Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


On Changing Culture 8

posted by Scot McKnight

Screen shot 2010-04-12 at 7.51.22 PM.pngThis book is now getting to the nittty gritty of a genuine 4th Way proposal:

James Davison Hunter, in his new book, (To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World
), makes a proposal that is a 4th Way:
It’s about faithful presence. Each of the other three approaches believes that about itself, so let’s hear him out to catch his nuances.
What do you think of Hunter’s “faithful presence within” proposal? Is the best way to change culture the way of not trying to change culture?
We have a challenge to faithfulness, to difference (with pluralism etc), to dissolution between the world and language’s ability to describe that word (postmodernity’s contention), and then he examines the freedom and autonomy of the will — which has run amok. 
Instead of “defensive against” and “relevance to” and “purity from” he proposes “faithful witness within.” (His sketch here is negative, too negative, of the other views — one wonders if he’s got some ressentiment at work!)


He believes that leaders must set the path.

The Great Commission is about formation into Christlikeness.
The Church is to a culture and community of Shalom.
Accommodation but calling the culture into question by being different.
Irony: the only way to change the world is not to try to change the world but by being a different world by honoring the creator of beauty and truth and loving God and loving our neighbor.
All social organizations are a parody of eschatological hope.


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kerry

posted April 29, 2010 at 1:16 am


I think that creativity is a critical part of this too…producing something good. I think of a neighbour who is quietly eradicating weeds in the national park behind us and allowing space for the native plants to regenerate. He and his wife also regularly give great parties. Another friend writes songs and is a part of a songwriting group. Another has established a mentoring scheme to strengthen and support indigenous leadership during a very hard season in our town, and I think of a teacher whose outrageous creativity keeps his students engaged all year long and makes them curious about his faith. All of them are creating something that is invitational and reflective of our Creator God.



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R

posted April 29, 2010 at 8:16 am


I like it. Reminds of “Christ and Culture” as updated by Terry Mattingly, who noted that Christians tend to adopt one of these:
Burn the Culture
Baptize the Culture
Photocopy the culture
Engage the Culture (I think he actually uses the word “debate”, but I think “engage” avoids the argumentative meaning of “debate” while retaining the essential idea of a debate being a respectful conversation.)
And in a funny side note, the CAPTCHA I had to reproduce to post this was “CULTURE FATHER”. God is a Father estranged from the culture of the people he created – by their choice – and longs to be reconnected to them. Our role is to be Ambassadors helping to achieve that reconciliation.



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DRT

posted April 29, 2010 at 9:43 am


Is this the same as leading by example?
My CAPTCHA exegesis is about “teensy loans”. God gives us our life here as a temporary loan, something we have to give back. And through our small part in this existance and participating in something we do not even really know, we are to make this into something much larger, more significant and culture changing by effecting the small part (us) we are given.
Dave



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John W Frye

posted April 29, 2010 at 9:48 am


I was taken by R’s (comment #2) phrase “photocopy the culture” created by Mattingly. From unscientific observation I think the USAmerican popular evangelicalism photocopies a lot and pastes Bible verses to the copies. We use insider jargon: instead of “cool” we use “relevant;” instead of “mimic” we use “creative;” instead of “compromise” we use “contextualize.” Does Hunter think “faithful witness within” is a startling new idea? I do like his wording: the best way to change the culture is not to try and change the culture. It has the feel of “kingdom of God” paradox to it.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted April 29, 2010 at 9:58 am


Good point, John (#4) on changing the culture. But for it to be a kingdom of God thing, does that require that it has no hands on culture? Or maybe it has to ever and always be rooted in church and in mission. It seems like we err when mixing our identities somehow. Paul was at heart a citizen and ambassador-herald of God’s kingdom. His Roman citizenship was beside the point, but was used by him to the end to which he was called by God.



