Will the World Ever Change?

Will the World Ever Change? April 23, 2010

Andy Crouch has just posted at Books and Culture a fantastic review of James Davison Hunter’s “masterful” new book, To Change the World.  Crouch’s review is an example of what great book reviews are capable of doing, in making the interplay between the book and the review much richer than the book could have been on its own.  This is cultural conversation on a high level, and it’s a breath of fresh air from those who have spent too long in the digital swamps of the internet.

Even if you cannot read the book, read the review.  Andy is a contributor to our Cross Examinations series, and we’re proud to have him on the list.

One of Hunter’s overarching theses is that the ways in which Christians have sought to the world are based on almost entirely fallacious notions of cultural power and cultural change.  Evangelicals like to speak of “changing the world,” as Crouch notes, but all too often it seems as though the methods by which we seek to change the world only leave the world, and the relationship between the church and the world, in a worse place.

My question: Will the world ever change?  Do we have a compelling biblical reason to believe that the world will become better through the efforts of Christians?  I ask this, certainly, not because I want to sound like someone who advocates occupying our own little cultural and political backwaters.  I ask this because I am formed by spending years with Soren Kierkegaard.  Kierkegaard was convinced that Jesus Christ and his apostles would be put to death today, no less than they were put to death in their own day–because the world has not essentially changed, even in ‘Christendom’.  We ought not to expect the world to accept us and be convinced by us, he believed.  Rather, we ought to expect the world as such to reject us when we are being authentically Christian.  In all those cases where a rapprochement had supposedly been achieved between the world and the church, Kierkegaard believed, it was actually because the church had compromised itself and made itself virtually inextinguishable from the world.  The church as such, for the later Kierkegaard (at least), will never have political or even cultural power because it will always be rejected, mocked, and persecuted.

There are numerous nuances and problems to this point of view.  I recognize that.  Christian churches (along with others) have done extraordinary work to “change the world’ by fighting against diseases and poverty and oppression.  We already have changed the world.  And we continue to change the world every time we save a life or a soul.  So perhaps the better question is what do we mean by “changing the world”?  What would it look like if we were successful?  What exactly is the change we seek, and what exactly is the world we seek to change?  And if we really seek fundamentally to change the relationship between the church and the world, or between Christian faith and the world, will such a thing ever happen?

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