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Book Review: To Change the World

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To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Later Modern World


In his offering, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Later Modern World, author James Davison Hunter endeavors to explore religious faith in the modern world. He begins by expressing his opinion that by divine intent and the very nature of their existence, human beings are world-makers. More specifically, he adduces that people fulfill their individual and collective destiny in the art, music, literature, commerce, law, and scholarship they cultivate, the relationships they build, and in the institutions they develop (the families, churches, associations, communities they live in and sustain), as they reflect the good of God and His designs for flourishing.

In further describing the role of human beings as world-makers, the author spells out the Christian obligation to engage in the world, in pursuit of God’s restorative purposes over all of life, individual and corporate, public and private. Despite being charged with the divine responsibility of world- making, the author contends that Christians cannot “change the world” in a way that they desire. He suggests that the dominant ways of thinking about culture and cultural change are flawed, because they are based on specious social science and problematic theology. Hence, the model upon which various strategies are based, do not and cannot work.

In order to change the world, Hunter believes that one must first endeavor to understand what needs to be changed, in light of the “common view.” According to the author, the “common view” supposes that culture is made up of the accumulation of values held by the majority of people and the choices made on the basis of those values. Accordingly, if a culture is good, it is because the good values embraced by individuals lead to good choices. If people’s hearts and minds are converted, they will have the right values, they will make the right choices and culture will change in turn.

In identifying a fatal flaw relevant to common view, Hunter poses a poignant question, “If culture is the accumulation of values and the choices made by individuals on the basis of these values, the how is it the American public culture today is so profoundly secular in its character?” In endeavoring to contextualize the perceived flaw, discussions surrounding issues related to religion, politics, and social issues are embarked upon to demonstrate inconsistencies relevant to the perception of common view in light of present (as well as historical) reality.

Generally, Hunter’s offering has proven to be enlightening, thought provoking, and sometimes motivating. He appears to passionately call for patience and self-imposed silence, while Christians figure out how to engage the world in ways that are public expressions of shalom rather than purely political. He further calls Christians to learn to unite and love each other so that they might be able to love the world. Although his words express an appealing, idyllic sentiment, one is left to consider whether he is suggesting that Christians should stop attempting to change the culture, and rather, focus on forming deep relationships and providing shalom within their individual communities, effectively shifting focus from the big picture to the very small.

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