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Richard

posted April 29, 2010 at 10:03 am


While I’ve met my share of cynical Anabaptists, I think Hunter’s final offering here is very in line with what the Anabaptist tradition strives to be. And while there are streams that withdraw and separate, there is a very focused two prong approach to “on the ground” and “truth to and influencing power” cultural influence.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 29, 2010 at 10:42 am


I really need to get this book read but from just this post I can’t say that I would fully embrace “faithful presence.” A fully agree with the idea that we are to be communities of shalom that stands out from the culture. But what I’m hearing sounds to passive to me with regard to our interaction with culture. We are to be actively seeking the shalom of the culture as well.
The issue to me is largely one of means and tactics. Political domination is rarely transforming. We are seeking transformation. Our primary arena of formation is in day-to-day fellowship with others. That is where transformation will take place as well. But we are still to be seeking the broader shalom as well. And that will not allow us to be utterly disconnected from involvement in the world of politics.
This almost strikes me as two separate Kingdom philosophy where we live in one and not the other. Reality simply doesn’t allow for this kind of compartmentalization.



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Dana Ames

posted April 29, 2010 at 11:42 am


Finally his point- with which I agree, on the same grounds as John Frye. I think our American cultural we-can-solve-any-problem outlook has led Christians to think we can significantly change culture; this is a culturally-captive line of thought. I used to think a concerted effort on the part of the church could change culture; no longer. We are Persons, who might, by loving acts toward those around us, impact other Persons for the better. That will have a ripple effect, for sure, but “cultural change” can’t be the goal.
Michael, I would point to Rodney Stark, whose portrayal of early Christians doesn’t look at all like an attempt to change culture, but rather looks much more like being faithful to the Incarnate, Crucified and Risen Jesus as they lived *from* a different reality (one that yet embraces the whole of reality we can apprehend, so no dualism). Their faithful lives did eventually intersect with politics…
I realize the sociopolitical situation is different today… and I think that the author is at least partially right about our social realities attempting to construct an eschatological hope. And I think that the faithful life must underlie everything else, no matter where we are.
Dana



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 29, 2010 at 12:31 pm


Dana #8
Tony Campolo used to distinguish between power and authority something along these lines:
Power – The ability to conform others to your will even against their own will.
Authority – Deference given to one who has demonstrated wisdom and love toward others to the point they wish to conform their wills to the will of the leader.
People with authority sometimes will need to use power but is a restrained power used sparingly. Generally speaking I think Christians need to lead in the world with authority.
Stark mentions the two big spurts of growth in the church prior to Constantine were linked to devastating plagues, one in the second century and the other in the third. When Romans fled the cities to escape death, Christians joyfully stayed behind to care for the sick and dying, some dying themselves. It was the Christian’s fearlessness of death that caused the Romans to question the sufficiency of their own gods and to embrace the Christian God.
These Christians did not stay in there own communities and take care only of their own as they gave witness to what the rest of the world should do. They went out a did it for the rest of the world. If we had some societal catastrophe, would the Amish, the old-Order Mennonites, or the Hutterites come to the aid of the sick and dying or would they stay in their communities? I think the latter. Yet there are other flavors of Anabaptists that do offer service (think Mennonite Central Committee for just one amazing example) in the world and once you begin engaging the world the lines get blurry quickly.
What I think has changed from the ancient world to the present is that the overwhelming majority of what used to influence our lives was what happened in face-to-face communities. With the rise of the industrial revolution and market economies, our lives have become more significantly affected by mass society and massive social structures. We can’t work for justice and shalom without an eye to these systemic issues. I don’t believe we can ultimately transform society by “fixing” the systemic stuff but I equally believe we can’t simply ignore it either. The latter is what I think I’m hearing from Hunter (without having yet read the book.)
Going back to John Stackhouse, we live in a paradox of seeking shalom for a world in which shalom can never be fully realized short of the consummation of the new creation. I think it is a tension we are called to live in. A think transformasionists escape the tension by overestimating what can be achieved through political processes and I worry the some of what I hear from the Anabaptist corner is the opposite escape of not addressing systemic issues.



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Dana Ames

posted April 29, 2010 at 12:58 pm


Michael, I think our ideas can mesh.
Dana



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Nathan C

posted April 29, 2010 at 2:30 pm


Having read the book, I’m surprised by the claim that Hunter is somehow Anabaptist.
It is a rather curious form of neo-Anabaptism which fails to avow pacifism, decries ecclesial self-definition via eschatological confrontation with capitalism and the state, and argues that “accepting powerlessness” only appears possible because of naivete and self-deception.
Michael Kruse (#7 and #9), Hunter doesn’t suggest that Christians ignore “systematic issues.” Quite the opposite. At most, he counsels a temporary disengagement from politics until the church finds some non-Nietzschean way to participate. That “disengage from politics” is heard as “disengage from society” is, he argues, part of what ails society: the conflation of the political with the public. I believe you’ve said as much, and based on what you’ve written here and at your own blog, I think you’ll really enjoy this book.
By “faithful presence,” Hunter seems to mean that Christians will participate as Christians in all parts of society (and largely within existing institutions) in order to promote the common shalom. He attaches spiritual significance to this participation and argues that it will mitigate the nihilistic effects of difference and dissolution.
However, while faithful presence should bring about meaningful benefit, most of it won’t serve to Transform the Culture. In the first essay, Hunter argues that culture changes from the top down, and comparatively few of us are high-prestige elites. Of course, the faithful presence of those Christians who are affects culture, hopefully for the better.
If anyone is interested, there’s a good precis of his first essay on power here:
http://www.ttf.org/index/journal/detail/to-change-the-world-2002/



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DRT

posted April 29, 2010 at 2:48 pm


Isn’t the Salvation Army a model for this?
Dave
CAPTCHA exegesis “sacraments cleaners”, no comment.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 29, 2010 at 3:05 pm


Nathan C #11
Helpful comments! Thanks. I am looking forward to reading the book … got it here on my desk. There is much that I resonate with in Scot’s posts and I realize it isn’t possible to capture all nuances on such a complex topic in blog post like Scot’s.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 29, 2010 at 3:44 pm


I?ll add this further thought.
There is a wonderful documentary released a couple of years ago called ?The Singing Revolution.? It is about Estonia?s perseverance over fifty years of occupation by the Nazi?s and the Soviet Union, and their ultimate triumph through cultural solidarity and nonviolent resistance. The culture is 5,000 years old and has a rich musical heritage. It was through the singing of songs that Estonian society kept its identity and persevered.
One of the things that struck me was the observation made by the narrator at the beginning of the movie:
?In Estonia, fairytale heros are not the brave nobleman who slays dragons and saves damsels. Their hero is the shrewd old barnkeeper who sits by the fire ? waits ? watches ? and acts only when the time is right. Patience is a weapon. Caution a virtue.?
The movie goes on to show just how this cultural trait played out.
When I heard this I thought of Jesus? admonition to the twelve, ?I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.? (Matt 10:16)
It has been explained to me that the ?shrewd as snakes? reference refers to the way snakes capture their prey. They strategically position themselves and sit quietly until a prey wanders into range. Then they strike.
It seems to me that what drives too many transformationists (right and left) is a type of daring bravado where we blow up what exists and build anew. It?s almost messianic in the negative sense. I think this is to some degree shaped by Western Enlightenment/Modernist motifs of being able to bring revolutionary change from the top through enlightened reason and benevolence. Too many Anabaptists embrace an ?us against the world? bravado, taking great pride in their countercultureness (is that a word?) and how revolutionary they are. Sort of an anit-messianic messiahism.
Hearing this description of the Estonian hero gives voice to what I suspect is more in keeping with Jesus? message. We neither dominate nor separate from culture. We are a constant presence throughout all of society. We work to discern what a shalom-filled society would look like and we actively seek it. But we do so with nudges as we walk alongside, not with domination and not with radical separation.
What I find most troubling about so many transformationists and neo-Anabaptists is a self-confident idealistic radicalism that seeks revolution rather than a patient abiding reformation of nudges.



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Randy G.

posted April 29, 2010 at 4:25 pm


My friend Gary grows vegetables all summer to feed 52 families in central Iowa. He celebrates with his CSA members three times a year, and always thanks God for the abundance that he is able to produce year after year.
The 25,000 lbs. of vegetables he grew on 1.5 acres last year is a witness to shalom and God’s abundance in a region where farmers’ goal is 1,000 acres and a big government payment for their corn. Practical Farmers of Iowa, to which he belongs, multiplies that witness to the blessings and abundance of small farming and locally grown food. Gary truly believes that he is demonstrating the ability of people to live and farm differently for the time when our petro-chemical dependent food system’s unsustainablity becomes manifest. He also employs two workers per year, five of whom have gone on to start their own small farms.
Gary is the most contented and peaceful person I have ever met. He has made more of a difference in more people’s lives than anyone else I know.
Peace,
Randy G.



