Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


On Changing Culture 1

posted by Scot McKnight

Screen shot 2010-04-12 at 7.51.22 PM.pngJames Davison Hunter, in his new book, and I predict perhaps one of the more influential studies of this decade (To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World
), says evangelicals — both the James Dobson and the Jim Wallis style — have got it completely, or almost completely, wrong. Among others, he takes shots at Andy Crouch, Brian McLaren, Chuck Colson, and James Dobson. 

His book is shaped by three themes: World changing (essay one), power (essay two), and being a faithful presence (essay three). I thought Hunter, whose works have been very influential in the last two decades, almost gave away the house in the last chapter (#7) of essay one when he offered what looked to me almost like an anabaptist theory of how Christians can most effectively change culture, but I’ll get to that in a later post.
A pressing set of questions emerges from essay one: How do Christians change cultures? Can it be done without power? What is a Christian theory of power? 
Christians, he contends, in the present way of doing things, cannot change the world and cannot change culture. He sees two or three basic ways contemporary Christians — and he’s fixated on evangelicals with hardly a thing about Niebuhrian theory and not enough about mainliners or Catholics (though he has some about each). This theory of culture change is about ideas, getting better ideas into the hearts and minds of people, and the belief is that culture can change (1) by changing individuals through conversion a gradual impact on culture can be achieved; or (2) change by activism at the political level (get better politicians and justices etc). Or (3), and I see this one as an extension of the second, by actively working for social reform (think prohibition). So, the view is that cultures change when people change. Hunter: “This account is almost wholly mistaken” (17).

He contends there are more Christians now than ever and that culture is not changing but shifting against evangelical visions. The idealism of evangelicalism, the theory of worldview that if changed can change culture, and he adds to it individualism and Christian pietism, is not the most effective way to change things. [Here he sees Andy Crouch’s view as cultural materialism — which surprised me because I don’t look at Andy’s proposal as that radically materialistic.]
In essence, Hunter is an elitist and he sees culture change only through a combination of elites, elite institutions and through power in central places. He proposes eleven theses, and this is the heart of Hunter’s proposal:
Seven propositions on culture
1. Culture is a system of truth claims and moral obligations.
2. Culture is a product of history.
3. Culture is intrinsically dialectical (institutions and ideas).
4. Culture is a resource and, as such, a form of power.
5. Cultural production and symbolic capital are stratified in a fairly rigid structure of center and periphery.
6. Culture is generated within networks.
7. Culture is neither autonomous nor fully coherent.
Ideas sometimes have consequences, four propositions on cultural change:
8. Cultures change from the top down, rarely if ever from the bottom up.
9. Change is typically initiated by elites who are outside of the centermost positions of prestige.
10. World-changing is most concentrated when the networks of elites and the institutions they lead overlap.
11. Cultures change, but rarely ever without a fight.
He then offers evidence, but I find this section skewed: instead of a “thick” description of one culture that was changed, we get a sketch of already-downloaded ideas — how cultures changed (early church, Reformation, etc) through elite connections. Sure, but I’d rather have one description of something that shows how complex; instead, we get a study that merely illustrates what he’s already claimed in the previous section. I don’t question the power of elites; I think we needed a thick description.
And then this: Christians are not close enough the seats of power and to the elite levels to make an impact for cultural change. (This was a good chp.) Christians are present in populist circles and absent in elite circles. They can’t change things; they’re not in the right places.


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Mick Porter

posted April 16, 2010 at 6:29 am


The idea that cultural change is affected through elite circles has some commonalities with Tim Keller’s views on cities, which I’ve been wrestling with and am not altogether OK with – mainly because it seems to fit a western cultural context (particularly the American context) better than others. And to push that backwards onto Scripture or onto the early church my not be wise.
Lots has been done to frame a cohesive view of Jesus’ gospel and Paul’s gospel – but what about their approaches to cities? Yes, it can be argued that Acts gives a model of church planting into the most prominent and influential cities (although I’m still not sure we could go so far as “elite circles”), but the Incarnation doesn’t look like that – a great light in Galilee!



