November 24, 2020

Continuing Discussion: “To Change the World”

By Chaplain Mike

Today we consider our discussion of James Davison Hunter’s profoundly stimulating book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.

Hunter’s book challenges common Christian notions of “changing the world” and “transforming the culture.” We are dealing with a particular subject that is being talked about in evangelicalism these days, most prominently in the United States—are Christians called to “transform culture”? For a generation now, evangelical Christian leaders have been calling us to do this, and Hunter is responding to that appeal.

After suggesting that common Christian approaches, such as the “worldview” movement, have a simplistic understanding of culture and what is required to actually change it, in chapter four of his book James Davison Hunter sets forth eleven propositions that describe an alternative view of culture.

The prevailing view of culture is a weak view and the strategies for change that emerge from it are ineffective, largely because they fail to take into account the nature of culture in its complexity and the factors that give it strength and resilience over time.

…And so I will simply lay out the heart of an alternative approach in eleven propositions—seven about culture itself and four about cultural change. (p. 32)

This is one of the most important chapters in this book, for it summarizes Hunter’s overall perspective of culture and culture change. This is the foundation for all he will say in subsequent chapters. Once again, I encourage readers to patiently digest the material and try not to run ahead to “answers” yet. After all, we are talking about “changing the world.” One would think a good amount of thought and preparation ought to go in to such a task.

I have paraphrased Hunter’s propositions below for our discussion.

ONE: Culture is a complex of norms that defines “reality” for us.
It is deeper than a worldview, a system of thought or propositions. Our “culture” is so deeply embedded in our consciousness, habits, and social practices that we take most of it for granted. We may be able to articulate some of it, but “Most of what really counts, in terms of what shapes us and directs us, we are not aware of; it operates far below what most of us are capable of consciously grasping.” (p. 33)

TWO: Culture is a slow product of history, not something we invent by will.
As culture evolves it carries the past with it into the present, incorporating its elements into a “way of being.” Though culture is open and given to adaptation and alteration, change happens slowly because it is not just a matter of changing the present, but the accumulation of past modifications as well.

THREE: Culture is not just about ideas and individuals, but also infrastructure and institutions.
Ideas are important, but ideas are grounded in the real world, in organized human activity that produces, distributes, manipulates, and administrates the symbols that represent the cultural norms informed by those ideas. Individuals are not powerless, but they have much less power than the institutions which form them and the context of their lives.

FOUR: Cultures produce symbols and some within a culture have more symbolic capital than others.
This point is about who has power and influence within a culture. Individuals, organizations, and objects or practices are valued and given power based on the amount of symbolic capital they have earned. The New York Times has more influence than my local town newspaper. Harvard and Yale have more clout than Podunk U. Culture rewards those who gain symbolic capital by conferring credibility and authority upon them. They are listened to, taken seriously, and given privileges others do not have within the culture.

FIVE: The status of cultural credentials is organized into a system made up of those in the “center” and those on the “periphery.”
It is not necessarily how much symbolic capital one has, but whether one has status in the relationships, networks, and institutions that are most critically involved in the production of the culture. I may get as fine an education at Franklin College in Indiana as I would at Harvard, but which credential do you think will win me more opportunities? One school is recognized as being at the center of cultural production, while the other is not.

SIX: Culture is changed, not by individuals, but by networks of individuals and the new institutions created out of those networks.
Individuals may indeed play a key role by inspiring, organizing, making connections, or providing resources in the process of culture change, but it is far from a lone task. The “denser” the network of people acting and interacting to bring about change, the more influence is possible and likely.

SEVEN: Culture is not a simple “thing” that stands alone, that “functions” as a decipherable entity.
Think of how interrelated American “culture” is with our economic system. Or our government. Now think about all the different facets of those two spheres. And think of how many fields of endeavor exist in our nation, how many different geographical regions with unique historical backgrounds and regional concerns, religious traditions, community organizations, ethnic groups, social classes. There are strata and substrata that run deep, and all these have their own logic, dynamics, and values. Each has its own view of what is symbolic capital and who is in the center and who is on the periphery of power and influence.

If this is what culture is like, we may ask, “How can I change the world?” Based on these seven points, Hunter gives four propositions regarding cultural change.

