To Change the World 2

In his second chapter, Hunter takes on the entire edifice of contemporary Christian thinking viz a vie culture. To start at the end, I will quote his summary at the end of the chapter:
If you have the courage and hold to the right values and if you think Christianly with an adequate Christian worldview, you too can change the world.
This account is almost wholly mistaken.
Hunter paints a picture of Christians focused on changing the world by evangelism, political action or social reform. Hunter points out Christians (and other religions) believe “…something like this: The essence of culture is found in the hearts and minds of individuals – in what are typically called “values.” Another term that seems to be interchangeable with culture in Christian-speak is “worldview.” Essentially, worldview breaks down to a set of ideas and values held by individuals. The thought goes that if we can get people thinking the right ideas and holding the right values, the entire culture will be turned around from the bottom-up.

One fundamental problem with this way of thinking in my mind is that Christians in the past were not consciously using a “worldview” to create a “culture.” At least, not as far as I know. St. Augustine did not need worldview thinking, he just did it. His thought-world was saturated in the Bible and that flowed down through centuries of students, merchants and plough-men to create a culture unconsciously. But I’m getting ahead of the game here.

One of the most prominent advocates of the worldview position amongst the mushy mass of evangelicals is Chuck Colson and Hunter features him prominently in this chapter. He quotes Colson writing, “history is little more than the recording of the rise and fall of the great ideas-the worldviews-that form our values and move us to act.” Colson advocates a course of action whereby we all start thinking right thoughts and taking right actions and things change for the better in concentric circles flowing out through families, communities and eventually to the nation.

Hunter then describes a rather common view amongst the antinomian mainstream today which is that “Laws change nothing. People do.” He is quoting James Boice at this point. This common trope calls for revival amongst the masses  because only a mass revival can turn the nation from wickedness to righteousness. He points to both Bill Bright and Pope John Paul II as advocates of interior change as the precursor to national change.

Then there is the political realm which Hunter believes has been the primary focus of Christian churches since the 80s. “…the dominant public witness of the Christian churches in America since the early 1980s has been a political witness.” This strikes me as true, but I would also note that the Church is usually only covered by the press when and if it is doing something political since politics is the overarching source of focus for our media to a nauseating degree. Everything revolves around elections, ballots, the White House, etc. A church holding a bake sale to send a missionary will not get press coverage. A church protesting this or that law will (maybe).

But Hunter points out the political focus of the Church recently. He has one quote from Tom Delay which I found humorous in light of how things turned out. Delay said about the 2000 election that “What Congress can accomplish with a Republican President will be incredible. It will be nothing less than a rediscovery of the values that made America a great nation and that have made Americans a good people.” We know how that worked out! Thanks to Tom Delay and George Bush for the theocracy they imposed and the Reformation that broke out…err, whatever.

The final component that Hunter looks at is social reform, the sort of “bottom-up” efforts such as teen abstinence, valuing fatherhood,etc. The thought is that by affecting teen sexuality or divorce, the culture will gradually be healed. I presented the verdict that Hunter renders on all these moves at the beginning of this post. He thinks they are fundamentally misguided.

What I don’t see in all of the various evangelical takes on cultural change is the place of sacraments, liturgy and community in the formation of the individual and the broader society. Does someone steeped in the liturgy that has been in place for a millenia look at the world the same as someone singing whatever Hillsong just cranked out and praying “Lord, just bless this service” prayers? Does someone who views reality sacramentally and in terms of the covenant arrive at the same destination as someone who thinks ritual is meaningless and only the heart matters? Does someone who thinks Jesus is coming back when Muslims invade Israel have the same formation as someone who thinks the earth is young and the Church may have 100,000 years of maturing left to go? Theology, liturgy, sacraments, and ecclesiology do matter and I don’t think some set of mere Christian worldview values will ever achieve much in our current denuded church situations.


I would like to point out Peter Leithart’s excellent take on worldview here.

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