Book Review – James Davison Hunter’s “To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World”

Hunter presents the case of how Christians can penetrate culture in a late modern (postmodern) world.  The book is divided into three sections based upon three “interconnected” essays.  Section one and Hunter’s first essay is titled, “Christianity and World-Changing.”  Hunter proposes that lasting long term change does not occur the way I would have thought.  From eleven propositions he suggests our culture is “resistant” to change.  On this point, I concur.  However, he goes on to say, “Only indirectly do evangelism, politics, and social reform effect language, symbol, narrative, myth, and the institutions of formation that change the DNA of a civilization” (45).  In order for long term change to occur it must be a type of bottom up approach which is focused on individuals penetrating the common institutions of change and thus having a positive impact on our culture.  I found “The Cultural Matrix” most interesting.  I think this chapter has helped prepare me to become a doctor of the church knowing it is not the groups that bring about lasting change but individuals within the groups.  Instead of looking for a group of like-minded people with a shared vision I can penetrate a group with my own convictions and facilitate change from the inside because I am there.  Section two and in the essay titled, “Rethinking Power” Hunter brings up the quest for power and how it has historically affected culture through economics and politics.  What I gained most from this essay was the reminder that Jesus did not choose power in the wilderness though Satan offered it to him.  There was a greater cause than the pursuit of power for Him and there should be for us.   Hunter states this claim, “It is this power and the spirit that animates it whose sovereignty Christ came to break” (188).  We should likewise seek to disarm the power Satan has upon the world thus bringing about change.  The third section and last essay Hunter shares the hope we can make a difference by working from within.  Such change will come at a cost and the real question for Christians is whether or not we are willing to pay the price for the change the world needs.  As a future doctor of the church Hunter has helped me better understand the dynamics of the problem and what it will take to bring about the change incarnationally.

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