Day: August 10, 2011

an alternative vision for engaging with culture as Christians

It’s almost time to wrap up my reflections on James Davison Hunter’s To Change The World.

Last time I posted on this, I outlined Hunter’s three defective ways of engaging with culture. But what alternative vision does Hunter propose?

In a nutshell: it’s “faithful presence within” the world.


For Hunter the incarnation of Christ provides the template for Christian cultural engagement.

God stepped into our shoes, becoming one of us. And so Hunter suggests Christians should throw themselves into the cultures (and sub-cultures) we find ourselves in — yet without compromising the distinctive lifestyle we’re called to in faithfulness to Christ.

Unifying the many ways Hunter sees this being enacted is what he calls “a dialectic of affirmation and antithesis” (page 231).

It works like this:

First, because we begin with a basic conviction about the goodness of God’s creation, we are free seek whatever scattered traces of that can be found in any human institutions and practices.

Take the family for example. The many goods of family life — in all its inter- and intra-cultural variety — can be affirmed (and enjoyed) by Christians.

Then we can work towards exposing the idolatry of totalising these traces — ie. the idolatry of making them everything, looking to them above all else to satisfy and provide right order and peace.

This happens with the family when it is regarded as the prime good, something worth protecting even if it means exclusion and oppression for others. (The distance between this and the kind of situation that gives rise to inter-familial blood feuds is small to vanishing.)

As Hunter puts it, since “all human achievement is measured by the standards of the coming kingdom … Christians recognize that all social organizations exist as parodies of eschatological hope” (page 234).

But there’s a final step we must take:

Exposing the idolatry of our cultural practices and institutions isn’t about merely wagging our fingers or pumping our fists in triumph.

No. Hunter insists that faithful Christian presence within a culture must be creative.¬†We’re to be constructive. Hopeful. Pointing others to the way the Lord Jesus actually delivers on the longings of every heart and culture…