Thinking about Cultural Change

April 05, 2010
Posted by Joe Gorra

To anyone who cares about how change occurs in culture and how Christians can influence culture, you must read James Davison Hunter’s latest book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford University Press, 2010).

James Davison Hunter is the Labrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture, and Social Theory at the University of Virginia and Executive Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

Hunter’s book consists of three main essays:

  1. Christianity and World-Changing
  2. Rethinking Power
  3. Toward a New City Commons: Reflections on a Theology of Faithful Presence

Specific chapter abstracts are available here, and a limited preview is available here.

Hunter’s work, in general, ranges between moral philosophy, social theory, history, political sociology, and now with his latest work, his work intersects with theology. Fundamentally, Hunter is trying to understand questions and assumptions related to meaning and moral order.

In 2002, Hunter gave an address at The Trinity Forum, which was part of the impetus for the book project.

The book is useful reading for anyone who works in an academic context, especially if they think culture mostly develops merely by a change in ideas. Every professor should read this if they want their ideas to make a difference beyond their academic community. Every dean, provost, board and president of a Christian education institution should seriously take these ideas to heart and debate them.

Hunter’s book is also necessary reading for individual culture makers, especially if they think culture making has little to do with institutions.or “elites.” One could read Hunter in dialogue with Andy Crouch’s Culture Making.

To Change the World is must reading for pastors who want to gain historical mindfulness and appreciation for how to guide disciples of Jesus into “faithful presence” in their world (the last part). Read Hunter’s book in sync with Dallas Willard’s Knowing Christ Today, especially Dallas’ last chapter, “Pastors as Teachers of the Nations.” Or, you might also read Hunter’s book as a backdrop to Willard’s recent piece about the “The Failure of Evangelical Political Involvement in the Area of Moral Transformation.” (cf. it with Lindsay’s Faith in the Halls of Power).

“A theology of faithful presence calls Christians to enact the shalom of God in the circumstances in which God has placed them and to actively seek it on behalf of others.” – James Davison Hunter

Lastly, if you want to consider the implication of Hunter’s thesis for the political and public life, you might be interested in this dialogue with Hunter at the very prestigious “Faith Angle Conference on Religion, Politics & Public Life.”

Consider Hunter’s book and get a copy for a friend! I wouldn’t be surprised if this book is considered the top one or two for 2010 in the area of Christianity and culture.