James Hunter's Vision for Cultural Flourishing
I just finished Hunter's book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. I quite liked it. But I think an equally epic and quite possibly more accurate title could have been, To Change the World: Why It Involves More Parts To Generate A Flourishing Culture Than Christians Usually Assume and Why Christians Should Be Involved In All These Parts and At All Levels Rather Than Only Their Favorite Parts and Levels. Or something like that.
This entry will not attempt anything near a review. I don't have the time. Final papers bears down upon me once again. I do, though, want to mention a few things. One, I strongly recommend the book, because I think it's an important book. What Hunter has accomplished in nearly 300 pages of compact writing and small type is impressive. He has connected biblical, theological, political, sociological and historical lines of inquiry in a way that brings about a coherent picture of cultural life. That can only be done well by someone who has spent the better part of life studying the way societies tick. Artists will do well to read it. Those who care about the arts would too.
Two, I found the following bit at the end of his chapter, "Toward a Theology of Faithful Presence," to be worth pasting on my office bulletin board:
means of influence and the ends of influence must conform to the exercise of power modeled by Christ.
"Thus, when the Word of life is enacted within the whole body of Christ in all of its members through an engagement that is individual, corporate, and institutional, not only does the word become flesh, but an entire lexicon and grammar becomes flesh in a living narrative that unfolds in the body of Christ; a narrative that points to God's redemptive purposes. It is authentic because it is enacted and finally persuasive because it reflects and reveals the shalom of God."
Curiously enough, the language of that last sentence resembles the language Barth uses to describe beauty.
I confess that I don't feel ready to say (at length) what I think the book got right and wrong. I'd like to chew on its contents a little longer. In fact, starting tomorrow, Monday, I'll have a chance to spend a bit of focused time with the author. That will surely help the understanding process. I've been invited along with other Anglican leaders (mostly pastors, I think) to engage the ideas in Hunter's book over the course of three days. We'll gather in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Greg Thompson, pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church, will function as our gracious host. I'm grateful for the invitation and I'll be curious to see what kinds of comments are made about the arts.
Binary phrases like this lead you to believe that the arts at the end of the day involve music, literature and the arts. Which arts? Typically the visual arts. This perpetuates, I'm afraid, a bias for arts which are perceived as privileged--again, music, literature and some visual art--and against arts which usually don't make the list of coveted media. Such as what? Such as theater, film, dance (modern, ballet, contemporary), the graphic arts, the electronic media arts or the performance arts, for starters. I give Hunter the benefit of the doubt on this, and happily so, but for the record here is my plea. Either write "arts" and refer by this to all media or spell them out or tell your reader why you've chosen to highlight only a few. Please don't assume that it's obvious why you've chosen only a few. If you do, you'll be perpetuating unhelpful and, in the case of actual artists, hurtful ways of perceiving--yes you guessed it--the arts.
Hell's Kitchen, where Hunter sliced and diced the "common view." He judged a "failure" the views of folks like Colson, Pearcey, Guiness, Wallis, McLaren, Yoder, Hauerwas and Crouch (et al).
Let me be personal here. I didn't like the way he served up and summarily dismissed my friend Andy Crouch's book Culture Making. (See here for Andy's own take.) While Andy does not develop ideas about power and networks at the same comprehensive length that Hunter did, Andy places these ideas centrally in his own third section, entitled "Calling." I've found myself frequently referring in public to Andy's 3s, 12s and 120s, and intuitively perhaps I have always thought of the 120s as a network of sorts.
From reading Hunter's re-telling of Culture Making you'd never know Andy had constructive things to say about networks and power. Andy covers similar territory as Hunter but--and this really mystifies me--Hunter fails to show points of continuity between his ideas on human flourishing and those of his colleagues in this business of observing, analyzing and prescribing ways to live well in our North American culture. It made me sad, actually. I also found it to be a weakness of the book. In a way, it undermined his presumed goal, which at the very least included a resounding affirmation of the role that the church and all its motley members play in contributing to the well-being of a culture. Had Hunter unpacked his ideas while bringing along his fellow travelers, such as Andy, he would have modeled a communal way of doing scholarly work. Telling and showing together would have produced a powerful witness to the beauty of the ecclesia Christi. As it is, you get the feeling that Hunter has arrived at these conclusions on his own (which I can't imagine he would ever feel the need to claim).