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David Bunce

posted April 16, 2010 at 6:29 am


So really God was making a bit of a sociological mistake when he was working in history through people like Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Ruth, Paul. None of those were particularly near the elites. The whole idea of the redeeming King coming riding on a donkey and overcoming through self-giving sacrifice and being made shame was not a good way to redeem the world either.
I guess it’s just a bit of a relief that God works the unexpected and the small and the insignificant. Yeh, there’s probably some merit in what Hunter says. There’s always some merit in understanding culture. But I think we also have to have the counter narrative that our ability to make a change ultimately comes from a surprising – and at times illogical – God. And sometimes the call is just to be faithful and let God work even still



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salacious crumb

posted April 16, 2010 at 7:28 am


Thanks for reviewing this new book from Hunter. I look forward to the coming posts.



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Richard

posted April 16, 2010 at 8:06 am


This is really interesting to wrestle with in follow up to Dopderbeck’s post regarding violence/power/coercion. Great flow on the posts Scot.
“8. Cultures change from the top down, rarely if ever from the bottom up.”
My immediate response was what you had questioned Scot: show me where this has happened. Show me the money so to speak.
While I do think you need influence in a culture to lead a mass, grassroots movement, I don’t think that means you can make the change without the grassroots. If anything, I think, especially in western history since the rise of democratic states, popular movements express desired changes and then elites jump on board once jumping on board is no longer cultural/political suicide.



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John W Frye

posted April 16, 2010 at 8:22 am


Scot,
I question the premise: Is it the mission of Christianity (evangelicalism) “to change culture”? Dobson and Wallis try to speak directly (and powerfully?) to the culture and I get the feel they are mildly tolerated. They basically end up speaking to the choir.
It may be true that you chane a culture with elites working from the top down, but *that is not the way* to spread the good news of the kingdom of God.



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Richard

posted April 16, 2010 at 8:49 am


In terms of history, didn’t we try this historically with Constantine and the HRE or in contemporary times with the Moral Majority? I must be missing a nuance of Hunter’s in Scot’s post.



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Bob Robinson

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:00 am


vanguardchurch.blogspot.com
I’m looking forward to the rest of this series, because I agree with Hunter’s categorizations of evangelicalism’s attempts to change culture. I certainly agree with him that for the past forty years or so American evangelicals have majored in trying to change culture “by changing individuals through conversion” (the old “change the world one-soul-at-a-time” slogan) and “change by activism at the political level” (the Religious Right) and also “by actively working for social reform (think prohibition).”
But, and this is a BIG problem with his analysis that I see so far, this does not seem to take into account all the work by evangelicals to change the culture “up-stream,” i.e., by becoming excellent influences in the culture. Is this not what Andy Crouch is advocating? Is this not what the neo-Calvinists like Richard Mouw, Cornelius Plantinga, Tim Keller, Al Wolters, Calvin Seerveld, Jim Skillen, Mike Metzger, and Gideon Strauss have been advocating?



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John C

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:09 am


Elites certainly do wield cultural power – but isn’t that also true of populist leaders? Wilberforce changed English culture partly because of his social position; but didn’t Francis Asbury change American culture via Methodism and the grass roots? And didn’t the Apostles change culture from the margins (they’d already got pretty far before Constantine decided to help out in 313)?



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Daniel Mann

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:13 am


Perhaps Hunter is right? Perhaps we are facing forces — media, universities, courts — far more formidable than we can even grasp? This just serves to remind me that we are called to be faithful and not necessarily successful or impactful.



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Nitika

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:33 am


I devoured the 30 pages of this that are available on google books. What he is saying is SO important! Oh to be near a book store, or where Amazon could deliver for less that $100. Anyway, I think most of his examples are US based, but the application to mission strategy around the world is huge. We’re not just being ineffective, we’re being counter effective.
Scot, I wonder if your use of the word “elite” is pulling some extra baggage into the discussion. Does Hunter use that terminology in the book?



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Richard

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:54 am


@ 10 Nitika,
May I recommend Bookdepository.com? Free global shipping and they seem to have it: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9780199730803/To-Change-the-World.
The price is higher than on Amazon but I couldn’t tell if you’re “$100 shipping” was a joke or a painful reality.