Culture, it is fair to say at this point, is a knotty, difficult, complex, perhaps impossible puzzle. And what I have offered above is just a sketch; so much more could be said. Still, if I am right in my general description thus far, then the idea that changing a culture mainly by changing the hearts and minds of ordinary people is looking less and less plausible. Yet cultures do change. Yes, they are enduring but they are never permanent. What, then, can be said for how cultures change? (p. 40)

ONE: Cultures change from the top down, rarely if ever from the bottom up.
Hunter recognizes that popular revolts and social movements that mobilize ordinary people can have tremendous influence, they usually do not exist without leadership from disaffected elites who can consolidate gains and turn them into new institutions and identity. “Even where the impetus for change draws from popular agitation, it does not gain traction until it is embraced and propagated by elites.” (p. 41) Keep in mind that the popular uprising itself occurs because ideas have filtered down through elite networks and institutional structures and communicated persuasively at the popular level. Grassroots mobilization is a manifestation of deeper cultural transformation.

TWO: Change is typically initiated by elites who are outside of the “center.”
Elites who are not in the centermost positions of power and influence often precipitate change by challenging the dominant ideas and systems and provoking innovation. “The goal of any such innovation is to infiltrate the center and, in time, redefine the leading ideas and practices of the center.” (p. 43)

THREE: Culture is changed when networks of elites and various cultural institutions act in concert.
“In short, when networks of elites in overlapping fields of culture and overlapping spheres of social life come together with their varied resources and act in common purpose, cultures do change and change profoundly. …when cultural and symbolic capital overlap with social capital and economic capital and, in time, political capital, and these various resources are directed toward shared ends, the world, indeed, changes.” (p. 43)

FOUR: Culture change always involves a fight.
Hunter notes that culture, by nature, is a realm in which institutions and those who are part of them promote a particular understanding of the world, and they do so contra alternative perspectives. “It is typically through different manifestations of conflict and contest that change in culture is formed.” (p. 44) However, change usually occurs within a range that is not too radical that it appears implausible within the current culture nor too closely aligned with the status quo that it gets easily co-opted by the dominant institutions.

Imagine, in this regard, a genuine “third great awakening” occurring in America, where half of the population is converted to a deep Christian faith. Unless this awakening extended to envelop the cultural gatekeepers, it would have little effect on the symbols that are produced and prevail in public and private culture. And, without a fundamental restructuring of the institutions of culture formation and transmission in our society—the market, government-sponsored cultural institutions, education at all levels, advertising, entertainment, publishing, and the news media, not to mention church—revival would have a negligible long-term effect on the reconstitution of the culture. Imagine further several social reform movements surrounding, say educational reform and family policy, becoming very well organized and funded, and on top of this, serious Christians being voted into every major office and appointed to a majority of judgeships. Legislation may be passed and judicial rulings may be properly handed down, but legal and political victories will be short-lived or pyrrhic without the broad-based legitimacy that makes the alternatives seem unthinkable.

…Culture is endlessly complex and difficult, and it is highly resistant to our passion to change it, however well intentioned and heroic our efforts may be. But with that said, one thing is clear: Christians will not engage the culture effectively, much less hope to change it, without attention to the factors mentioned here. (p. 46f)

In our next post, we will examine some of the evidence of how cultures change that Hunter finds in history and hear what he has to say about what place Christianity holds in today’s American culture.


  1. Sometimes a job seems so overwhelming in it’s scope.

    If we concentrate on trying to change just the world that surrounds us (our families, friends, co-workers), that might just be enough.

    • I agree with you, Steve. Why then do so many Christians get caught up in the rah-rah of “let’s change the world,” with its focus on big issues, many of which have little to do with their own neighbors and communities?

      • You got me, Chaplain Mike.

        I think it somehow reflects a theology of glory.

        That’s about the best I can do.

      • I think it’s a wish for THIS generation and/or nation and/or culture to be the one to bring God’s Kingdom to the world, once and for all. Perhaps that’s part of the “theology of glory” Steve mentioned. It’s well-intentioned, but it’s often small- or narrow-minded for a very broad subject and scope.

        • Addendum: They wish to change the sweeping institutions all at once without realizing that the people – each and every individual – are what ultimately effect change. (Before someone jumps in with “No, it’s God that makes the change,” I’m speaking from a general perspective rather than a religious one. This can apply to non-religious organizations out to change culture as well.)

