To change the world– a noble challenge to which we Christians have always aspired– now becomes a new call to service issued by James Davison Hunter, in his book by the same name: To Change the World.
Dr. Hunter’s clarion call is preceded in the book by an analysis of historical and contemporary manifestations, among the people who call themselves servants of God, of that God-inspired inclination to make the world a better place. Hunter’s analysis identifies three strategic camps within American Christianity today:
~Christians whose dominant cultural identity is found in defending themselves and their institutions (especially the family) from encroaching secularism; (the “defensive against” camp, as defined by Prof. Hunter)
~Christians whose motivation for divine fulfillment is centered on working toward justice, and toward institutional and individual benevolence to help poor and oppressed people; (the “relevance to” camp as defined by Prof. Hunter)
~Christians whose purpose is to maintain and advocate a pure manifestation of Christ’s work and teachings, with emphasis on peace and non-violence; (the “purity from” camp, as defined by Prof. Hunter)
After a cogent description of each, and consideration of their various impacts upon society as a whole, James David Hunter concludes his book’s message with a new (although its as old as the prophet Jeremiah!) paradigm for Christian involvement in our secularized world. “Faithful presence” is the strategy by which we authenticate God’s love for all people by adopting societal well-being as our own. This requires us to accept worldly responsibilities for the welfare of the communities and nation in which we live. Rather than despising worldly society we take our places, prepared and enabled by God, within it.
Our biblical example and precedent for this collaboration is found in the exhortation that Jeremiah issued to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, two and a half millenia ago. The prophet told them:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile form Jerusalem to Babylon: build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:4-7)
I emphasize that last sentence because I think it summarizes well the essence of Professor Hunter’s point. Even more importantly, though– it is a biblically sound, potent call to service for our generation of Christians and all those who follow us–“faithful presence” in the community and nation in which we each live. Responsible presence, caring presence, contributing presence, and hey–presents! at Christmas and other appropriate times.
The “welfare” of which Jeremiah speaks above is not the governmental dole system which in some cases enables laziness and lethargy to overtake people who are down and out. Nevertheless, our welfare system–woefully deficient as it is– is not beyond the capacity of our great God, through his son Jesus, to redeem and sanctify those unfortunate citizens (Christian and otherwise) who partake of it.
So do not judge those who find themselves stuck in that dolish “welfare” predicament. But rather, work as God’s productive people, saved by the blood of the Lamb, to lift the levels of living water in God’s sea of humanity so that all boats will rise within it.