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Charles Hackney

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:01 am


Having just finished reading Mark Noll?s ?The Rise of Evangelicalism,? I am wondering about propositions 8 & 9. (Cultures change from the top down, rarely if ever from the bottom up; Change is typically initiated by elites who are outside of the centermost positions of prestige.)
Evangelicalism came to be a world-changer not by being elite, or from the top down. And changing the world, Noll argues, wasn?t the main raison d?etre for the early evangelicals.
?Changing the world was never as important for the early evangelicals as changing the self or as fashioning spiritual communities in which changed selves could grow in grace.? (Pg 262)
Wouldn?t the example of the moral majority show that Christians in fact are attempting to change culture from the top down by influencing policy, law, educational curriculum, etc; and wouldn?t the example of the moral majority suggest that Christians being culture-changers by being near the power is failing (or has failed)?
It seems that we might be heading toward another ?both-and rather than either-or? situation. It won?t work to try and change society while ignoring individuals? salvation and sanctification, and it won?t work to focus on the individual without addressing society.



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David

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:21 am


Just finished the first essay. Hunter does not think Evangelicalism has been a world changing force. He dedicates an entire chapter to explaining how evangelicalism, despite its numbers, wealth and political influence has so little cultural influence.
It is worth pointing out that Hunter ends the essay by saying that Christians should not try to change the world or control history, presumes knowledge and control that belong only to God. This conclusion certainly complicates things.
Also, he does use the word “elite.”



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David

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:22 am


correction… or control history, BECAUSE THIS presumes knowledge…
sorry



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Karl

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:22 am


I have a similar theory – not that it’s particularly novel. It seems to me that American culture is largely shaped by two “Priesthoods.” These are the Academy and the Media (broken down into the 2 subcategories of News, typified by New York – and Entertainment, typified by LA/Hollywood). These are the authorities, the true Priests of the american religion if you will. The average American takes her cues for what the Good Life is, for what is important, for what is true and can be believed (and what can not be believed), for how to view and think about self and the world, from one or both of these sources much more so than from the church.
I call them Priesthoods, but you can also call them elites. And there are very few Christian voices in power in either of these spheres bringing a uniquely Christian perspective to bear. There are some, but they are drowned out and vastly outnumbered. As long as that remains the case I agree with Hunter re. the prospects for broad pro-Christian-agenda-(whether McLaren’s or Dobson’s)-driven cultural change in America being slim, unless the cultural change Christians want to see see happens to align with cultural change that the American Priesthood also wants to see independent of Christianity (switching to more energy-efficient light bulbs and making efforts to recycle in order to better steward our resources, for example).
I realize there are sometimes grass-roots movements that surprise and turn upside down the expectations of even the elite Priesthoods of a culture. So I don’t totally discount the possibility of Christianity working and effecting cultural change in that way. But those kinds of grass roots driven cultural revolutions come along only very occasionally.



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Richard

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:24 am


“It is worth pointing out that Hunter ends the essay by saying that Christians should not try to change the world or control history, presumes knowledge and control that belong only to God. This conclusion certainly complicates things”
Is this the Anabaptist vein that Scot was hinting at?



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David

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:33 am


It seemed to be a little Anabaptisty foreshadowing. I haven’t read to the end yet, though.



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Randy G.

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:35 am


I have not read Hunter’s book, and based on a personal encounter with Mr. Hunter I take heavily Scot’s comment that Hunter is an elitist.
Hunter appears to present a relatively monolithic view of “Culture.” My professor used to be sure to add a condescending-sounding Europeanish accent when we discussed this sort of thing.
I, on the other hand see such culture (if there is such a thing) as the product of the interaction of many sub-cultures. “Wall Street” and “Washington” are not THE culture but are merely powerful subcultures that are no more legitimate than those of the agrarian culture of Wendell Berry or the “big farm” culture of the Great Plains. Hunter’s eleven theses could be constructed in a way that takes location/place seriously, but it does not require taking location/place seriously.
I believe that at this level of local/regional cultures Christians can have a lot of influence (Eg. the many works of the Christian Community Development Association, the New Monasticism, etc.) These are surprise!) counter-cultural in ways that are new to even the local cultures in the places they are at.
BTW I question Scot’s affirmation that Evangelicals are absent in Elite circles. I live in the town of Richard DeVos.
Peace,
Randy Gabrielse



