More than Faithful Presence
James Davison Hunter has done some wonderful work over the years; I fully support what he has done at the University of Virginia. I particularly applaud the way he has trained other scholars and been successful in having them teach in the secular academy.
We have had some differences, differences that are one of the subjects of To Change the World. But I don't think that the differences are that great. In my estimation, the differences between Hunter's and my view of culture and cultural change are, in many important respects, more apparent than real. They are hardly irreconcilable. Changing people's beliefs and influencing elites are not mutually exclusive. One can affirm both the need for charismatic leadership and the importance of social networks.
Where I do take issue with Hunter is with his juxtaposition of what he calls "faithful presence" and efforts at cultural change. Obviously, I'm not against "faithful presence." Christians must bring their faith to bear in all aspects of life—as I have attempted to do and preached that others do. And I know first-hand the difficulties of public witness in an increasingly pluralistic culture.
My question is: What is the alternative? I ask this knowing that what Hunter is describing has been conscientiously advanced over the years by many Christians, most notably the Anabaptist traditions.
Yet the kind of disengagement he is describing seems to me like an abdication of responsibility. When I was first converted, I began reading the works of Francis Schaeffer and was deeply impressed by his arguments about the relationship of Christianity and culture, and the obligation for us to fulfill our cultural commission to defend the truth in the marketplace of ideas. In fact I went to L'Abri to spend time with Schaeffer, and he was clearly a very formative influence in my life.
Then one day in 1980, I was challenged by a good friend to meet with Dr. James Kennedy, which I did. Kennedy asked me to read Abraham Kuyper's "Stone Lectures at Princeton," given in 1898. I read Kuyper, and was deeply affected. I began to read everything I could get my hands on about Kuyper, that great Dutch theologian who became president of his own country and led the formation of a political party in Holland.
My interest in Kuyper led to a trip to Calvin College, accompanied by a then-young Michael Cromartie. The meeting with the likes of Paul Henry, Rich Mouw, Nick Wolterstorff (later a professor at Yale), and the Democratic state legislator Steve Monsma only reinforced my interest.
Since then, I have been advancing the proposition that Christianity is a worldview, that all of us are called to carry out our Christian responsibility, and that we're to do so in every area of life, whether it is the home, the school, the legislature, the arts, or, yes, politics.
It was this early training that led me to expand my prison ministry to include work on criminal justice. While I was and remain committed to working with individual prisoners, I am just as committed to reforming our criminal justice system, helping to heal the injuries created by crime, and ending barbaric practices which have gone on in prisons—practices I had often witnessed firsthand.
My greatest inspiration in this carrying out of Christian responsibility is, of course, William Wilberforce. Three decades ago, I read Garth Lean's biography of Wilberforce, God's Politician. I fell in love with Wilberforce, and he has become the singular hero of my life. I marveled at how he cared passionately about deep Christian discipleship and how that discipleship led to his campaign to end first the slave trade and then slavery itself. If you want to know why I do what I do, read Wilberforce's life.