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            The desire to Change The World/Save The Planet/whatever keeps reminding me of the French and Russian Revolutions and their descendants, from Paris to Phnom Penh and Tehran. What is this “Build a Christian Nation” culture war except the Christianese version of Citizen Robespierre’s “Republique of Perfect Virtue” or Lenin/Mao/Pol Pot’s “Achieving True Communism”? Jump-start the Millenium and New Heavens and New Earth!

            And there’s a problem with such grandiose schemes — World Peace, Saving The Planet, whatever. It’s called the Troop Size Limit; the average human brain can only visualize around 100-120 people as individuals; above that they become a single collective noun. Start out with Planetary-level or Cosmic-level schemes (like a lot of the activist training attitude in schools, War on Obesiity, War on Drugs, etc) and you’ll never see others as individuals, only the collective for use in The Cause. And when The Cause becomes so righteous as to justify any means to bring it about…

            The Republique of Perfect Virtue always beckons from the other side of the “Regrettable but Necessary” Reign of Terror. (For the collective’s Own Good, of course.)

            And Culture War Christians have bought into this just like Activists everywhere else.

          • WenatcheeTheHatchet says

            What I have seen in my neck of the woods is a desire to make sweeping changes and transform culture and “get upstream”. But hand in hand with this ambition to change and influence culture is a desire to avoid admitting that this involves building institutions that will have an inter-generational effect because that turns into “dead institutions”. Particular folks who have a more emergent/emerging background this anxiety is easy to spot. They want to change culture and influence culture without themselvs becoming institutions but that can’t happen.

            After fifteen years of observing various emerger strands of church they have, unsurprisingly, despite their best intentions, stratified into the traditional left or right of theology in America. This is precisely because the emergers lacked the historical perspective to understand that without infrastructure and institutions mere ideas won’t change anything. Ironically this means that the emerger crowd spends a lot of energy having the theological and ecclesiological debates that mainlines and other traditional churches worked out centuries or even millenia ago because emergent/emerging churches in some sense doomed themselves to reinvent the wheel.

            I saw this so much in the last fifteen years–a church that was determined to not become a dead institution like other churches fifteen years ago looks as much like an institutional denominational church now as any of the churches its leaders swore they didn’t want to be like.

            As to disaffected elites, yep. If there’s anything the press had to learn from the final revelation of who Deep Throat was it was that the press did not take down the Nixon administration, disgruntled careerists who resented Nixon helped the press take down the Nixon administration.

  2. “TWO: Culture is a slow product of history, not something we invent by will.”

    I call this the “EPCOT Syndrome”. Just because you build a few fake façades that look like buildings in Paris, add restaurants with French-sounding menu items and staff it with real live French people, it will never BE Paris.

    Culture warriors always define what they see as the problems and solutions in similar shallow, simplistic terms without seeing the complexity or enormity of it all.

    • Great illustration, Ed. The Christian subculture may be just like that. Skye Jethani’s book, The Divine Commodity, makes this point.

      • Culture is a slow product of history, but many, many Christians I know are not students of history and condemn any notion of culture being a product of the history they don’t understand and don’t care about. It smacks too much of “Darwinism”. Many Christians I know truly believe that white Protestant American culture of the around the 1950’s (where dad worked and mom stayed home…you know Ozzie and Harriet America) is the right, proper, good and God-ordained way to live. They don’t believe that came out of a culture that evolved over time and have no perspective that other cultures evolved differently.

        • As a hospice chaplain I visit many of those “Ozzie and Harriets” and hear their stories. Believe me, life was not like the myth.

          • Chaplain Mike,

            Not having lived thru the 50’s I hesistate to comment too much. And I am a student enough of history to know that there were many undercurrents that were less than ideal during that time. But I’v also spoken with enough people and read enoug in other places, and looked at certain statistics to know that things were not all bad, in fact they were pretty good in some ways.

            I just don’t get the desire (and not by you mind you) but by others, or rahter the speed at which some folks like to denegrate what was, for many folks, a very good time. You can almost feel the sneer as ‘Ozzie and Harriet” are mocked, or the disdain for those poor poor simpletons who are just naive enough to think that Dad working and Mom staying home was some sort of good thing.

            Again, I’m not saying that is your take Chaplain but I hear it from many.

          • Oh, I know what you are saying! But far too many Christians I meet today do not believe that the Good Old Days were not all that great (they led us to the 60’s, didn’t they?). If there is no sense of history and no sense of culture changing over time and evolving, that is the vision many, many modern church people want to return to, even if it wasn’t real, because they believe that it is not a man-made cultural vision, but one that God ordained. And it can never be, because we can’t return to something that never was…

          • David Cornwell says

            “Believe me, life was not like the myth.”