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Chris

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:38 am


I need to say from the onset that I have not read this book, and so my following critique is based only on what I have read in this post.
Influencing and affecting change from the top down is the way things work in Man’s Kingdom, but didn’t Jesus point out again and again that in God’s Kingdom, things are upside down? Jesus wasn’t born to the wife of a ruler or even in an influential town. He kept saying things like “the first will be last,” “take up your cross” (not your scepter), and “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
What I am NOT saying is that we should completely ignore good common sense and practicality; God’s word gives us at least one entire book dedicated to common sense. What I AM saying is that if we are to have any impact at all for the Kingdom, it will only happen by the power of the Spirit working through us, and then it won’t matter what your station is.
I believe the contention that “there are more Christians than ever” is misguided. While there certainly are many people who claim the title, I don’t think that there are many of those who seek to follow and be filled by Christ. You may accuse me of being presumptuous in saying that, but Barna and others have given us good statistical evidence that many of those who claim to be Christians are no different – morally, at least – than those who don’t, and to be a follower of Christ is to be transformed.
I know that this kind of talk is often met with statements about “over spiritualizing” but where, really, do we believe the real problem lies and where do we believe the real solution is found. The problem with culture is not with political structures and the people to be found in them, but with sin and the brokenness that it has caused. The only solution to sin is God’s power, and when God’s power is at work, it can be wielded from anywhere. This was Paul’s point when he said in 1 Cor. 2 that he came not with eloquence or man’s wisdom, but in the power of the Spirit. The real solution here is for people who claim to be Christians to actually follow Christ and submit to His rule in and through them.



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Bob Porter

posted April 16, 2010 at 11:13 am


Chris #19 Amen and Amen!



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Bill

posted April 16, 2010 at 11:19 am


Isn’t this what Galli was getting at in some of his editorials at CT a year or 2 ago, albeit much briefer and lighter in substance? Being salt and light is vastly different than transformers.



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dopderbeck

posted April 16, 2010 at 11:34 am


Seems like a pretty narrow definition of “culture.”



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Dan Reeve

posted April 16, 2010 at 12:02 pm


I wonder what is intrinsic about the values of being a Christ Follower that makes it so hard for so many to even think about becoming a part of the cultural elite. Maybe it’s just the other way around – there is something intrinsic about the cultural elite’s values that make it so hard for them to adapt the values of Christ. Which is it?



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pam w

posted April 16, 2010 at 12:03 pm


OK, I’m intrigued – a theologian friend just told me the other day I should read this book. It’s ordered. I’m curious, how is he using the term elite?
Dobson has absolutely been going after the elites and people with positional power, so by this short snippet it doesn’t sound different. Being a sociologist, Hunter is probably coming from a different framework than most of us think of as ‘elite’.
I make that assumption because of the people who have endorsed this book: Taylor, Wolterstorff, Bellah. Bellah’s book ‘Habits of the Heart’, was one of the most transformative books I read in seminary outside of scripture. We read it in Church history with Bruce Shelley’s book. And one of the most powerful books I have read (haven’t gotten all the way through) in the last 10 years to understand culture is Taylor’s “Secular Age”. Being in the Bay Area, our culture may be a bit different from others on here, unless you are in New England or one of the large cities in the country.
The idea of multiple modernities from Taylor is REALLY important for people of faith to grasp in our Global village today. That framework has catapulted my ability to talk about Jesus and my values in the corporate world of sustainability and for benefit global business.



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Nitika

posted April 16, 2010 at 12:09 pm


@ Richard #11
Thanks! I’ll check that out.



