Friday, August 21, 2015

Cultural Engagement

Back in 2010, I posted some comments on the book called To Change the World by James Davison Hunter. The subtitle of the book is The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the late Modern world. Here is David Fitch's summary of the book.

Hunter says conservatives (“defensive against”) and liberals (relevance to”) alike have tried to play the power game in trying to influence American culture. They both have sought to win the culture through political means. In the process one side (conservatives) has become isolated from the broader culture in their defensiveness. The other side has become absorbed into the culture and lost its voice. They both in effect ended up losing. Neither has effected much change.

Hunter says American Christians have operated under the illusion they could change culture through changing the hearts and minds of individuals. Hunter says this ignores how culture works. People are not so much changed by believing in ideas as to how they have been shaped by a culture. Culture, for Hunter, is shaped by the powerful institutions, networks and producers of culture run by elites. Therefore, as much good work as local churches might do by teaching individuals about world view and campaigning for culture change, ultimately they shall be absorbed by the culture surrounding them if the culture is not changed at the production level.

In this regard, evangelicalism has been woefully inadequate at forming culture-making institutions. We have mimicked the broader culture with “parallel institutions” that produce inferior cultural products that mimick the larger culture. In this process however, all we’ve done is create a new market niche that gets absorbed into the wider culture. We end up with no counter cultural impact. Worse, our own culture-making bridges Christians into further absorption into the larger culture.

All this reveals the woeful inadequacy of a church’s engagement (both evangelical and mainline protestant Christians) with our existing culture and why so little impact has been made.
Fitch is right on the nail.

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