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The Other Journal at Mars Hill Graduate School

Hunter’s critique of talk about “transforming culture” and “changing the world” can be withering…

The problem is that such projects for “transforming culture” assume a naive and “idealistic” view of culture and cultural change. Their view is idealistic because it places too much priority on ideas; they mistakenly assume that culture is made up of an accumulation of heady things like ideas and beliefs and values—that culture is akin to a “worldview”…

For Hunter, such a strategy is benighted because it assumes a simplistic notion of culture and cultural change. Culture, he argues, is not the sort of thing that resides in sets of propositions (33); rather, culture is more like an infrastructure than an intellectual framework—more like an environment than a set of ideas. Even more importantly, Hunter emphasizes that culture—and hence cultural change—is most profoundly shaped and determined by centers of power. “In other words,” he bluntly summarizes, “the work of world-making and world-changing are, by and large, the work of elites” (41). This makes grassroots efforts at cultural change among “the people” (like, say, Sarah Palin’s “real Americans”) misguided and doomed to failure—which is just to say that most of the mass efforts of Christian parachurch organizations can expect the same…

As a populist movement, and (rightly) allergic to elitism, evangelicalism has either eschewed cultural production altogether or has instead engaged in merely subcultural production—generating the mimicking kitsch that fills Christian “gift” stores across the country. Such subcultural production (that is, the production of an evangelical subculture) actually betrays that “large swaths [of evangelicalism] have been captured by the spirit of the age” (92). No matter how many Jesus action figures or Hipster Study Bibles™ we might sell, the battle’s already been lost as soon as such phenomena exist…

According to Hunter, if the church really wants to change the world, and not fall into merely assimilated subcultural renditions of it, then Christians need to get over their allergy to power and elitism. “The question for the church,” Hunter emphasizes, “is not about choosing between power and powerlessness but rather, to the extent that it has space to do so, how will the church and its people use the power that they have…

What’s wrong with both the Christian Right and Left, Hunter rightly notes, is that they have unwittingly bought into the will-to-power that characterizes disordered political life in late modern America. As a shorthand, one can say (as Hunter sometimes does) that they have fallen prey to a Constantinian desire to run the world (or at least America). The problem is that, in the name of “reclaiming America for Christ,” their “Christ” has been assimilated to what we might call “Americanism”—or what Hunter will sometimes describe simply as “nihilism”…

“The best understanding of the creation mandate is not about changing the world at all. It is certainly not about ‘saving Western civilization,’ ‘saving America,’ ‘winning the culture war,’ or anything else like it” (95). Rather, “the church is to bear witness to and to be the embodiment of the coming Kingdom of God”—to be a foretaste of the new creation…

I’m primarily interested in Hunter’s constructive proposal for a different paradigm: “faithful presence within.”

via The Other Journal at Mars Hill Graduate School.

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