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Michael W Kruse

posted April 16, 2010 at 12:33 pm


I’ll be interested to learn more.
In sociology, there are two predominate macro theories. One is functionalism. It sees society as a complex organic web interrelated parts with the system always seeking harmonic stasis. The other is conflict theory. Society is a collection of competing interests groups each seeking there own benefit, with society being shaped by those who for the moment possess the most power and try to repress opposition.
But there is also micro sociology, where daily social interactions of people are studied and from which it is believed larger social structures emerge.
My view is that all of these have merit. I think there is an ongoing feedback loop between large societal institutions managed by elites and the chaotic mix of countless groups of people going about their daily lives. Institutions spring from the need for collective action. Patterns and traditions are established to facilitate that action. Over time, needs and priorities shift in people’s daily lives, but institutions have now concretized a mode of existence that answered the previous sets of needs and priorities. Old institutions must either adapt or fold. But these old institutions have usually developed a community that has a vested in interest in the perpetuation of the status quo. The conflict ensues. Out of the conflict emerges new institutions and a new mode of existence that will soon be challenged as needs and priorities shift yet again.
I think cultural change is a consequence of this endless evolutionary struggle of large structures in relation to individuals and their more localized communities. It seems to me that the ones who are most effective at change are the integrators … those who can discern complex realities and articulate them within in a narrative that facilitates daily decisions and makes sense of the large institutions in society for everyday folks.
I’ve ordered the book. I’m curious to learn more.



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DRT

posted April 16, 2010 at 12:34 pm


Chris @19 ? Amen!
To restate your points in summary using my words
Jesus teaches how to live from the bottom up, not the top down
Christians are not monolithic, particularly, they are not monolithic morally
Dan Reeve @23
It is harder for a rich man to enter the KoG than a camel through a needle. Kingdom dwellers are almost universally not elite, by definition.
It sounds to me like this book misses the whole point of being a follower of Jesus. Instead, it is starting with the ways of man and then trying to use those to have a Godly impact. I appreciate the thought, but think that it is misguided. The very act of trying to achieve his result will corrupt the agent of change.



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pam w

posted April 16, 2010 at 12:37 pm


Reading again, I see his definition of elites and agree with his premise so far. I’ve studied/consulted in leadership and cultural change in large organizations for 20 years. As part of that learning, I studied large scale cultural change in general (historical and recent – Civil Rights movement, Mandela’s leading of culture change in South Africa after Apartheid).
Without having read the book, I would agree with 3 of the 4 propositions.
8. When I read ‘top down’, I hear positional leadership at the top of hierarchical systems. It is very rare for those in positions of power to lead culture change because they have benefited most from the current culture – it put them in power. It’s great when you have the people at the top (Mandela), but in our experiment in democracy over the last 235 years, it has rarely worked that way. It started at the margins, then the movement got big enough to vote people into policy positions who represented the majority shift (civil rights movement).
9. Absolutley. Something I teach is leadership is relational, not positional. If you want to create change in an organization, you need to spend time with and coach those who are thought leaders, influencers, and have people following them. This does not follow the org chart!! I would propose this represents the Disciples. What research has shown is important for community and culture in organizations is the model used in the Gospels and Acts.
10 and 11. – Absolutely. When I am teaching this, I use the analogy of transforming water from one state to another. To get it from liquid to gas, the elements are the same, but there must be something that challenges the integrity of the existing system, and there is is always an explosion.



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DRT

posted April 16, 2010 at 12:42 pm


I realize that I missed the point of Scot?s question by the time I got done reading the other responses.
Scot asked – A pressing set of questions emerges from essay one: How do Christians change cultures? Can it be done without power? What is a Christian theory of power?
My 2 cents – The Christian theory of power could be viewed as anti-power. We cooperate with the human powers as they dictate (not civil disobedience), but then use love and caring in our daily activities and decisions to live our lives. This then would change the culture from within.
The trouble is Christians don?t follow the love rules, instead they follow the man rules, hence misguided books such as this.



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Scott Leonard

posted April 16, 2010 at 12:49 pm


David Bunce
Wow. I think you hit it on the head! I think God is into showing up unexpectantly and changing little or big corners of culture, one heart at a time, and some times many hearts at one time. Look at the variety-Caesar’s palace through Paul, but only some of it; the Welsh revivals; then there is one of the most Christian nations on earth–South Korea that has seen significant culture change. But then what about China, where maybe 100 million Christians are rapidly expanding, affecting communities at close range, but not the national culture. Then you have the culture inside my friends gated community, being transformed by his lifestyle evangelism, while theculture outside the walls remains unchanged. The Bible tells us what will be happening in the last days, all while God is busy invading various corners of the culture!



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Richard

posted April 16, 2010 at 1:55 pm


@ 29 DRT “We cooperate with the human powers as they dictate (not civil disobedience), but then use love and caring in our daily activities and decisions to live our lives”
Could you unpack this for me. It seems like you’re saying that we meekly follow the powers that be and that Christians don’t participate in civil disobedience, we just let love and caring dictate our private interactions with others. Is that an accurate understanding of what you meant?



