To Change the World by sociologist James Davison Hunter has much that is appealing to Two Kingdom advocates in its critique of mainstream transformationalism. Yet it comes with a recommendation by Tim Keller, lauding Hunter for teaching him about “this all-important and complex subject of how culture is changed.” In fact, both sides of the debate can find elements of the book to applaud. This is due to a certain ambiguity in its foundation.
First, Hunter assumes that “The creation mandate inevitably leads Christian believers to a transformative engagement with the culture in which they find themselves.” (p. 94) Is Hunter unaware that this is a fighting issue? He is a sociologist after all. There is just one passing reference to “two kingdom” and the index shows no mention of men commonly associated with the two kingdom view. Notwithstanding those omissions, the thrust of his argument includes elements that are near and dear to the two kingdom perspective:
Let me say further that the best understanding of the creation mandate is not about changing the world at all. It is certainly not about “saving Western Civilization” or “saving America,” “winning the culture war” or anything else like it. … For now, I will only say that the antidote to “seizing power” in a new way is a better understanding of faithful presence. … A theology of faithful presence means a recognition that the vocation of the church is to bear witness to and be an embodiment of the coming Kingdom of God. (p. 95)
So it appears that a transformative engagement is not about changing the world, which, as I say, seems more than a little ambiguous. Does Hunter ultimately have a two kingdom solution to the transformational quest or is this best understood as a strategy within the transformationalist perspective? Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, to get a sense of what Hunter is doing in Essay One, consider his eleven propositions on culture:
- Culture is a system of truth claims and moral obligations
- Culture is a product of history
- Culture is intrinsically dialectical
- Culture is a resource and, as such, a form of power
- Cultural production and symbolic capital are stratified in a fairly rigid structure of “center” and “perhiphery”
- Culture is generated within networks
- Culture is neither autonomous nor fully coherent
- Cultures change from the top down, rarely from the bottom up
- Change is typically initiated by elites who are outside of the centermost positions of prestige
- World-changing is most concentrated when the networks of elites and the institutions they lead overlap
- Cultures change, but rarely if ever without a fight
These propositions serve as principles for rejecting the notion that signficant culture change is effectuated by changing as many individual worldviews as can be accomplished. Presumably we’ll be re-visiting some of these propositions in Hunter’s second and third essays.