To Change The World, Week One

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through the book, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful).

It’s the first week of our summer reading project. Yay! Our book this summer is To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter, a Christian who is a sociologist at UVA. This is a thoughtful book about Christianity, politics, and culture. The reading schedule is online at https://xastanford.org/summer-reading

SUMMARY OF THIS WEEK’S READING

In chapters one and two Hunter is setting the stage for his argument. A quick summary: as Christians we want to change the world and we have an intuitive notion that the best (or only) way to change the world is one life at a time. Hunter will go on to argue that this is a huge mistake.

Here are some passages that stood out to me:

CHAPTER ONE: CHRISTIAN FAITH AND THE TASK OF WORLD-CHANGING

“In the Christian view, then, human beings are, by divine intent and their very nature, world-makers. For Christian believers, an obligation accompanies God’s gift of life…. People fulfill their individual and collective destiny in the art, music, literature, commerce, law, and scholarship they cultivate, the relationships they build, and in the institutions they develop—the families, churches, associations, and communities they live in and sustain— as they reflect the good of God and his designs for flourishing.” (pages 3-4)

“I contend that the dominant ways of thinking about culture and cultural change are flawed, for they are based on both specious social science and problematic theology. In brief, the model on which various strategies are based not only does not work, but it cannot work.” (page 5)

CHAPTER TWO: CULTURE – THE COMMON VIEW

“To understand how to change the world, one must begin with an understanding of what is to be changed. In short, everything hinges on how we understand the nature of culture. What is meant by culture, and what it is composed of, are of critical importance, as we shall see.” (page 6)

“It is this implicit view of culture that motivates certain communities of Christians, especially Evangelicals, to focus on evangelism as their primary means of changing the world. Evangelism is not only a means of saving souls but of transforming individuals and, in a roundabout way, the culture…. As the logic goes: if people’s hearts and minds are converted, they will have the right values, they will make the right choices, and the culture will change in turn.” (pages 9-10)

“At the end of the day, the message is clear: … if you have the courage and hold to the right values and if you think Christianly with an adequate Christian worldview, you too can change the world. This account is almost wholly mistaken.” (pages 16-17)

And on that note, this week’s readings come to a close. Eager to see how he critiques this widespread view of culture.

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