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Mich

posted April 16, 2010 at 2:08 pm


“8. Cultures change from the top down, rarely if ever from the bottom up.”
My immediate response was what you had questioned Scot: show me where this has happened. Show me the money so to speak.
How about the Religious right colluding with Reagan Neoliberalism?



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Chris

posted April 16, 2010 at 3:06 pm


@Dan Reeve 23 said…
“I wonder what is intrinsic about the values of being a Christ Follower that makes it so hard for so many to even think about becoming a part of the cultural elite.”
And DRT responded…
“It is harder for a rich man to enter the KoG than a camel through a needle. Kingdom dwellers are almost universally not elite, by definition.”
I haven’t personally known many strong Christians who were also in the elite, by human standards. However, there IS biblical precedent for God’s people to hold elite positions, though as you point out, they’re exceptional. David and Solomon come to mind. Abraham and Job were both apparently very wealthy and influential. Of course, the Gospel is extended to everyone – rich and poor alike, lowly and high alike.
I’m also reminded of the fact that the Israelites became enamored with human social structures and demanded a king, since all of the surrounding cultures had kings. God, through Samuel (if I recall correctly) said “trust Me, you don’t want a king and everything that will mean,” but since they kept insisting, God allowed them have a king, who He ordained. Even with a God ordained king at the top of their social structure, their culture continued to be in constant turmoil, occasionally interrupted by periods of peace.
The real questions we need to be asking ourselves (in my opinion) are: “what is the Kingdom of God? What does it look like for me to brought into alignment with that Kingdom? What does it look like for me to be used by God to bring the ares under my influence into that Kingdom?” God’s Kingdom is infinitely larger than political structures or moral codes or even cultures.



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DRT

posted April 16, 2010 at 3:19 pm


@31 Richard
I hope that I am developing my view in a Jesus centered way. Here is where I am.
Yes, I feel that we should follow the powers of law because the powers of law are the framework that we live in. To go outside the powers of law would be to subvert the defacto consensus of society, or in this context, culture.
Whether it is with meekness or not depends on the gifts of the person that is involved. I for one, am not terribly meek. So what it looks like for someone like me is that I am actively involved in professing the way of love and caring while in full accordance with the powers of the establishment. I am active in talking with my church, assisting in planting, arranging meetings with the politicians representing me, writing on blogs?.
For others, it would show up as setting an example in being meek. Or caring for others, or writing books or teaching for others. The key is to make sure that it is about the gospel and the gospel is love in a true giving way.
Civil disobedience has the advantage over the ways of Jesus in that it may be more expeditious, but I feel that it is inherently not ?of? the kingdom. I suppose that one could argue that it is an investment of talent, but to live by the sword is to die by the sword. As many may say on this blog (or was it Maclaren?), the scandalous message of Jesus is that he never did that. At its root, civil disobedience is not constructive or additive, it is subtractive. I believe Jesus teaches to be additive?.
I also am not saying that we do it privately. Jesus certainly did not do it privately.
I believe that the central problem that causes things like this book to even be debated is that people do not understand the central message of Jesus, which is to love. They come up with obtuse definitions of love and rationalize not-love as love then have to come up with other rationalizations for how to behave. What is the saying? Oh what a tangled web we weave?
I have set a personal goal for myself to change the world and have been working on it for the past 6 months. I know that sounds audacious, and may not happen, but that?s what I am doing. My father tells me that I need a big platform to change the world (he is in his 70?s and is quite wise) and my pastor tells me that it is hard to do it like I am trying because we are not Jesus. But then again, I think that is the example we have been given.
My broken knuckles from fighting in my youth was certainly not of the way.
Thanks for humoring me in this.
Dave



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RJS

posted April 16, 2010 at 3:26 pm


Scot – can you elaborate on Hunter’s thoughts here…
“Christians are present in populist circles and absent in elite circles. They can’t change things; they’re not in the right places.”
Explicitly … what does he considered elite circles?
I am probably skewed here, but I would consider academia one such circle. Off base or on track with his thoughts?



