James Davison Hunter tells us, in To Change the World, that the political frameworks of the Christian Right, the Christian Left and the neo-Anabaptists are inherently defective. Is there another option besides these three, which Hunter reframes as “defense against,” “relevance to” and “purity from” the culture? What’s his solution?
Hunter ends his three-point, three-hundred-page sermon with a call for “faithful presence” within the culture. God is our model of one who is faithfully present with us—identifying with us, offering us a life marked by goodness, peace, truth and beauty, and living out his sacrificial love. So within the sphere of influence God has granted each one of us (be it large or small, privileged or common), we extend and express grace for the common good.
Seeking the common good takes our agenda outside the realm of politics. Our goal is not to “win.” Rather we acknowledge that we are part of a world and culture that is greater than us, and we seek what will benefit all—even sacrificing for the sake of others.
Seeking the common good suppresses but doesn’t entirely eliminate the tendencies of elitism toward exclusion, pride and deception.
Seeking the common good means taking the long view and not being caught up in short-term gains. It means seeking the good of institutions over generations as well as of individuals.
As with any good sermon, along the way Hunter includes a wealth of Scripture, application and some examples. He sketches out what faithful presence has looked like in an automotive company, an art gallery, a not-for-profit housing corporation and the work of a grocery bagger.
Irony is a theme that weaves in and out of Hunter’s sermon. One of the implicit ironies is that Hunter chose to preach his sermon to the church from the pulpit of Oxford University Press. Does he see this as an example of faithful presence? Is it yielding to elitism and market utility? Or is it part of the inevitable tension Christians face between leadership and elitism, “between pursuing faithful presence and the social consequences of achievement” (p. 259)?
Another irony of the book is that Hunter seeks to influence populists who see the world in black and white (whether they be right or left) with an approach that is inevitably sophisticated. So not everyone will close the book and offer a loud “Amen.” Those who believe they see the world through a glass darkly (I speak autobiographically) will more readily find much here that resonates. While Hunter does not aim to change the world or even to change the minds of all his readers, having written the book, he obviously still hopes they will.
**Links to This Series**
[To Change the World 1: The Limits of Popular Opinion](http://andyunedited.ivpress.com/2010/10/to_change_the_world_1.php)
[To Change the World 2: The Untold Story of Christianity](http://andyunedited.ivpress.com/2010/10/to_change_the_world_2_the_unto.php)
[To Change the World 3: Between Presumption and Hope Paper Tiger?](http://andyunedited.ivpress.com/2010/10/to_change_the_world_3_between.php)
[To Change the World 4: Three Choices Both the Same](http://andyunedited.ivpress.com/2010/11/to_change_the_world_4_three_ch.php)
3 thoughts on “To Change the World 5: Seeking the Common Good”
To change the world today it is very difficulty! Not until Christ returns! I am wondering what your definition about changing the world is? History moves inexorably according to the will of the sovereign God alone! It is God alone who will have the final word when all is said and done! God predicted in advance that He will judge the world; once and for all!! Jesus Christ is indeed, the ultimate Judge on Earth!! Therefore, what is your definition?
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You are quite right. To paraphrase a Chinese proverb: changing the world is very difficult, especially if you are trying to make things different.
Hunter uses “to change the world” in a number of ways. He begins by thinking of it as the creation mandate of Genesis 2:15 in which Adam was put into the Garden of Eden “to cultivate it and keep it.” He concludes by suggesting the best way to do this is through what he calls “faithful presence” which he defines as being committed to extending grace to others in the sphere of social influence in which God has called us. For some our sphere of influence is small. For others it is large. Regardless, God calls us to bring beauty, truth, goodness, redemption and reconciliation to others in that context. For most that will not mean changing the world on a cultural scale but changing “our” world on a human-sized scale. This is our calling as Christians until God brings the New Heaven and New Earth.
Over at Old Life Theological Society, D.G. Hart points out a Weekly Standard review of Change the World that asks: What about 2 Kingdom Theology?
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