            I was in junior high school, high school, and college in the the 50’s. I have a lot of good memories, many about the home we lived in during those years, and the church we attended, and our pastor. But, believe me, life was not Ozzie and Harriet or Father Knows Best. We were not dressed up all the time. My mom didn’t do her house work in high heels. My father just wore a tie or Sunday or to funerals. Our life was hard in some ways, and many years later I found out it was hard in ways I didn’t know about then. Facades were the name of the game in many ways. People maintained a front.

            The Korean War, the cold war, and the atomic arms race were what we lived with. John Foster Dulles threatened the USSR with massive atomic attack if they attacked Berlin, or any other place. General MacArthur was fired for thinking he was a god. General LeMay wanted to ride the bomb in to its target.

            Mainline churches hit the pinnacle of membership and influence, but became complacent.

            Memories of the good times become colored over time to take on a glow that we didn’t feel at the time. I’m glad they do, because it means there were hidden blessings waited to be revealed.

            I’m not attacking the 50’s because they were formative for me. But they certainly were not the Kingdom of God.

          • David Cornwell says

            And to my other comments about the 50’s I would add extreme poverty in many places, segregation, racism, and the KKK. Believe me, these things were evil and were partly responsible for what followed.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I’ve ranted about this a LOT, both on the Web and off. I’m an aficionado of the Nifty Fifties, just old enough to remember their tail end in the First 1960s, and when I look at all the Christian types staring at that era in adoration (with wide eyes and trembling lips) as some sort of Godly Golden Age, I have to phone up my writing partner with the question “Did we go crazy, or did everybody else?”

            The Godly Golden Age of The Fifties is NOT the Real 1950s. It is a MYTHOLOGICAL 1950s According to Ozzie, Harriet, and Donna Reed. And bears as much resemblance to the Real 1950s as JFK the Myth does to John Kennedy the man.

            The Real 1950s were a time of unequalled prosperity and can-do confidence in the USA, a time of decompression from twenty years of Great Depression and World War, fueled by America coming out of WW2 not only undamaged but stronger. Strong and prosperous enough to rebuild the rest of the world. Not only decompression from a grim recent past, but a reward for persevering through it.

            And after twenty years of Hell, it was like reaching the Promised Land. It’s Miller Time — collectively kick back and decompress. The conformity of the Fifties (which locked the fault line for the earthquake of The Sixties) was part of this — when things are finally going great, Don’t Rock the Boat.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            But I’v also spoken with enough people and read enoug in other places, and looked at certain statistics to know that things were not all bad, in fact they were pretty good in some ways. — Austin

            Read Dickens’ introduction to The Tale of Two Cities sometime. “It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times…” continuing through a long paragraph or paragraphs to end “In short, it was a time much like any other.”

          • “Facades were the name of the game in many ways. People maintained a front.
            . . .
            Mainline churches hit the pinnacle of membership and influence, but became complacent.”

            I had an instructor in Bible College, Rick Howard, who stated that the leaders of the hippie/peace movement of the 60’s came from Evangelical/Fundamentalist homes, and were, in fact rebelling against the hypocricy (fronts) and complacency of their churched parents. His theory was solid enough that he was told all he had to do was right it up, and he would be given a Doctorate. He never did (wasn’t willing to devote the necessary time to it, and already have the reputation), but that was the caliber of his work.

            So in reality it wasn’t just the mainline churches, and we in the church bear a significant portion of the responsibility for the rebellion of the 60’s.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            If there is no sense of history and no sense of culture changing over time and evolving, that is the vision many, many modern church people want to return to, even if it wasn’t real, because they believe that it is not a man-made cultural vision, but one that God ordained.

            That is exactly the same rationale as the Taliban had when they won their Culture War. Except their God-Ordained Cultural Vision wasn’t a Perpetual Ozzie & Harriet, but a Perpetual Year One of the Hegira. “As it was in the Days of the Prophet…”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Culture warriors always define what they see as the problems and solutions in similar shallow, simplistic terms without seeing the complexity or enormity of it all.

      Like the rank-and-file of 19th Century Anarchists and Baby Boomer Activists during The Sixties (TM) — just a little matter of tearing down anything and everything that offends and Presto: Utopia!

