Monday, 7 February 2011

To Change the World?

Following on from the last post about the Evangelical myth of transformation, we must note that liberal Christians too have their own version of this myth, which looks to the transformation of society and is often couched in the language of social justice. In light of this, the new book from James Davison Hunter looks very interesting. I have not read it yet, only the publisher's blurb and the extract available on Amazon, but it seems Hunter is advocating the practice of what he calls 'faithful presence' over against direct political engagement from either the 'right' or the 'left' by churches or para-church organisations, arguing that such engagement inevitably compromises the Gospel. In other words, he's calling for a large dose of Christian realism, which I thoroughly agree is necessary in this area. At least, that's my take on it. Here's the blurb:
The call to make the world a better place is inherent in Christian belief and practice. But why have efforts to change the world by Christians so often failed or gone tragically awry? And how might Christians in the 21st century live in ways that have integrity with their traditions and are more truly transformative? In To Change the World, James Davison Hunter offers persuasive and provocative answers to these questions. Professor Hunter begins with a penetrating appraisal of the most popular models of world-changing among Christians today, highlighting the ways they are inherently flawed and therefore incapable of generating the change to which they aspire. Because change implies power, all Christians eventually embrace strategies of political engagement. Hunter offers a trenchant critique of the political theologies of the Christian Right and Left and the Neo-Anabaptists, taking on many respected leaders, from Charles Colson to Jim Wallis and Stanley Hauerwas. Hunter argues that all too often these political theologies worsen the very problems they are designed to solve. What is really needed is a different paradigm of Christian engagement with the world, one that Hunter calls “faithful presence”—an ideal of Christian practice that is not only individual but institutional; a model that plays out not only in all relationships but in our work and all spheres of social life. He offers real-life examples, large and small, of what can be accomplished through the practice of “faithful presence.” Such practices will be more fruitful, Hunter argues, more exemplary, and more deeply transfiguring than any more overtly ambitious attempts can ever be.
I don't think there's anything new here, but Davison is sure to put his argument in an elegant way.

It has always been my impression that, at least until recently, Lutherans have had a very realistic view of what was achievable or even desirable as far as church involvement in the political sphere goes. I put this down to our strong belief in original sin and the "two kingdoms" paradigm.

Click on the post title to visit Hunter's website.

1 comment:

The Rev. Donald V. Engebretson said...

I also agree. Whenever the church 'interferes' with the state it results in a confusion of the kingdoms. 'Faithful presence' actually sounds like much of what the Lutheran church has traditionally practiced, even when we are involved in chaplaincy work in the midst of the kingdom of the left.