Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

On Changing Culture 9

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 and I would call it a quietistic form of anabaptism or a quietism. He is against activism in the use of political power. He is for an activism at the ecclesial and personal level.
How would you “label” the approach of Hunter? Is it a gentler form of Anabaptism? Is it Reformed? Do you think it is better than the “striving” approach of the Right and the Left?
God’s faithful presence is in the Incarnation: that Word ends the dissolution of world/word (from previous post) and reveals the difference of world and Christ. The way to change culture is to embody God’s own faithful presence in this world. It means faithfulness in being present to one another, to our tasks and within our spheres of influence. (Again, his thesis remonstrates with the will to power and ressentiment of the Right, Left and Neo-Anabaptists through a more quietistic approach of embodiment of Christ in this world.
It is shaped by covenant commitment to others and to the world.
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Mike M

posted April 30, 2010 at 12:50 am

Is he (are you) referring to the form of quietism condemned as heresy by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Vienne or something else?

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Dana Ames

posted April 30, 2010 at 11:31 am

What does he describe as “ecclesial activism”?

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Scot McKnight

posted April 30, 2010 at 12:11 pm

I’ll mention this again next week, but he means churches embodying the vision of God for the People of God.

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Nathan C

posted April 30, 2010 at 1:54 pm

I know I said this yesterday, but I don’t see how Hunter can meaningfully be counted among the neo-Anabaptists given what he affirms and denies. Due to his emphasis on human limitation and Christian participation within secular institutions, he perhaps bears somewhat more affinity to the two kingdoms.
All in all, however, I’m not sure Hunter can be identified with any of these approaches because it isn’t clear to me that he’s offering a developed theology of Christian engagement with culture. (Please note that chapter titles in essay three include words like “Toward” and “Groundwork,” so this isn’t necessarily a criticism.) As presented, faithful presence seems less a theory than a set of attitudes, the core of which is a commitment to the common good.

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Scot McKnight

posted April 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Nathan, isn’t the point of having no “toward” an Anabaptistic stance?
I doubt he’d claim this, but where is he to be placed in the historical discussion?

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Mark Walsh

posted April 30, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Andy Crouch has an interesting review in Books and Culture – see
He concludes the book “is groundbreaking, it is comprehensive, and it is visionary. Above all, it is wise, both sociologically and theologically. No Christian entrusted with institutional leadership or cultural power should miss the chance to read it. ”
However, he also comments on,
“one feature of this book that is troubling, and genuinely perplexing. . . . What you are unlikely to ascertain from the text or the notes, however, is the existence of any Christian scholar or public actor who has pursued the course Hunter recommends other than Hunter himself, . . . It would take nothing away from Hunter’s brilliant synthesis to acknowledge that others are doing similarly important and influential work. . . .When it comes to Christians attempting to do some good in the wider world, Hunter finds very few he can put in a good light.
Looks like the book containd plenty of food for thought but perhaps causes of debate (hopefully healthy) also. It is not released in Europe (I’m in Ireland) for another few weeks – will be interstly to see how global/transferable his thought are.

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Nathan C

posted April 30, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Prof. McKnight, I’m afraid I don’t follow you, but I confess to being very under-read in Yoder and Hauerwas. By “toward,” do you mean that Anabaptism is somehow necessarily inchoate?
And if (like Hunter) you don’t discuss pacifism, won’t self-identify in terms of apocalyptic confrontation with the state, avow “accepting powerlessness” impossible, and affirm public involvement despite inevitable ethical ambiguities, what’s left of neo-Anabaptism? A gentler Anabaptism would be a fine thing, but to those of us outside, those generally appear to be your core convictions.
As to history, I’m not sure I’m competent to offer an opinion. As I wrote before, Hunter seems to me more Lutheran, possibly with some resemblance to the old WASP consensus, than neo-Anabaptist.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 3:44 pm

I can’t comment on his place in historical or denominational thought, but I do like where he is going. I think that is a Jesus view that I can support.
It occurred to me this morning that people have concerns about how the churches and religions should engage the powers that be, but it is clear that the churches themselves are terribly unable to demonstrate Jesusyness themselves. Someone in another thread said something to the effect of “the churches have shown a theocracy does not work for them so why would they think it would work for the country?” So the Hunter proposal really goes to the root of the problem and, in effect, says we should demonstrate the way of Jesus for ourselves first. It just happens to also be a good way to influence others.
Have a great weekend everyone.

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Allan Poole

posted April 30, 2010 at 5:20 pm

One of the richest and most stimulating resources I have paid attention to through 31 years of pastoral ministry is Ken Myers’ Mars Hill Audio. Would that all pastors subscribed! His latest issue, number 101, has a lengthy interview with Hunter that I found helpful.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Quietism towards political power and activism at the ecclesial and personal level makes sense. However, to be credible we need to create plausible alternatives to things currently provided by the state, such as justice, welfare, health care, etc.

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