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As part of my role with ESN, I sit on the InterVarsity Faculty Ministry Leadership Team (FMLT). Hunter’s central concept for how Christians should influence the world is something he calls faithful presence.
Only by being fully present to God as a worshipping community and as adoring followers can we be faithfully present int he world. First, faithful presence means that we are to be fully present to each other within the community of faith and fully present to those who are not. Second, faithful presence requires that Christians be fully present and committed to their tasks. Third, faithful presence in the world means that Christians are fully present and committed in their spheres of social influence, whatever they may be: their families, neighborhoods, voluntary activities, and places of work. The greatest strength of this argument, however, is in Hunter’s insistence that faithful presence is only possible when Christians are being formed in worshipping communities and growing in spiritual formation. Kudos to my colleague Kenny Benge for pointing this out to me, since I initially missed the importance of the church in Hunter’s vision. Through the book, Hunter downplays the vast witness of local Christian communities and local Christian organizations.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the dominant public witness of the Christian churches in America since the early 1980s has been a political witness. Hunter goes on to devote the entire middle section of his book to (in his view, futile) attempts by Christians to influence or reject politics. Because Hunter has written such a challenging, deep book with so many strong claims, it would be easy to go on with further criticisms and quibbles. Read To Change the World, preferably with a group of friends or colleagues, and begin identifying ways to practice faithful presence in your community, tasks, and spheres of influence. Micheal HickersonThe former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company.


But, does this mean that Hunter is mistaken when he says that the dominant public witness of the church has been a political witness? If this is the case, then Hickerson may choose to take issue with Hunter’s cultural theory (as outlined in essay one). I really like the way you argue that a) he doesn’t understand midwest flyover country, and b) he ignores the local Christian witness.
However, I guess Hunter would say that Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, Habitat, etc have in common that none of them think of themselves as evangelical. The views expressed on the Emerging Scholars Blog are those of our individual contributors and guest authors, not necessarily of InterVarsity or the Emerging Scholars Network. Have an Idea for Us?If you desire to write a guest post — or simply suggest a topic for us to consider — we would love to hear from you.
Each year, we read a book together that (we hope) gets at some aspect of our ministry to the university.
Hunter, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, has produced a seminal book on cultural formation and change, particularly insightful on how Christians (primarily evangelical) have understood and misunderstood culture change over the past 40 years or so. In fact, I wish that Hunter had gone further into this point, or at least pointed readers to some fuller discussions of the role of the church in formation, such as James K. I have been told that Hunter intentionally overstated some aspects of his argument in order to prompt reaction.
At the local level, the public witness of churches has been much more complex, consisting of, yes, political activism, but also social services, elementary and secondary schools, Christian colleges, counseling programs, evangelism, prayer meetings, and much, much more.
You could probably add to this his over emphasis on elites in making and sustaining cultural change. They may hope to spread the gospel, but evangelical to some people means something very specific– a particular middle class interdenominational movement that may have roots in the Great Awakening but in fact really refers to post 1960s non-mainline white, bible thumping and hip Protestants. In publishing on topics such as academic vocation and calling, spiritual formation in the academy, and the integration of theology with academic disciplines, we seek to encourage, and equip the next generation of Christian scholars to be a redeeming influence in the academy, church, and the world.


Thus, I can’t be sure if this weakness was an intentional overstatement, or whether it is a legitimate blind spot.
In fact, if one takes the national perspective of evangelical Christians as highly politically active as the norm, then evangelical churches must seem weirdly apolitical in their actual activities and emphases. Before joining InterVarsity, I worked for a nonprofit watchdog, so I know of which I speak. Hunter focuses on the spending habits of large, national foundations and despairs at the lack of religious voices in that elite circle. When Hunter says that the dominant public witness of the church has been a political witness, what he is arguing is that the national leadership of the church has succumb to the politicization of everything, and Hunter goes to great pains to argue this exhaustively in the second essay of To Change the World. So, while it may very well be that local Christian leadership has indeed sustained a focus on the flourishing of local communities, the national leadership of the church has defined the public role of the church as primarily political.
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The high-profile, well-endowed, predominantly secular foundations that receive so much national attention are the exceptions, not the rule, in the nonprofit world. As Hunter himself points out, leaders are not necessarily the people who sell the most books – couldn’t the same be said of media attention?
Who’s that?) Hunter suggests that the most radical cultural change is caused by elites who are on the fringes of power, rather than in the absolute center. This seems right to me, and also suggests that Christians who are shut out of the centers of power might have something to be thankful for.



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