Gospel & Culture blog
George Hunter's To Change the World may more accurately be called "To NOT change the World" since he argues that rather than try to influence the political process, legislate morality, or achieve a moral majority, Christians should practice "faithful presence." If we successfully change the world, Hunter says, it will be precisely because we have not tried to attain a sort of hegemony under Christendom, but instead to point to the Creator. While Hunter is a United Methodist, he is arguing for a more-or-less Anabaptist view of Christianity-in-Culture, where the political system and other cultural spheres are so corrupt, and coercive power so abhorrent, that Christian involvement in secular culture is de-emphasized. The processes and pressures that lead to change, in Hunter's view, are the when cultural elites share overlapping spheres of influence.
The value of Hunter's argument is that it helps us deal with some of our cognitive dissonance: We hear that 90% of Americans believe in God, but we still see pervasive anti-religious sentiment. Or we spend so much time defending and spreading the Judeo-Christian worldview, and yet great ideas don't seem to be enough to change the cultural tide.
But I think what makes the rest of us feel uneasy about this is that -- frankly-- we're not cultural elites. And being highly individualistic and democratic we feel like culture change should alos be a democratic process. Like you and I should have the same opportunity to "change the world" as Angelina Jolie or Albert Einstein-- okay, maybe not Einstein, but at least as much of a shot at it as Jolie.
And our evangelism efforts are often reflect this conviction- isn't changing the world essentially about each of us leading our own neighbors to Christ?
It's not that Hunter's "cultural elite" view is wrong, or that the "democratic view of change" is wrong- both models play an important part. In fact, a number of other theories about culture change also come in to play, depending on the change. Sometimes all the cultural elites in the world can't hold a candle to the force that economics or environmental pressures have in creating cultural change. Sometimes worldview has everything to do with change (as in the era of tolerance). Sometimes it has nothing to do with change (as in whether fat or thin neck ties are in style). Often, a convergence of many forces (cultural elites, environmental pressures, as well as biological needs and plain old diffusion) are necessary for creating change.
Modern (1800-1950) scientists, including anthropologists, believed they could discover overarching “laws” that could explain phenomena, so they tried to formulate monolithic (reductive) laws that explained culture change. In this postmodern age, social scientists have given up the quest of finding reductive "laws" to explain something as complex as changing culture. And, unfortunately for the scientists, culture change is not a rational process- cultures often change for non-rational, or even non advantageous reasons. And despite the best efforts of popular business writers like Heath and Heath, or Connors and Smith, there really are no formulas for changing culture.
© 2015 Kenneth Nehrbass. All Rights Reserved.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor