Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


On Changing Culture 10

posted by Scot McKnight

Screen shot 2010-04-12 at 7.51.22 PM.pngThis book proposes a “new city commons” and it does on the basis of a singular text in Jeremiah.

James Davison Hunter, in his new book, (To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World
), suggests that Jeremiah 29:4-7 offers a 4th Way, a way beyond Right and Left and Neo-Anabaptist, and a way that is beyond politicization of the faith and beyond Constantinianism. Here is the text from Jeremiah — “seek the welfare” of that City — Babylon:
29:4 ”The Lord God of Israel who rules over all says to all those he sent into exile to Babylon from Jerusalem, 29:5 ’Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. 29:6 Marry and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and allow your daughters get married so that they too can have sons and daughters. Grow in number; do not dwindle away. 29:7 Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the Lord for it. For as it prospers you will prosper.’


The purpose then of the Christian in culture is to enact the shalom of God in whatever circumstance one has. And to seek that shalom on behalf of others. Wherever that might be.

Frankly, while Hunter does not enter into the materialist approach of Andy Crouch, he now sounds very much like Andy Crouch’s own proposal. 
The “commitment to the new city commons is a commitment of the community of faith to the highest ideals and practices of human flourishing in a pluralistic world” (279) — and this sounds positively “emergent.”
One of the more interesting proposals, which again is like Crouch, is that he says Christians need to stop talking about changing culture and changing the world and establishing kingdom. Instead, they need to find a post-Constantinian engagement. Avoid the political and the public forum for a season and learn how to do acts of shalom.
He appreciates the alternative community of the Anabaptist vision.
He quotes the classic lines from the Epistle of Diognetus.
One final observation: while he criticizes the three ways, and while he finds some to appreciate in each — more in the Neo-Anabaptist than the other two — he fails to situate his own argument and proposal in other church-culture paradigms, and I find that distressing. His proposal reads to me like a quietist, as opposed to an activist, Anabaptist proposal. 


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Joanne

posted May 3, 2010 at 8:51 am


i saw this acted out in my community when a Jewish Rabbi babysat for a Baptist church on Christmas Eve. that act went a long way in building respect in the community. it’s a small example but powerful.
more and more, i think this is the way to go… to seek the welfare of others so that Shalom might be among us.



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DRT

posted May 3, 2010 at 10:55 am


Scot, thanks for going throught this.
Unlike the overly intellectual bent of most of the subjects on your blog, this post just plain makes me FEEL good about being a Christian. When I picture this approach it feels good.
Dave



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Sue

posted May 3, 2010 at 11:43 am


I have not yet read the book, though it’s sitting on my “to read” shelf, but until I get to it I have a question:
Why doesn’t “seeking the good of the city” include political activism? The other side of “teaching a man to fish” is ensuring access to the pond.
I know a number of Christians who have experienced that they have been able to seek the most good for the most people by being actively involved in policy-making, whether that is a local county government official enacting sustainability policy or whether that is a lobbying group in Washington advocating for ethical economic policy.
Policy-making is the “upstream” activity that ensures that fewer (or no) people have to be pulled out of the water “downstream.” The problem is that Christians disagree on what “the good of the city” actually looks like.
Does it benefit the city if women have unrestricted access to abortions? Does it benefit the city if everyone has access to affordable health care? Does it benefit the city if homosexual partners have the rights of marriage? Does it benefit the city if employers can decide at will to relocate their factories to Asia?
How does it benefit the city if Christians remove their voices from the public square? Isn’t what you are left with called “Enron” or “Goldman Sachs”?
With so many other voices out there seeking to line their own pockets at the expense of the city, how is it responsible for Christians to just shut up?



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DRT

posted May 3, 2010 at 1:06 pm


Sue,
Good thoughts. It seems to me that if one were to advocate political activism for Christians then it could take a terrible turn and be much like the radical right as we have it now.
Instead, I believe this policy had the distinct advantage in that it is pithy. In today’s world I guess people would say it is twitterable :)
This is coming up with the strategic direction, the point of departure for the behaviour of Christians recognizing that individuality will always have an effect on the actual behaviour. I feel the same way about this as I generally feel about voting. I think people should not vote unless they are informed. Likewise, they should not be politically active unless they are educated in the process. Just advocating for action is dangerous because it is exactly the people who I do not want to act who will.
That is why I like this approach. It also leaves the door open for action in that if a person does take action it makes a clear path of the end goal of the action. Not domination, but Shalom.
Dave



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Jeremy

posted May 3, 2010 at 1:19 pm


Sue: It’s not so much that Christians should shut up. Actually, quite the contrary: We should be wholly engaged. HOWEVER, utilizing political domination and wielding power just like the world does is not only failing, but it is rapidly alienating those we’re supposed to be reaching. Furthermore, at least in the US, we’ve gotten so ridiculously political, that people will actually doubt your salvation based on whether you’re in one political party or the other.
So no, don’t shut up about abortion. Get out there and support the programs that make it unnecessary and love dearly the women that find themselves in a position to consider it. Examine what countries where it’s legal and the abortion rate is low are doing and figure out what can work where you are.
We need to be less concerned with putting a fence around the river and more concerned with helping people decide not to jump in.



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Nathan C

posted May 3, 2010 at 1:31 pm


Sue #3, “seeking the good of the city” does include political activism. Hunter merely argues that Christians should temporarily avoid politics until we learn to do a better, more constructive job of it. He’s saying, “stay off that leg until it’s healed,” not “never play baseball again.”



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Sue

posted May 3, 2010 at 5:53 pm


Jeremy & Nathan,
Thanks for the clarification. Does Hunter believe that right now all or even most Christians are doing a bad job of being engaged in the public square and need to get out until they “heal,” or does he have specific Christian groups in mind?



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Nathan C

posted May 4, 2010 at 1:18 pm


Sue #7, a bit of both, really. Hunter’s thesis is that current Christian public engagement can broadly be categorized as either Religious Right, Religious Left, or neo-Anabaptist. For their own reasons, each of these three groups follows a common pattern which leads them to do more harm than good, both to others and themselves.
It’s also important to note that Hunter devotes quite a bit of space to arguing that the public is a much larger category than the political, so that temporarily abstaining from politics is not the same thing as having no public involvement.



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