Attention all non-Catholics who "claim" to follow the teaching of Holy Scripture!
Have you ever read 1Corinthians 12:1-31 before?
Have you understood the message written therein?
1. There is but one Body of Christ (vs 12).
2. The Body of Christ is the Church which He founded, Ephesians 1:22-23
3. Therefore the Church which Jesus Christ founded IS Christ.
4. Therefore those who reject His Church, reject Him. Matthew 12:30
5. Since there is but one Christ with one Body, so there must be but one Church. Psalms 127:1, Matthew 16:18
6. The Body (Church) consists of not one member, but many (vs 14).
7. The many members of the one (Church) Body are all part of the same Body but each with his own function (vs's 15-20).
8. The Body of Christ cannot be separated from His Head.
9. Since the Body consists of members, individual members of the Body can be separated from the Head.
10. GOD has said that there must be no discord within the Body (vs 25).
11. However, there was great discord within the one Body, and it was a clear violation of verse 25.
12. It is called the Protestant Revolt .
13. Leaders and members of the Protest ant Revolt Amputated themselves from the one Body(Church) (vs 21).
14. Each member of the Body has his own function, by analogy, an eye, ear, hand, foot (vs's 15-18).
15. Can a hand live by itself, disconnected (Amputated) from the Body, or can an eye, an ear, or a foot?
16. What happens to a member which is Amputated from the Body?
17. The soul does not go with the Amputated member, and thus the member dies.
But again, since your comment seems to bear no direct connection on my post, I'm going to stop here. If you have any thoughts about Hunter's ideas, I welcome them. In the meantime, a shout-out to the Aussies!
The trend seems to be that everything in the church, whether that be art, sermons, discussions, studies, etc. should lean towards popular styles with high forms being relegated to the dustbin of history. This is why we see in Hunter's Culture Matrix that Christians do not influence the culture at the highest levels. We are fixated on keeping things where the common man can relate to them that anything beyond the popular language of culture is at best left aside or worst treated as anathema.
This also does not mean popular culture needs to be sidelined for so called higher forms of culture. To echo you David, why can't we live in community together and learn to live with and benefit from each others differences rather than shun them?I must confess that I find the current quite sad and disheartening but do take encouragement with folks like Mako Fujimura finding receptivity among many in the church. May God's people embrace and encourage all of God's children in the all the diversity of their vocational callings.
John 3 clearly states that a man must become born again to enter the Kingdom of God. It is by grace and not by works, nor by any particular group, hierarchy, system, or church organisation that one becomes a saint - i.e. a born again christian.
It is this freedom, that defines true Christians and separates us from the worlds belief systems.
This freedom can also inform and liberate our creative and artistic aspirations. The challenge for Christians who are artists, is to make good, original and intelligent art.
Secondly I am excited to read this book. I too get annoyed (and even catch myself sometimes) when people talk about the arts and music. Being an Arts Pastor I am usually more annoyed with the term "Worship Pastor" more than anything. I understand the intent but the assumption is great. All pastors are worship pastors as far as I am concerned. Harold Best has some good things to say about that.
Craig: certainly sympathetic to your concerns. By the way, what does VHJ stand for?
Just returned from the 2.5-day event where we discussed Hunter's book at length. Greg Thompson did a fabulous job facilitating our discussion. What a good man. What good men and women all throughout.
Folks, I feel hopeful. There isn't a magical pill to be had, but there is some clear-headed thinking that can help us live well as Christians in "the late modern world," and there are many good men and women helping us move towards these things.
Lastly, I do sincerely recommend the reading of Hunter's book. Take the time to do it right. But more than that, find at least one other person who will read it with you. It'll be a better experience all around.
Thanks for being sympathetic to my concerns I will sleep better! (insert dry northwestern humor)
In practice, of course, it's tricky to maintain a healtyh attitude about it. The temptation to pride, snobbery, exclusivism and such is always a strong one. The tendency for some churches to stratify themselves according to meritocratic rank is common enough to cause concern, as it has all down through history. But I don't believe that the solution is to vilify or to become afraid of "elite" power--whether I possess or another does. The way forward instead is to keep thinking clearly about it, in constant conversation with all the kinds of things that Scripture is socially interested in (including questions surrounding status), and to cultivate the kinds of virtues, such as humility and generosity and compassion, that could preserve a community in health.