Hunter continues in this chapter to set up his foil, the erring view of culture and cultural change that he sees as so prevalent. Hunter contends that most people work with the idea that culture is basically the aggregate of beliefs and values that individuals hold. A common method of cultural change in this view is that “hearts and minds” must be change, which will then change cultures. Among conservative evangelicals, Chuck Colson is one of the most avid proponents of this view, especially in his book How Now Shall We Live? written with Nancy Pearcey. Hunter writes that this view is widespread among both Protestants and Catholics, using Colson’s statement “transformed people transform cultures” to sum it up (16). He argues that Christians on the left end of the political spectrum tend to talk this way too. This view of culture leads to three types of activities with the goal of changing culture:
- evangelism to increase the number of individual Christians
- political action to put people with good values in positions of power
- advocacy for non-governmental “civil society” groups to promote good values, like fatherhood groups, anti-abortion groups, etc.
In his exploration of the second of these, Hunter writes that “the dominant political witness pf the Christian churches in America since the 1980s has been a political witness” (12). From what I’ve read about the book, this is of particular concern to him, and I’m sure that he’ll develop it more later. Hunter’s description of American evangelicals’ viewpoint on culture echoes Emerson and Smith’s description of the “cultural tools” that white Americans that white evangelicals tend to have (and that tend to limit their ability to address racial justice in the United States): accountable freewill individualism, relationalism, and anti-structuralism. You can click here for my summary of these tools.
Hunter concludes his chapter by noting that cultural change is thus defined as occurring individually, that it “can be willed into being” (I think that he could use more support on this one), and that it is a grassroots movement that allows an ordinary individual to make a difference by standing up for what he or she believes. He notes that this view teaches that anyone can be a Martin Luther or Martin Luther King, and that the most often-cited individual is William Wilberforce, who led a movement to abolish the slave trade and then slavery in the British Empire. Because it’s all about individuals, anyone can do it. But this view, he believes, “is almost wholly mistaken” (17).
I’m glad that he brought up this last point about how anyone can be a hero. I believe that it’s true in a certain way, in that God can use (and has used) really unlikely, ordinary people to do amazing things. But it’s also true that most people aren’t destined to be the leaders of great movements. In fact, great leaders wouldn’t be great leaders if there weren’t a lot of people following them. Mostly, our roles are to follow godly leaders. A while back, Rick and I talked about a passage from Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck’s book Why We Love the Church where it talked about admiring the ordinary guy who works a job, goes to church, raises his kids, and gives to Christian aid agencies more than they admire Bono (or the like) without devaluing Bono’s work for poor people. Most people are destined to live ordinary lives.
On the other hand, maybe Hunter’s criticism is bit unfair. I think that those who purvey the view of cultural change that he describes know that the antislavery movement in Britain wasn’t made up of 1 million Wilberforces. It still takes a lot of courage and Christian thinking to be a part of a movement for just change, whether or not you’re the leader. That may really be what these advocates are talking about, playing one’s role with integrity and Christ-likeness.
I’m interested to see Hunter’s counterpoint to this view of culture.