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pam w

posted April 29, 2010 at 4:36 pm


My copy should be arriving today, and I look forward to reading it and trying to make out what seems internal contradictions. This conversation has been great, though I’ve only seen a few days of it – thanks to all engaging. This is an important conversation.
Nathan C – Thanks for your input having read it.
I don’t think we ever change culture, we influence it by showing up and engaging in relationships. You can never control it. Culture is a dynamic living entity that is always in flux with many variables of how people gain voice, influence and power. Having worked with leaders for 20+ years on organizational development and culture shift, I know positive culture doesn’t often happen top down. I may agree it happens through elites, if we are defining those who have influential power, not necessarily positional power (implied by top down). Change is driven (in our US context) by those who have relationships, build trust and gain a voice by having followers.
Most positive change comes from the margins. As one example: I live in the silicon valley. Some of the most significant influences on cultural change (positive and negative) over the last 30 years have come from garages in my neighborhood. People looking at life, design, a global village and creating new ways for people to communicate, learn and live a fuller life in many ways. I say our greatest influence and the Scriptural model from my understanding is to be with them, in the garages using the best in human genius for the Glory of God, and the redemptive gift to humanity. Every move we make has unintended consequences, and we must be in there for the dialogue (in the garage, in the urban core, or on the Hill) to see what God would have us learn and contribute to the next level of society.



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RJS

posted April 29, 2010 at 6:06 pm


pam w,
Your comment as usual has me thinking…especially this part: Change is driven (in our US context) by those who have relationships, build trust and gain a voice by having followers and influential power…



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kerry

posted April 29, 2010 at 6:39 pm


Randy #15 Thanks for your story which reminds me of the Levitical commandment not to reap to the edge of the fields so that poor can gather what is left over.



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Nathan C

posted April 29, 2010 at 6:42 pm


Michael Kruse #14,
The “us against the world” bravado is the basis for much of Hunter’s critique of neo-Anabaptism. “Passive-aggressive ecclesiology” is just his characterization of the way neo-Anabaptists define themselves and the church in terms of dissent from the state and market.
Pam W #16,
It will be interesting to see how (if?) Hunter’s arguments align with your experience.
Just in case I’ve given the wrong impression, when he writes “top down,” Hunter’s talking in terms of cultural power. Of course this has significant overlap with political and economic power, but (as you’ve pointed out) they aren’t the same thing. I think he would agree with what you’ve written about trust, since he writes that cultural power begins with credibility.



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Nathan C

posted April 29, 2010 at 7:04 pm


One more thing. To the extent that Hunter’s book has an internal contradiction – and I really think tension is a better word – it’s between elitism and Christianity. Before Christ, there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, but Hunter takes it as a brute fact that cultural power is (perhaps necessarily) stratified and that it is networks of “haves” who drive cultural transformation.
He’s quite aware of this tension and spends a fair bit of time discussing it, but faithful presence isn’t a strategy for overcoming this as much as it is for living as a Christian in a world in which it happens to be true.



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Andy Rowell

posted April 30, 2010 at 12:13 am


Thanks for the conversation and input everyone. These issues are complex: sociology, theology, missiology, and ethics are all swirling; the Radical Orthodox (Milbank), Neo-Calvinists (Kuyper), Neo-Anabaptists (Hauerwas/Yoder), Roman Catholics (Augustine/Aquinas), Lutherans (Bonhoeffer) all think they are the only ones getting it right; and now John Stackhouse, Andy Crouch, and James Davidson Hunter are in the mix. The theological traditions (I name above) are in substantial agreement on most points but theologians often talk past one another because of their different cultural contexts, their stunted missiological imaginations, and their fear of sociology. They are thus often ignored as out of touch. On the other hand, the sociologists and missiologists tend to be strong on the pragmatic but are far too quick to classify phenomenon as the product of different theological traditions. Theologians ignore their work as drivel–the direct result of their own preconceived assumptions.
In other words, Hunter’s theories about how things work–the elite have a lot of impact on the world–is an interesting sociological theory but almost entirely subjective and unprovable, thus demonstrating the theologians’ point that sociology is utterly subjective and not useful for prescription. His theological taxonomy is perhaps loosely illustrative but substantially a house of cards where the leading proponents of each position cannot be so easily labeled.
The good of the book is that he is attempting to put sociology and theology into conversation which does produce good conversations.



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