October 28, 2010
To Change the World 3: Between Presumption and Hope
What’s the central dilemma for Christians who want to change the world? James Davison Hunter answers: Even though populism is organic to American Christianity, what actually brings about change instead is the combination of powerful institutions, networks, interests and symbols. And when it comes to the latter, American Christianity is decidedly on the outside looking in.
The ten biggest independent foundations give away billions; the ten biggest religious foundations give away millions (pp. 82-83). Professors at Christian colleges have twice the teaching load of their counterparts at elite and research universities—so they are at a huge disadvantage in any ambition to lead their academic disciplines (p. 86).
Then he quits preachin’ and starts meddlin’.
“Evangelicalism boasts a billion-dollar book publishing industry, yet the books produced are largely ignored by the New York Review of Books, the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post Book Word, and other key arbiters of public intellectual argument” (p. 87).
Christianity has no institutional academic think tanks, elite research universities or elite New York publishers. It is almost entirely absent from the high-brow art world and even middle-brow television, museums and film. Only at the grass roots and in popular culture does it show any significant presence (p. 90). Though he criticizes Andy Crouch’s Culture Making, here he seems to agree with Crouch that Christians should be doing a better job of making more (especially high) culture.
Yet doesn’t elitism inevitably entail “superiority, condescension, and entitlement”? Isn’t it exploitative by nature? “Is it possible to pursue excellence and, under God’s sovereignty, be in a position of influence and privilege and not be ensnared by the trappings of elitism? . . . There is a fine line between presumption and hope, as Aquinas observed, but in our culture, such presumption nearly always has tragic consequences” (pp. 94-95).
We are tempted to cry out, Who will deliver us from this bond of death? In the next section Hunter asks, Will it be the Christian Right, the Christian Left or the Neo-Anabaptists?
(to be continued)