  3. Interesting propositions, but I don’t think we’ve yet addressed the basic question in your 2nd paragraph: ARE Christians called to change culture, while following the One who said “My Kingdom is not of this world”?
    Or is cultural change a happenstance (nice if it happens), a byproduct of our primary commission to make disciples?

    • Hang in, Steve. We’re getting there. We’re still in the foundational part of the book.

      • Steve: That was exactly the question I was going to ask, so thanks CM, I’ll hang in there and wait also.

    • Not sure we are called to changed the culture of the world, but I think there is a bliblical argument to be made that we are responsible for the culture within our churches. My sense from reading imonk for the last few years is that many here would love to change evangelical church culture in America as it exists today – if only they knew how to do it.

  4. Josh in FW says

    The author states that culture changes slowly, but from my perspective as the child of baby boomers it seems that American culture changed very quickly from my grandparents to my parents. For me and many of my peers it is quite confusing living at a time of so few accepted norms and so much rejection of wisdom once considered common sense. Does this author shed any insight into why the 60s and 70s were so wheels off?

    • Don’t recall where it came from, but I’ve seen a breakdown of culture into three major categories: pop culture, high culture, and folk culture.

      Folk culture is the aspects of culture passed from family and friend and community. For churches, this would be your typical small town First protestant church. High culture involves that which has been institutionalized by a society, like art and law and education (I think this might be primarily what the author is addressing above). For churches, this would be Catholic or Orthodox structures. Pop culture is the aspects culture that are now, temporary, and faddish. For churches this would be your emerging punk rock church, or even the evangelical mega church although their pop culture reference is typically twenty years dated.

      For the past half century or so, American culture has become dominated by pop culture – or at least it’s influence has grown disproportionately. This has come about in large due to the abundance of popular media like radio, movies, television, and now the internet. I think this is why you see such a shift in how quickly culture changes starting in the 50’s or 60’s.

      • I have not read anything in Hunter yet that talks about the role of technology, but I would suggest the potential for speedier change increases with advances in tech.

        • The recent revolutions in the Muslim world are the prime example of that. Would they ever have come to pass without Twitter and Youtube?

        • Josh in FW says

          Thanks guys (and gal). These are good thoughts. I’m just amazed at how quicky the cultural shame of divorce and having kids outside of marriage has dissipated. It also seems that the sense of personal responsibility has been replaced by a sense of personal entitlement. I feel like I’m 34 going on 70.

  5. I believe I have very little impact on cultural change and as a result spend very little energy in this area. Seedplanter – that’s a different story. But I am an observer. The sixties were a product of a large youth population. The swing from the racy twenties to the conservative thirties had a lot to do with the economy (looking for your next meal tends to change the priorities). Effects from the free sex seventees caused us to swing to a more conservative eighties. Materialism and gneral wealth has caused many today to lose sight of core values. And I can’t change that on a grand scale. What can? Not a church movement, or a conservative or liberal movement – i believe folks in this country, as long as they have some level of prosperity will be too inwardly focused to care.

    So what will cause people to listen? Prolonged economic downturn, war, a sustained world crisis, a natural event or disaster that is sustained over months, that might do it. Self-absorbancy is hard to break. Youth today seem to be disengaged and self-centered – ok, no different from any other era. But it sems to me many parents have not grown, changed and taken the reins to become the parents their parents were – like kids who just don’t want to grow up. And that has a lot of affect on culture.

    OK… I’ll try not to rant….

    • “But it seems to me many parents have not grown, changed and taken the reins to become the parents their parents were” I am in total agreement with that! When I was growing up in the late 60’s, early 70’s, my parents were known to imbibe now and then, but warned us young-un’s that this was unacceptable at our age. Now, it’s pretty common for the parents to sit and throw back a couple with their teen-agers and friends. They go to rock concerts with their kids (my parents? Not in a million years!), dress like their kids, and when a teen is caught driving drunk or speeding, or pregnant at 15, the phrase I hear all too often is, “Well, we did the same thing. That’s just what kids do.” Where is the perspective and wisdom of aging and the warning to kids that these behaviors are detrimental? It’s no longer around much.

  6. I’m not saying the 50’s were God ordained or that the era was not without vices or injustices. I’ll leave the judgment of the 50’s mostly to those who lived thru them. I’ll wax nostalgic about the 80’s. A golden time indeed:)

    But I would add a couple of things.

