Essay One - Christianity and World Changing

Chapter 1: Christian Faith and the Task of World-Changing 

Human beings are, by divine intent and their very nature, world-makers. People fulfill their individual and collective destiny in the art, music, literature, commerce, law, and scholarship they cultivate, the relationships they build, and in the institutions they develop—the families, churches, associations, communities they live in and sustain—as they reflect the good of God and His designs for flourishing.

Hunter contends that the dominant ways of thinking about culture and cultural change are flawed, for they are based upon both specious social science and problematic theology. The model upon which various strategies are based not only does not work, but it cannot work. On the basis of this working theory, Christians cannot “change the world” in a way that they, even in their diversity, desire.

Chapter 2: Culture—The Common View

The “common view” is that culture is made up of the accumulation of values held by the majority of people and the choices made on the basis of those values. If a culture is good, it is because the good values embraced by individuals lead to good choices. If people’s hearts and minds are converted, they will have the right values, they will make the right choices and culture will change in turn. Common View Summary: 1) Real change is individual, 2) Cultural changed can be willed into being, and 3) Change is democratic—from the bottom-up by ordinary citizens.

Chapter 3: The Failure of the Common View

If cultures were simply a matter of hearts and minds, then the influence of various minorities—whoever they are and whatever that may be—would be relatively insignificant. But they are not. The real problem of this working theory of culture and cultural change and the strategies that derive from it is idealism—that something non-physical is the primary reality. Idealism has three features in this view: ideas, individualism, and pietism. However, idealism misconstrues agency; underplays the importance of history; ignores the way culture is generated, coordinated, and organized; and imputes a logic and rationality to culture. Every strategy and tactic for changing the world that is based upon this working theory of culture and cultural change will fail—not most of these strategies, but all.

Chapter 4: An Alternative View of Culture and Cultural Change

Ideas do have consequences in history, yet not because those ideas are inherently truthful or obviously correct but rather because of the ways they are embedded in very powerful institutions, networks, interests, and symbols. Cultures are very resistant to change, but they do change under specific conditions.

Chapter 5: Evidence in History

The alternative view of cultural change that assigns roles not only to ideas but also to elites, networks, technology, and new institutions, provides a much better account of the growth in plausibility and popularity of these important cultural developments. This is the evidence of history—particularly clear in an overview of key moments in church history and the rise of the Enlightenment and its various manifestations. Change in culture or civilization simply does not occur when there is change in the beliefs and values in the hearts and minds of ordinary people or in the creation of mere artifacts.

Chapter 6: Assessing the Location of American Christianity

The actual vitality of American Christianity’s cultural capital today resides almost exclusively among average people in the pew rather than those in leadership, on the periphery not the center of cultural production, in tastes that run to the popular rather than the exceptional, the middle brow rather than the high brow, and almost always toward the practical as opposed to the theoretical or the imaginative. The collective impact of the Christian community on the nature and direction of the culture itself is negligible. They have been absent from the arenas in which the greatest influence in culture is exerted.

Chapter 7: For and Against the Mandate of Creation

Populism is organic to American Christianity, yet on the other hand, populism is, in some ways, at odds with what we know about the most historically significant dynamics of world-changing. In other words, there is an unavoidable tension between pursuing excellence and the social consequences of its achievement; between leadership and elitism that all too often comes from it. The antidotes to “seizing power” in a new way is a better understanding of “faithful presence.”

Essay Two - Rethinking Power

Chapter 1: The Problem of Power

When faith and its culture flourish, it does so, in part, because it operates with an implicit view of power in its proper place. When faith and its culture deteriorate, it does so, in part, because it operates with a view of power that is corrupt.

Chapter 2: Power and Politics in American Culture

Power now does the work that culture used to do. This is seen in the tendency toward the politicization of nearly everything. Politicization is most visibly manifested in the role ideology has come to play in public life, the well-established predisposition to interpret all of public life through the filter of partisan beliefs, values, ideals, and attachments. As a consequence, we find it difficult to think in ways to address public problems or issues in any way that is not political.

Politicization means that the final arbiter within most of social life is the coercive power of the state. Our times amply demonstrate that it is far easier to force one’s will upon others through legal and political means than it is to persuade them or negotiate compromise with them. What adds pathos to this situation is the presence of resentment, defined by a combination of anger, envy, hate, rage, and revenge.

Chapter 3: The Christian Right

Politically conservative Christians are animate by a mythic ideal concerned with the “right-ordering” of society.
They want the world in which they live reflect their own likeness. A legacy of a Christian origin is understood as providing a sense of ownership over America and “radical secularists” have taken this away. The effect is harming to America, and people of faith, marginalizing them in public life. Their response has been one of political engagement, often conflating Christian faith and national identity in the political imagination.

There are changes occurring among the Religious Right. However, though the tactics have expanded to include worldview and culture, the logic at work—that America has been taken over by secularists, that it is time to “take back the culture” for Christ—is identical to the longstanding approach of the Christian Right. This is because the underlying myth that defines their goals and strategy of action has not changed.

Chapter 4: The Christian Left

Progressives have always been animated by the myth of equality and community and therefore see history as an ongoing struggle to realize these ideals. The key word in the progressive lexicon is justice. The biblical tradition that Christian progressives appeal to is the prophetic tradition in its condemnation of the wealthy for their abuse of the poor, the weak, and the marginalized. However, in its commitment to social change through politics and politically oriented social movements, in its conflation of the public with the political, in its own selective use of Scripture to justify political interests, and in its confusion of theology with national interests and identity, the Christian Left imitates the Christian Right.

