To Change The World, Week Twelve

To Change The World by James Davison Hunter
To Change The World

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2017. The reading schedule is online at https://xastanford.org/summer-reading

We’re almost done. One more week of reading and we finish out the book. Wow.

So now we come to chapter 4: Toward A Theology of Faithful Presence
The first few pages amused me, mostly because it sounded like something I would hear from a word-faith preacher. The word-faith movement (also known as the positive confession movement or the word of faith movement) is a charismatic movement that emphasizes the power of our words as expressions of our faith. Hunter has got nothing to do with them and may not even be aware that they exist, which I found tremendously entertaining.
And now Hunter comes to the main thesis of the entire book: the best response to the challenges of our world is faithful presence. As a reminder, Hunter thinks the two chief challenges we face are dissolution (pervasive uncertainty) and difference (pluralism). See my notes on week ten.
This, in short, is the foundation of a theology of faithful presence. It can be summarized in two essential lessons for our time. The first is that incarnation is the only adequate reply to the challenges of dissolution; the erosion of trust between word and world and the problems that attend it. From this follows the second: it is the way the Word became incarnate in Jesus Christ and the purposes to which the incarnation was directed that are the only adequate reply to challenge of difference.  page 241, emphasis in original
In the rest of the chapter, Hunter advances his own theology of faithful presence while critiquing other theologies of work and vocation.
One common view Hunter rejects is that our work is only useful insofar as it directly advances the gospel:

To the extent that work had “kingdom significance,” it was as a platform for evangelism. The mark of true piety for a committed believer whether in skilled or manual labor or in the realms of business, law, education, public policy, and social welfare, was to lead a Bible study and evangelize their associates in their place of work. In this paradigm, work was instrumentalized—it was regarded as simply a means to spiritual ends.  page 249

Instead, Hunter contends that work (indeed, any task) can be done in a way that glorifies God:
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Col. 3:22–24). What we do certainly would include our jobs, but the reality is that our tasks are many, and they range far beyond paid labor. They involve our work as parents, students, volunteers, citizens, and the like. But in the many capacities in which we operate, St. Paul’s instruction is that we pursue our tasks with all of our hearts. This not only suggests that we give our full attention to those tasks but that we pursue excellence in them.  page 246

And he gives a few examples of the way our work can express our devotion to God:

To manage a business in a way that grows out of a biblical view of (p.254) relationships, community, and human dignity before God has divine significance, irrespective of what else might be done from this platform. Policy pursued and law practiced in light of the justice of God is a witness to the right ordering of human affairs. Inquiry, scholarship, and learning with an awareness of the goodness of God’s created order is a discovery of what is truly higher in higher education. And, not least, reflecting the beauty of God’s creation in art or music is nothing less than an act of worship. (page 253-254)
So whatever your major, work at with all your heart!
Next week we finish up the book.

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