail to be a loving parent, etc. It is a good thing that the laws call abortion as murder for the justice of the child in the womb, but this legislation doesn’t necessarily strengthen the home positively. A big victory for human rights, yes, but not necessarily the heart change we desire.

I think that Christians should fight in the political arena for human rights, but should not support mandated prayer in schools, compulsory Bible reading, etc. The Christian activist has reasoned that we can somehow make Christians by laws that positively require some semblance of a Christian culture. This is dangerous!!! The Christian can reason instead for laws that should restrain clearly evil acts, but not require mandates for certain behaviors.

The final tactic is that of “social reform”, which essentially targets the institutions that mediate between citizens and the state.  Hunter spends the least amount of time on this tactic and I have nothing really to offer by way of review on it.

While Hunter affirms the value of Spiritual, Political, and Social change, he states that it is not enough, “This account is almost wholly mistaken” (p.17).  His following chapter, “The Failure of the Common View” will offer why he feels it deficient. Stay tuned.

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