Rick Hogaboam’s Review of “To Change the World” (Chp. 7 “For and Against the Mandate of Creation”)

Posted: June 30, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Book Reviews, Christ & Culture
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Chapter 7, “For and Against the Mandate of Creation”

Hunter returns to the mandate of creation and reminds the reader that ALL are called to fulfill this mandate.  I love how Hunter points to the centrality and sufficiency of the Gospel as the means whereby such renewal comes. He states (93), “it is, in part, the appeal to every person, regardless of stature, giftedness, achievement, wealth, power, or personality that makes the Gospel so radical”.

Hunter shows how the Gospel is the great equalizer for all, joining us in a new humanity of sorts, which empowers us to shun the structures of power in this world. We are not to think ourselves better than others, but are called to humble ourselves and serve our fellow man. Without this sense of loving and caring for all, including our enemies, Christianity becomes what Hunter calls a “brutalizing ideology” (94).

Hunter is careful to point out that he is not advocating some sense of egalitarianism that obliterates all structures and hierarchal authority. He warns:

…the populism that is inherent to authentic Christian witness is often transformed into an oppressive egalitarianism that will suffer no distinctions between higher and lower or better and worse. At its worse, it can take form as a ‘tyranny of the majority’ that will recognize no authority, nor hierarchy of value or quality or significance. When populism becomes a cultural egalitarianism, there is no incentive and no encouragement to excellence. This too is to be bemoaned (94).

He notes the complexity of the Christian’s calling in pursuing excellence and at the same time shunning elitism and the abuse of power that usually ensues. He asks a very good question: “Is it possible to pursue excellence and, under God’s sovereignty, be in a position of influence and privilege and not be ensnared by the trappings of elitism?” (94).

Hunter proceeds to make a controversial claim that really undermines much of the Christian’s pursuit over the past few decades. Speaking of using political power to achieve faith-based ends, Hunter (95) states:

It might be natural but it would also be completely wrong and, in my view, an utter distortion of the creation mandate. This is an interpretation of the creation mandate that Christians should reject entirely. Speaking as a Christian myself, contemporary Christian understandings of power and politics are appalling, irrelevant, and ineffective—part and parcel of the worst elements of our late-modern culture today, rather than a healthy alternative to it.

Rather than seeking to control history, save Western Civilization, save America, Hunter advocates what he calls a “faithful presence”. It seems that he advocates the Church being the Church, rather than battling the world. Hunter states, “A healthy body exercises itself in all realms of life, not just a few. The failure to encourage excellence in vocation in our time has fostered a culture of mediocrity in so many areas of vocation” (95). Hunter proceeds with stating that his theory is summarized by a theology that “…moves in the opposite direction of social theory…” (95).

Hunter provides another summarizing statement, “A theology of faithful presence means a recognition that the vocation of the church is to bear witness to and to be the embodiment of the coming Kingdom of God” (95).

We are to be “…a different people and an alternative culture that is, nevertheless, integrated within the present culture” (96).

Hunter proposes that the church will need to network and create communities of leaders that will rise in the dominant center of social life.

I think that more needs to be contemplated before rejecting Hunter’s proposal that the Government is not the way of influencing culture. I think that legislation is powerful in conveying to citizens an ethic to guide life in the republic. While I would never equate the most splendid displays of common grace with salvation, I think that Christians, for the sake of neighbor, do need to be engaged politically. Hunter sounds Anabaptistic to me in several areas, but offers the necessary qualifications against egalitarianism and retreat from cultural engagement. Perhaps Hunter is an optimistic Anabaptist who thinks that Christians ought not retreat in their separate communities to create their own culture, but should be engaged in the world because the power of the Gospel should breed a confidence…should breed what he calls a “faithful presence”. We’ll see how his thoughts emerge in the future chapters.

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