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Richard

posted April 16, 2010 at 3:38 pm


@34 DRT
Thanks for unpacking. Your phrasing caught my eye. I’ve typically only seen civil disobedience used to refer to nonviolent resistance (i.e. Ghandi, Civil Rights under MLK Jr.) but it seems like you’re using it to refer to the use of force/violence (i.e. Civil Rights under the Black Panthers/Malcolm X in early years). I suppose the definition doesn’t exclude either.
If you’re interested, Walter Wink has some videos on youtube from his series, “Nonviolence for the Violent.” Really insightful teaching regarding Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” example, etc.



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Scott Leonard

posted April 16, 2010 at 3:48 pm


DRT,
That is a great goal! And the encouraging thing about it is you can have immediate results. You bow your head and pray believing, with a pure heart for the growth of your brother in Christ and BAM! you just began changing the world. The sheer power of prayer alone, by a man or woman who is on praying ground will do more to change the world than a hundred bloggers discussing the dynamics of cultural change, IMHO. Just a thought. Then you sweep your neighbor’s walk, and you just did it again. You memorize a verse of scripture and begin meditating on it and you just set in motion things that could ripple around the world. You pour your life into a teachable brother and train him to do the same, Whoa!
Here are a few of the people who I believe will go down as having either changed the culture the most or acted as salt to stop the decay of the culture (not necessarily in order:
Bill Bright
Dawson Trotman
Billy Graham
Brother Yun of China



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DRT

posted April 16, 2010 at 3:56 pm


Thanks Scott,
It is interesting when I read my own post it sounds simple (as in IQ simple). The funny part is, that is what I think Jesus taught. I am anything but simple (engineer, MBA, entrepreneur) but there is power in stating things like that. Goals have incredible power, and so does prayer etc as you said.
Dave



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DRT

posted April 16, 2010 at 4:15 pm


Richard,
I may evolve my view, but for now I am referring to Ghandi like civil disobedience. I don’t think Jesus set that example.
Certainly violence is not the way. But intentionally breaking laws, even in a non-violent way seems to me to be against Jesus teaching….I don’t know what that looks like if you are living in a truly unjust society, but if you were following the way of Jesus you would not have an unjust society….
Dave



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John Seel

posted April 16, 2010 at 4:24 pm


For those interested in more on this conversation, see http://www.faithfulpresence.com.



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kevin s.

posted April 16, 2010 at 5:14 pm


I think the problem is that evangelicals wed their pre-existing ideological preferences to their theology…
Some see homosexuality as perverse, and don’t think gay marriage is right. Scripture says homosexuality is a sin, so we get evangelicals opposing gay marriage.
Some see a large role for federal government in re-distributing income. Jesus said we are to care for the “least of these”, so we have evangelicals supporting welfare programs.
Some believe that people should earn their own living, and shouldn’t get government assistance if they can or will not. The bible says if you don’t work, you shouldn’t eat. So there you go.
Some oppose Social Security reform. The bible says to honor thy parents. Good enough.
None of these arguments are persuasive politically, and they don’t make a lot of sense theologically. So Christians are sort of strapped to these idiotic non-arguments for their politics. Dobson and Wallis aren’t evil people, just lazy thinkers.
When presented with this fact, Christians respond in accordance with their preferred ideology. The Christian right thinks the left is more prone to abusing the scriptures. The Christian left notes that the Christian right has more members. Everyone denies being either right nor left.
Why would any non-Christian embrace the societal change the Christians seek to offer? That’s why Christians infrequently rank among the elite.



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cas

posted April 16, 2010 at 5:28 pm


This sounds like a book I’d like to read. Thanks for introducing it.



