James Davison Hunter, in his new book, (To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World
), offers an interesting perspective on how Christians ought to participate in culture:
After sketching the three current approaches (Christian Right, Left and Neo-Anabaptists [today]), he concludes that these approaches are insufficiently aware of how power works and how cultures change. So, those aren’t the way. Then he proceeds to offer a theory of power (Essay 2 in the book) and we’ll sketch that this week. When done, one is almost set up to think he’ll sketch how Christians can involve themselves in power, perhaps invading the elite places, but that theory of power is not acceptable to the Christian because of what the NT teaches. So, in Essay 3 he offers a 4th Way, and we’ll get to that in a later post — but his 4th Way strikes me as a form of quietistic anabaptism. I suspect he wouldn’t buy that label.
Anyway, Hunter’s hard on his Christian companions in the culture-changing path: he’s given it to the Right and to the Left, and today we see what he says about the Neo-Anabaptists.
How would you describe the current neo-Anabaptist approach to culture change and political involvement? Is it adequate? Is it constructive? Is it as relentlessly negative as Hunter says it is?
The Christian Left and the Neo-Anabaptists (Hauerwas, Yoder, Claiborne, Sider, but not much about Sider, and he connects them to Radical Orthodoxy) are much alike in what they want, but the Left believes in a strong State while the Neo-Anabaptists distrust the State and keep a distance.
The mythic Story is one of an ideal (or closer to the ideal) early Christianity. The big error was Constantinianism in the wedding of Church and State. It’s the big heresy for the Neo-Anabaptists. It morphed in the Reformation but was more local and it shows up now in civil religion and nationalism. It is found also in capitalism — here he probes into the Radical Orthodox theologians, like Eugene McCarraher.
The solution is the Lordship of Christ and the Church, which is the alternative community shaped by a genuine christology of servanthood as the path of lordship. The world/State is engaged through ecclesiology.
Nonviolence and pacifism are part of it, but not all Neo-Anabaptists embrace them. The Church/Christians are to be resident aliens.
And, yet, Hunter finds an ironic politicization: the State is shaping the concerns of the Neo-Anabaptists. They are reactionary and relentlessly negative (called “prophetic”) and let the State’s issues drive their rhetoric. They have formed a “passive-aggressive ecclesiology” (164).
Here’s Hunter’s claim: “The neo-Anabaptists claim their message is prophetic but in its net effect … it is overwhelmingly a message of anger, disparagement, and negation” (165).
He sees a departure from historic Anabaptism.