November 10, 2010
To Change the World 5: Seeking the Common Good
James Davison Hunter tells us, in To Change the World, that the political frameworks of the Christian Right, the Christian Left and the neo-Anabaptists are inherently defective. Is there another option besides these three, which Hunter reframes as “defense against,” “relevance to” and “purity from” the culture? What’s his solution?
Hunter ends his three-point, three-hundred-page sermon with a call for “faithful presence” within the culture. God is our model of one who is faithfully present with us—identifying with us, offering us a life marked by goodness, peace, truth and beauty, and living out his sacrificial love. So within the sphere of influence God has granted each one of us (be it large or small, privileged or common), we extend and express grace for the common good.
Seeking the common good takes our agenda outside the realm of politics. Our goal is not to “win.” Rather we acknowledge that we are part of a world and culture that is greater than us, and we seek what will benefit all—even sacrificing for the sake of others.
Seeking the common good suppresses but doesn’t entirely eliminate the tendencies of elitism toward exclusion, pride and deception.
Seeking the common good means taking the long view and not being caught up in short-term gains. It means seeking the good of institutions over generations as well as of individuals.
As with any good sermon, along the way Hunter includes a wealth of Scripture, application and some examples. He sketches out what faithful presence has looked like in an automotive company, an art gallery, a not-for-profit housing corporation and the work of a grocery bagger.
Irony is a theme that weaves in and out of Hunter’s sermon. One of the implicit ironies is that Hunter chose to preach his sermon to the church from the pulpit of Oxford University Press. Does he see this as an example of faithful presence? Is it yielding to elitism and market utility? Or is it part of the inevitable tension Christians face between leadership and elitism, “between pursuing faithful presence and the social consequences of achievement” (p. 259)?
Another irony of the book is that Hunter seeks to influence populists who see the world in black and white (whether they be right or left) with an approach that is inevitably sophisticated. So not everyone will close the book and offer a loud “Amen.” Those who believe they see the world through a glass darkly (I speak autobiographically) will more readily find much here that resonates. While Hunter does not aim to change the world or even to change the minds of all his readers, having written the book, he obviously still hopes they will.
Links to This Series