    First, I just see a lot of constant navel gazing and questioning of all institutions and traditions from Baby Boomers. The group as a whole is so self-obsessed. I really can’t say that in a way that doesn’t sound offensive. And I’m not a fascist against all questioning- most of the time:) But I’ve got to say, a large part of the younger generation just doens’t get the boomers any more than y’all “got” your parents.

    Second, I was taught that culture is the shared folk hero’s, language, religion, art, and such of a people. I hate to sound too much like Pat Buchannan here (actually I don’t mind sounding like him at all) but I’m not sure we even have an “American Culture” in it’s truest sense of the word anymore. Some would say that is a good thing. Some would not.

    Third, there is a hesistition by folks to identify anything positive about anytime before the 1960’s due to the obvious issues of racial injustice found in that time. That is not a realistic, sensible, or healthy way to view history. All periods have their problems.

    I haven’t read the book so I could be entirely wrong, but would it be radical to say that those who sought to change the “culture” for racial justice should not have been so worried about changing the world to a Christian worldview and they should of instead focused on things “not of this world?” From the things I read and have read much of the Civil Rights language was all about this world, this time, and the current culture.

    • I don’t think Hunter would say that at all. But what you saw as “change” with regard to civil rights in the sixties was one small part of a long, long historical process. I think he would point that out and urge us not to simplify what it took for change to take place.

    • there are all sorts of typo’s in this post


    • Austin,
      I appreciate your comments here and further above with respect to attitudes towards the 50s. A balanced view is appropriate certainly, but I think we’re remiss if we cast that period aside with a “sneer”, as you put it.

    • cermak_rd says

      “Third, there is a hesistition by folks to identify anything positive about anytime before the 1960’s due to the obvious issues of racial injustice found in that time. That is not a realistic, sensible, or healthy way to view history. All periods have their problems.”

      To sum up the problems faced by people suffering from de juris as well as de facto injustice as “All periods have their problems” is to trivialize a great deal of wrong. And to pretend that those who were not of the class who were wearing the white robes and hoods were not benefitting from the subjugation is also wrong. Some flaws are so bad they practically negate what came before.

      I would argue the same is true of the founding of the US. I’ve read the Federalist papers and I know of the compromise with decency that was made so that the South could have its peculiar institution and the North could have its shipping companies uninterrupted. To my mind, therefore, the US I know and love didn’t exist until the 14th amendment was ratified.

      I would also argue that in order for the lone wage earner model to work as well as it did, it required an awful lot of de facto discrimination. Discrimination against single men and women when jobs were available because the married guy has a family to support. The same phenomenom happened with wages where a family guy and a single guy and a woman might all be doing the same job, and to the same level of excellency, but the family guy would be getting more pay, again, because he had a family to support.

      • Interesting.

        Sort of reminds me of when Michelle Obama said this was the first time she had ever been proud of her country.

        And, while not equating the Civil Rights Movt. with other more current “unnamed” movements becasue the two are completely seperate, there are many who would take your radical approach to history and say that they will not be proud of our country until ________ (insert whatever social itch they want to scratch) is rectified.

        I’m not a flag waver. I don’t wear a flag lapel pin. I don’t even like flags in churches, but I’m proud of my country despite all it’s flaws.

        • cermak_rd says

          You’ll notice I said I did not recognize or love the US until the 14th amendment. That amendment made it so that all (including women and African-Americans) were equal under the law. It also extended the rights guaranteed by the US Constitution to the states (which is why IL can’t declare the Church of the FSM to be the official religion of the state of IL) and why Alabama could and did censor mail coming into the state pre-civil war days(pesky abolitionist literature among other things).

          A US that doesn’t have these features is really not much of a free society.

          • Wow.

            I’ll let your words speak for themselves and let others (hopefully with a better grasp of US History) decide for themselves if they would classify the pre-14th Ammendment (an ammendment by the way passed with dubious measures and almost literally at gunpoint in some instances) as a free society.

          • Well, as a woman, Austin, I have to stand with cermak here. Was America a step up from the the majority of nations before the 14th ammendment? Yes, but it wasn’t the America we talk about today or even the America it claimed to be at the time. Our history has been whitewashed for public school consumption, but that doesn’t mean we have to go along with that kind of pretending here.

  7. The seven points about what culture is, I accept (as a cultural anthropolist). The four on culture change are more debatable–true perhaps for rapid change, but not for the constant, inevitable culture change that is always happening.

