James Davison Hunter: To Change the World. The Irony, Tragedy, and Promise of Christianity in the Late Modern World.

Strange, strange book. The thing is, Hunters vision for a Christianity that aims for ”faithful presence” is not half bad, I can agree with a lot of it. What he basically does here is to show that most talk of Christianity influencing the world is based on a flawed idea of how cultures are shaped and a flawed notion of power. He does this bit very well. After that the whole this gets pear-shaped. Here’s how I envision how it happened.

Obviously Hunters idea was brilliant yet simple. He wanted to show that the Christian right, and the Christian left basically works with the same faulty logic and thus have little impact in spite of Good intentions. And then propose a third alternative that would point the way forward. Problem is, there is already a third alternative. I think that Hunter found this out while he was working, it is the only way to explain what happens in this book. The third alternative Hunter names the neo-anabaptists, i.e. Hauerwas, Yoder et concortes. Now his own alternative is the fourth, much less tidy, so he needs to get rid of the third alternative quickly in order to make his own alternative stand out. Now Hauerwas alone has written over thirty books, and Yoder a fair amount too, so what he presents is an extremely crude caricature of their thinking, that is so far of the mark that it frankly, would the academy work like that, be criminal. He explicitly writes that the ”neo-anabaptist” have no interest what so ever in life outside the church or culture, that their understanding of how to relate to secular culture is best summed up as ”purity from”. But it gets worse.

His own alternative then, is about ”faithful presence” – about Christians at all levels being faithful Christians in their ordinary lives. That is the way to change the world (this is a bit confusing, because he also states very clearly that only the elites in a society have any influence, and clearly not all Christians belong to the elite.) Now, of course, this is exactly what the ”neo-anabaptists” say. The only thing that sets Hunter apart from Yoder and Hauerwas is that the latter two has some idea about what it takes for such faithfullness to be possible. Hunter seems to think this is something that, since he has now invented it, is something Christians now can simply decide to do.

No, I kid you not. Its the elite thing again. If Christians want to influence culture, they need to, for example, ”commit to high artistic standards”. So we have to stop trying to be mediocre, if we really want to influence the world we need to be excellent! I am so grateful that I got this information!

Had it not been for this absurd attempt to show how he differs the from Hauerwas (he clearly has not read any Yoder, and Hauerwas very selectively, and wrong) this study would have brought some interesting insights (he has a sociological perspective that is illuminating), but this is just silly. Frankly, I am curious how this got published on a major academic publisher, it is that seriously flawed. And mind you – I still agree with what he wants to do, we are clearly in the same camp (though Hunter of course would brand me ”neo-anabaptist”) it is the scholarship that is sub-standard.

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