There’s been a lot of buzz about James Davison Hunter’s new book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Hunter is a professor in the sociology department at University of Virginia. He seems to be a respected Christian thinker on the “culture wars,” and it seems that To Change the World is widely regarded as an important entry into the discussion on the age-old question of how Christ relates to culture. Justin Taylor and Doug Wilson have both blogged through the part of the book so far, and Chuck Colson, whose approach to culture change is critiqued by Hunter, expressed concern in a recent Breakpoint broadcast at the traction that Hunter’s argument was gaining. Christianity Today featured online responses from Colson and Andy Crouch, along with Hunter’s response to them. You can find these three articles here.
Chapter 1 is short, surveying statements of many Protestant and Catholic institutions that reflect the desire to “change the world” for Christ. He believes that this follows from our calling by God in the Garden of Eden: “to cultivate and keep it.” He believes that they are sincere, but here’s the rub: he doesn’t believe that they can work:
I contend that the dominant ways of thinking about culture and cultural change are flawed, for they are based on both specious social science and problematic theology. In brief, the model on 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. But this is just the beginning; the entry point for a longer reflection on the Christian faith and its engagement with the world. (5)
I’m really looking forward to seeing what Hunter has to say. The trope of “changing the world” and “making a difference” is so common in both Christian and non-Christian discourse that it’s lost much of its meaning for me. Thomas Sowell may have produce the first crack in the wall for me with his column “Stop ‘Making a Difference.’” Really deep change takes a lot of time, years or decades or centuries, and it seems like a lot of “make a difference, change the world” rhetoric wants immediate change, which can often be very shallow or make the people taking action feel good. If Hunter can offer some insights on how cultures really do change, it will be very helpful.