Chapter 5: The Neo-Anabaptists

The mythic ideal that animates the neo-Anabaptist position is the ideal of true and authentic New Testament Christianity and the primitive church of the apostolic age. Constantinianism is a multifaceted heresy that surfaced and resurfaced throughout history. The archetype of neo-Constantinianism is the founding of the American republic, which has a strong view of the church and a separatist impulse. While the neo-Anabaptists attempt to reject it, they are also defined and depend upon it.

Chapter 6: Illusions, Irony, and Tragedy

Politics has become a “social imaginary” that defines the horizon of understanding and the parameters for action. What is never challenged is the proclivity to think of the Christian faith and its engagements with culture in political terms. For all, the public has been conflated with the political. But the ressentiment that marks the way they operate makes it clear that a crucial part of what motivates politics is a will to dominate. However, for politics to be about more than power, it depends upon a realm that is independent of the political process. The deepest irony is that the Christian faith has the possibility of autonomous institutions and practices that could be a source of ideals and values that could elevate politics to more than a quest for power. Instead, by nurturing its resentments, they become functional Nietzcheans, participating in the very cultural breakdown they so ardently strive to resist.

Chapter 7: Rethinking Power—Theological Reflections

Only by narrowing an understanding of power to political or economic power can one imagine giving up power and becoming “powerless.” The creation mandate is a mandate to use power in the world in ways that reflect God’s intentions. Thus, the question for the church is not about choosing between power and powerlessness, but rather, how will the church and its people use the power that they have.

The church has two essential tasks. The first is to disentangle the life and identity of the church from the life and identity of American society. The second task is for the church and for Christian believers to decouple the “public” from the “political.” The way of Christ differs. His way operated in complete obedience to God the Father, it repudiated the symbolic trappings of elitism, it manifest compassion concretely out of calling and vocation, and it served the good of all and not just the good of the community of faith.

Essay Three - Toward a New City Commons: Reflections on a Theology of Faithful Presence

Chapter 1: The Challenge of Faithfulness

Two overriding characteristics of our time are difference and dissolution. The problem of difference bears on how Christians engage the world outside of their own community, while the problem of dissolution bears on the nature of Christian witness. Pluralism creates both a fragmentation among worldviews and the social structures that support these worldviews. These are social conditions that make faithfulness difficult and faithlessness almost natural. For pluralism creates social conditions in which God is no longer an inevitability. There are key aspects of contemporary life that take us into radically new territory; into a social and cultural landscape that has very few recognizable features from cultures, societies, or civilizations past. The negative aspect of difference and dissolution is that they present conditions advantageous for the development of nihilism: autonomous desire and unfettered will legitimated by the ideology and practices of choice.

Chapter 2: Old Cultural Wineskins

If sincerity were the same thing as faithfulness, then all would be well, for Christians, as a rule, are nothing if not sincere—not least in their desire to be “faithful in their own generation.” However, wisdom is required. The changes that have brought about the challenge of difference and dissolution go right to the core of the ability of Christians to live out their faith with integrity.

The three political theologies are the leading public edge of three paradigms of cultural engagement: “Defensive Against,” “Relevance To,” and “Purity From.” All three approaches develop strategies to address difference and dissolution and each approach is equally problematic. So the question remains: How can one be authentically Christian in circumstances that, by their very nature, undermine the credibility and coherence of faith?

Chapter 3: The Groundwork for an Alternative Way

Christians are called to relate to the world within the dialectic of affirmation and antithesis. If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world, it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better, but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfillment of God’s command to love our neighbor. Antithesis, in contrast, is rooted in recognition of the totality of the fall. Consequently, however much Christians may be able to a affirm in the world, the church is always a “community of resistance.” The objective is to retrieve the good to which modern institutions and ideas aspire, to oppose those ideals and structures that undermine human flourishing, and to offer constructive alternatives for the realization of a better way.

Chapter 4: Toward a Theology of Faithful Presence

The incarnation is the only adequate reply to the challenges of dissolution, the erosion of trust between word and world and the problems that attend it. It is the way the Word became incarnate in Jesus Christ and the purposes to which the incarnation was directed that are the only adequate reply to the challenge of difference. Pursuit, identification, the offer of life through sacrificial love—this is what God’s faithful presence means. At root, a theology of faithful presence begins with an acknowledgement of God’s faithful presence to us, manifested through religion, vocation, and other spheres of influence, and that his call upon Christians is that they be faithfully present to him in return. This model stands in opposition to the “defensive against,” “relevance to,” and “purity from” paradigms, Hunter suggests a model of engagement called “faithful presence within.”

Chapter 5: The Burden of Leadership

Everyone exercises leadership to varying degrees for we all exercise relative influence in the wide variety of contexts in which we live. By the same logic, we are all also followers in a sense, for even where we exercise leadership, we are held to account—we follow the dictates, needs, and standards of others.

Faithful presence in practice is the exercise of leadership in all spheres and all levels of life and activity. It represents a quality of commitment oriented to the fruitfulness, wholeness, and wellbeing of all. Faithful presence generates relationships and institutions that are fundamentally covenantal in character, the ends of which are the fostering of meaning, purpose, truth, beauty, belonging, and fairness—not just for Christians, but also for everyone. It is an assault on the worldliness of this present age. The burden of shalom falls to leaders.

Chapter 6: Toward a New City Common

Christians are to maintain their distinctiveness as a community in a manner that serves the common good. A theology of faithful presence calls Christians to enact the shalom of God in the circumstances in which God has placed them. In Jeremiah 29, the Israelites were called to practice shalom when God commanded them to pray for the welfare of their Babylonian captors. The enactments of shalom need to extend into the institutions of which all Christians are a part and, as they are able, into the formation of new institutions within every sphere of life. The church will not flourish in itself nor serve well the common good if it isolates itself from the larger culture, fails to understand its nature and inner logic, and is incapable of working within it—critically affirming and strengthening its healthy qualities and humbly criticizing and subverting its most destructive tendencies.