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JD

posted April 16, 2010 at 6:57 pm


This makes sense to me, where Michael W Kruse said “the ones who are most effective at change are the integrators … those who can discern complex realities and articulate them within in a narrative that facilitates daily decisions and makes sense of the large institutions in society for everyday folks”
Maybe there is a culture war going on between the elites with their narrow orthodoxies, both left and right, but most of us in Muddle America are pretty flexodox. Are we really witnessing moral discourse in these culture wars and not raw emotions anyway? Maybe most of us struggle with the very same questions inside ourselves that the warriors are battling over in public? And if we don’t come up with simple answers like these warriors, maybe it’s not because we are simplistic and the elite are that much smarter. Maybe we get complex answers because the questions are complex? I am interested in any Anabaptist insights because I’m a Catholic who saw big changes in our church during Vatican II that came about from the thoughts of John Courtney Murray and others like him. Catholics learned the value of religious liberty from being marginalized in their American experience. That minority status was a gift because it helped to drive home the truths that certain radical reformers spoke almost 500 years ago. The Gospel ain’t about coercion. So, we’ve got this church and state interaction down pretty good but are coming along way too slowly on learning the same lessons about coercion inside of the institution. I wonder if we’re on the brink of learning that lesson through the school of hard knocks, too. We tend to turn to political solutions when we are unable to build moral consensus. Maybe we should turn instead to building moral consensus through our example and witness and better arguments?



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JD

posted April 16, 2010 at 8:41 pm


This is a link to a talk called The Free Church Tradition and Church Renewal that was given in 1975 at Pacific University by Father Sergio Negro: http://www.directionjournal.org/article/?163 Although it is an old article, it speaks to this issue of politics and religion and better explains what I was trying to say about Anabaptist insights and how they have come to some fruition in my church. It seems to me that James Davison Hunter might have something to say to both the editors of First Things and Sojourners, something I’ve been feeling and wanting to say for a long time and didn’t know exactly how to put it into words. I am looking forward to getting that book and following this series.



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Jim Martin

posted April 17, 2010 at 5:43 am


A fascinating discussion. (And sounds like a fascinating book.) I had a similar question as RJS #35. Does he name the elite circles? Would there be any debate as to what constitues an elite circle? Or is the specific identity of particular what constitutes an elite circle a given?



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Josh Mueller

posted April 17, 2010 at 2:28 pm


I think we need to clarify first what we are talking about. ?Changing the world? ? is that about maximizing influence on a global scale first and foremost? And what is the envisioned and desired goal of that change ? a ?Christian? society or culture?
There have been a lot of mass movements throughout history and I think Hunter is right in emphasizing the network character and the support within existing power structures to aid in the proliferation of ideas and values and their success. But this is still just descriptive. What exactly do we do with that insight? To what degree is spiritual power and are kingdom values counterintuitive and counteractive to these dynamics? Could Hunter?s analysis give a new impetus to Paul?s emphasis on praying first and foremost for those in political authority?
And one other question. The fact that a high percentage of Christian believers within the country doesn?t seem to change American culture all that much ? is that really a valid argument against the philosophy of change through internal change and change happening one person at a time? Or is that actually more indicative of a LACK of true change in a largely ?Christianized? nation in terms of belief and confessed values but very little reality and presence when it comes to a God-shaped life and authentic spirituality?



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Gwen Meharg

posted April 17, 2010 at 9:06 pm


Maybe we need to spend more time and energy and passion on being who we are than worrying about changing culture. Maybe if more artists worked on their crafts instead of creating Christian art or Christian music or Christian books and instead we painted, sang and wrote brilliance we would have more impact.
All I know is that I don’t have the strength or stamina to change the culture, but if I am who I was born to be, created in God’s image, I will change what I can change along the way.



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JD

posted April 18, 2010 at 3:20 pm


I hope there will always be some in the Church who will answer a call to live on the margins of the human social, economic, political and cultural orders trying to faithfully live the ideals of the Gospel without resorting to any coercion of any kind, from any source, for any reason. Such people provide a clear witness to the Kingdom that I pray we all desire and they help keep that desire green among our human family. What about the rest of us who have been summoned to live more in the thick of it all? The Church is not bound to any type of social, economic or political order and its ways and means also differ from them. As Church we exert our force by faith, hope and love. This does not mean that human society, economics, politics, science, philosophy or culture oppose or compete with the Church. Building those human orders may not be the same as establishing the Kingdom but when humans thrive and triumph in those orders, which serve as means not ends, it is often a SIGN of God’s grace and a flowering of God’s design. The Church lives IN those human orders, neither against them nor simply in addition to them, and can cooperate with them to advance the common good. While the political order can legitimately use coercion to maintain the public order, the Church should not use or otherwise encourage the use of coercion to advance the rest of the common good. We refrain from such coercion because of a Gospel injunctive and not because it just so happens to also make good practical or political sense.



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