    One point that comes out in the comments is that there is no pure culture. There is no time or place we can refer to for pure Americaness. Not in the 1950s, not in 1776.

    Jesus’ call into the Kingdom of God could be viewed as a call for Christians to be enculturated into the Christ culture. In this sense, churches are not called to change the culture, but simply to be another culture (I could say counterculture, but the idea is not to be against the culture, but just to be of another way.)

    Christ rejects identifying with the elites and rejects use of power, and those facts bring into question a Christian call to change the world.

  8. Seems to me Christianity thrives where it’s not embraced by the culture.

    Maybe we are called to be in the culture, but not of it.

  9. David Cornwell says

    With great hesitation I’ll submit one unamed movement that has produced great cultural change in this country. It has been around since at least the 1970’s and involves many of the propositions that are discussed by Chaplain Mike. This change has come about slowly, but has been profound in some ways. It has interconneted infrastructure and ideas and has its own symbols and has influenced institutions, laws, government, and the church. Many of its leaders are a type of elite involved in entertainment, the arts, and writing. It has been patient and determined and persistent. It has been attacked by many conservative Chrstians, but the attacks and resulting laws, will in my opinion, have little lasting influence. It has gradually won the acceptance of younger people and eventually just demographics will see it winning again and again.

    Right or wrong, or somewhere in the middle, it is around to stay (my prediction). Please be civil in any responses. Also consider our poor attempts, as evangelicals, to change very much of anything. We can all learn from this if we want to change our culture.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      You could only mean the Gay Rights Movement.

      • cermak_rd says

        If he had said since the 50s he could be referencing the women’s movement. Interesting.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          And if he said “since the 30s,” or picked some other decade, he could be referencing yet another movement. The specific decade and movement might change, but there’s a generic pattern there.

  10. Yuri Wijting says

    Hi all, I’d like to add that Christians almost achieved the cultural change that Hunter discusses. If anyone remembers the days of Fawell and the Reagan administration, it was the height of Christian involvement at the elite levels. Well, it didn’t last. Fawell’s camp excluded anyone who didn’t share their vision of Christianity, namel liberals who were more about social justice than matters of faith. Secondly, Fawell’s camp wanted to enshrine into law the tenets of the bible on which there was no consensus; such as school prayer, abortion, homosexuality, religion, and etc. The result was that Reagan felt the pressure from opposing cultures and decided to distance himself from Fawell. That spelt the end of evangelicals having a foot in the white house.

    So perhaps we should go over that era to figure out what we did wrong, and how might it have been a success.


    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I remember the Reagan Era. (Only time in my life when I was free of money worries, and a high point in pop music.) When Reagan was first elected in 1980, all the Moral Majority pulpits crowed about Now We Have A Christian(TM) Family Values President And Now We’ll Have A Christian (TM) America Again!

      (And I remember a LOT of books — one entitled “Holy Terror?” that looked upon this Reagan-Falwell-Moral Majority thing with apprehension.)

      This lasted until Reagan declared in public shortly after his inaguration that he was President of the ENTIRE United States, not any single group or faction within the Nation. And would not be beholden to any single group agenda.

      Within a week I started seeing the grafitti and posters:
      “RONALD WILSON REAGAN = 666!!!!!!!”
      And I know a lot of pulpits were following suit.

      • David Cornwell says

        And when he started dealing with Mikhail Gorbachev that put the icing on the cake. After all he had the mark of the beast right on his head.

        • What a blast from the past! I had completely forgotten about the Gorbachev mark of the beast.

          • WenatcheeTheHatchet says

            My childhood was in the 1980s, which I remember loosely as beginning with seeing The Empire Strikes Back and hearing about the St. Helens eruption in first grade and I was 15 when the Berlin Wall came down. I remember a number of vocal conservaties warning that the communist threat was not over and Reagan had unwisely let down his guard and that the Soviets were planning a full-scale assault on the United States and western Europe. Christians in the Hal Lindsey vein were predicting that the European Union was going to be the ascendent super-power and usher in the one-world government. It didn’t take me long to figure out from a modicum of research that the EU would be lucky to enforce any of its own laws, to say nothing of global tyranny. It made more sense to imagine the United States would usher in a world government in 1990 than Europe but most American Christians would not seriously consider this dispensationalist option until a Democrat got elected. 🙂

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I got my head thoroughly messed up by The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay/Christians For Nuclear War back in the Seventies.

