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.
The inspiration of Wilberforce is why we have worked to focus federal attention on the epidemic of prison rape. It's why we became deeply involved in the issue of slavery in Sudan. It's why we've gotten deeply involved in religious liberty questions and religious persecution around the world, whether it was in the Sudan, where Christians were being sold into slavery, or North Korea, where Christians are brutally beaten and die in wretched prison camps. It's why we worked with the Bush administration, especially Mike Gerson, to help AIDS victims in Africa.
Of course, these efforts have only scratched the surface: there is still slavery in the world; there are still terrible abuses; plagues are still spreading; human rights are being trampled upon. But we press on. That brings me to my biggest concern about Hunter's argument: The "faithful presence" he advocates most likely will result in Christians remaining silent in the face of injustice and suffering. Instead of seeking the welfare of the city in which God has placed us, we are indifferent to its decay and that decay's impact on the life of our neighbors.
This isn't a logical necessity: Faithful presence doesn't per se require silence and indifference. But I'm hard-pressed to come up with an historical example of quietism and commitment to fighting injustice going together. And it is insensitive to the social and cultural context in which Christians are called to live out their faithfulness.
In his Christianity Today interview, Hunter said, "When Christians turn to law, public policy, and politics as the last resort, they have essentially given up on a desire to persuade their opponents. They want the patronage of the state and its coercive power to rule the day." I doubt he would have said that to Dr. Martin Luther King or to William Wilberforce when they waged long and heroic battles against injustice.
Concern for justice and the common good is what motivated Dr. Timothy George, Dr. Robert George, and I to write the Manhattan Declaration, now signed by 300 major religious leaders and 450,000 Americans. I think this is one of the most important things I've done in my life, because it has brought people together from the three historic confessions: Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. And we have taken a united stand in defense of the three great moral issues of the day—life, marriage (and the moral order), and religious liberty.
So while I continue to have great respect for James Davison Hunter, I hope he will respect as well that there are differences in the way our theological training has formed us. I am, for better or worse, what C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Richard John Neuhaus, R. C. Sproul, Timothy George, the Calvin faculty, and maybe in some ways most decisively Abraham Kuyper, have made me.
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See also Andy Crouch's response to Hunter's critique of him in To Change the World.
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