Editor's note: In case you missed it, be sure to read our interview with Hunter about his book, To Change the World, as well as responses from Chuck Colson and Andy Crouch. Here, Hunter responds to their critiques.
There are bound to be misunderstandings in any public discussion, and so I am delighted to have an opportunity to push for clarity.
First, let me say that critical remarks in my new book, To Change the World, are not personal in any way. Charles Colson and Andy Crouch are fine men who have done and continue to do good work in the world. I admire their work. Colson's prison ministry is exceptionally important. And Andy Crouch is clearly part of an important movement in the church that is encouraging and equipping the next generation of artists and creators.
That said, the differences between my theory of culture and cultural change and those of both Colson and Crouch are significant. These differences are not perceived and they cannot be explained away.
In To Change the World I do not evaluate 90 percent of Crouch's book, Culture Making. My primary concern (though not the only one) was his understanding of culture and the dynamics of cultural change. On this important matter, I believe that he does not take seriously enough the nature and role of institutions and power. Andy agrees with me on this very point, and so I do hope, as he does, that readers will not dismiss Culture Making as a whole. That would be a terrible mistake.
There is more to be said about my disagreements with Colson than with Crouch. There are two major points of difference. The first is that Colson's view of culture and cultural change is rooted in a tradition of idealism and individualism. Culture, for him, is constituted by worldviews and these reside in the hearts and minds of ordinary people. For him, world-changing will occur when the hearts and minds of individual Christians are inculcated with a thoroughly Christian worldview. Getting Christians to think more "Christianly" is an admirable task, as I say, but if the goal is world changing, it is guaranteed to fail.
The second has to do with the character of engagement required by faithful presence. For Colson to marginalize my argument by equating it with the faith and practice of the Anabaptists is not only to implicitly question the immense good that this tradition has done for the world, it is also to fundamentally misunderstand what I have argued. I am mystified by how he could read this book and come to these conclusions. Let me reiterate this point of difference.
Colson and I agree that, as he says, "disengagement" is an "abdication of responsibility." But what I have sketched is the exact opposite of disengagement. When I argue that the Christian Right and Left are overly politicized and drenched in a culture of resentement, what I am saying is that their framework for public engagement is a distinctly late-modern form of Constantinianism. What Colson is saying implicitly when he equates faithful presence with quietism is that I am separatist and, thus, anti-Constantinian. Indeed the Anabaptists are, in fact, anti-Constantinian—their engagement is defined as the opposition to all forms of Constantinianism while being dependent on it for its self-understanding. It is for this reason that I criticize the neo-Anabaptists just as heavily as I criticize the other two dominant political theologies.
Faithful presence, though, is post-Constantinian. It is so in two ways. First, it disentangles the life of the church from the life of America. Second, it decouples the public from the private. The "political" is just one way to engage the world and, arguably, not the most effective nor most humane way to do so. Faithful presence, then, is neither coercive nor quietistic. It is fully public, seeking to engage every sphere of the world by enacting a vision of shalom. This approach is not "insensitive to the social and cultural context in which Christians are called to live out their faithfulness"; it is quite simply the only way forward.
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To Change the World is available at Christianbook.com and other book retailers.
Two talks that became part of To Change the World are available online: a 2002 discussion at The Trinity Forum (pdf) and a 2009 lecture at the University of Montana (mp3).
Hunter has abstracts of his chapters on his website.
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