            The European Common Market (predecessor to the EU bureaucracy) had just reached 10 members. Remember the “Ten Horns of Daniel” Prophecy? And how this fulfilled it?

            How many members does the EU currently have?

            Funny thing about the present. It always keeps moving into the past, taking everything with it.

      • I remember in my Jr High (private Christian school) in the early 1970s they had us convert the name “Kissinger” into numbers (A=1, B=2, etc.), add them together and multiply the result by 6 = 666. Ah-HAAH!!!

        You gotta wonder who first sat around and figured that one out.

      • HUG,

        The height of Pop Music was 1973 – not the eighties….

        • Ahhhhh men.

        • WenatcheeTheHatchet says

          My brother has cynically observed that the height of pop music is when men are at the age of 21. Pop music is “dead” thereafter not because of a lack of interesting music but because people have to get real jobs and decide pop music died with the birth of their responsibility. 🙂 There’s some neuroscience that appears to actually back this one up. 🙂

  11. Does Hunter’s book take on cultures besides that in the United States?

    • The question about “culture change” is primarily an American one, because it is the American religious right and other groups that have politicized the faith and promoted the “culture war” that have raised this question. We also have to deal with the fact that American civil religion has so many attachments to Christianity, and thus “changing the world” for many people means restoring America to her “Christian roots.” Hunter will give historical examples of culture change in other times and places to reinforce his propositions, but the question he is addressing is an American one.

  12. Randy Thompson says

    “My Kingdom is not of this world.”

    To put a sharper point on that: Where does a crucified Messiah fit in any culture? And, how do his disciples fit, when their crucified Messiah tells them to take up their crosses and follow him?

    I think the answer to this question is a radically paradoxical one.

    On one hand, an executed Messiah has nothing to do with with the culture that executed him. I find the words of Hebrews here haunting: “Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13-14). The crucified Messiah rejects the use of power, and doing so rejects politics, which is the quest to gain and keep influence and power to achieve honorable and dishonorable ends. The crucified Messiah is, ultimately, irrelevant to businesses, which exist for the sole purpose of making money. I’m not against business, by the way, but i would argue that the crucified Messiah doesn’t exist for the purpose of making money any more than he exists for one football team to win against another. The crucified Messiah didn’t come to entertain us or manipulate us either, which is the role of the media. Finally, the crucified Messiah didn’t come to facilitate means of communication, although he did come to communicate. His means of communication, finally: The Cross.

    On the other hand, as G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis pointed out, it is those who are most other-worldly oriented who do the most for this world, and are most relevant to it. The vision of God’s coming and present Kingdom is the radical and motivating force for believers who “get it.” They begin to exemplify a way of living, loving and caring that leavens society, albeit very, very slowly. These live out values that can be infectious, in a good sense. These people talk not just to those who agree with them, but also with those who don’t, and do so because the Lord tells us to love others without making distinctions between friends and enemies. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he told us that those who lose their lives for his sake will gain them, and those who gain their lives will lose them. Practically, to lose your life is to forsake power, manipulation and coercion. To “gain” such life as you can, is to invest in power and control and, finally, to end up co-opted by the world.

    We serve a crucified Messiah and in serving him, we serve the culture we’re in with no idea of how our apparently insignificant words and actions, individually and corporately, may influence the future. Jesus changed the world by suffering, dying and trusting his Abba. He tells Paul, and us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

    Evangelicals have lost, are losing, and will continue to lose the so-called culture wars because they are fighting with weaponry that is alien to our crucified Lord. You may indeed “succeed” in grabbing power and imposing your agenda, but in the imposing of it you will have won a battle and lost the war. Puritan history illustrates this. The Puritans “won” their civil war, beheading England’s hapless Charles I. They set up the Puritan Protectorate under Cromwell. But, after ten years of Cromwell and the Puritans, England was sick to death of Puritans and what they stood for. The Puritans confused winning a battle with winning a war, and ended up losing the war. (Evangelicals would be well-served by getting familiar with this history.)

    Culture is ultimately transformed by those who love the most and who are most dead to the culture.

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet says

      It is a lesson the neo-Reformed, particularly, would do well to observe. Even J. I. Packer, sympathetic in all sorts of ways to the Puritans, said that in terms of their goals within history the Puritans completely failed.