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Silent treatment

Books | Scholar offers good advice to Christians, but his call for political disengagement isn't persuasive

Issue: "Gulf toil," June 5, 2010

Thomas Jefferson set up the University of Virginia as part of his attempt to free America from biblical Christianity. James Davison Hunter has had remarkable success in building a program at that university from which Christian sociologists can graduate without selling their souls.

Now Hunter has come out with To Change the World (Oxford University Press, 2010), wherein he tries to teach Christians how to gain influence in the American intellectual world. The dust jacket says the book "will forever change the way Christians view and talk about their role in the modern world." No it won't. Hunter himself asks toward the book's long-winded end, "Is there anything exceptional being said here?" No there isn't.

That doesn't make it a bad book. Hunter is right to state that Christians have little influence in America "because they have been absent from the arenas in which the greatest influence in the culture is exerted." Christians are an endangered species within major media and universities.

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Christians are also underrepresented in cities. The century-old split in Protestantism that left the heterodox "social gospel" people in charge of urban churches and the orthodox "fundamentalists" out in the small towns and rural areas was tragic. Christians thought they could build high walls to keep out the influences of New York and Hollywood, but whoever rules cities rules a culture.

So Hunter's appeal to head for the centers of influence surely makes sense-but how should we live within those centers? He likes the expression faithful presence, by which he means that Christians should "do what we can to create conditions in the structures of social life we inhabit that are conducive to the flourishing of all." That's true, and although that's nothing new for God's people in exile-Jeremiah said the same thing to the Israelites in Babylon-it's a message we need to hear.

We also need to hear that change in a culture requires not only individual evangelizing but the creation of new centers of influence. Hunter posits that cultures change when leaders change them, and those leaders have often depended on "a rich source of patronage that provided resources for intellectuals and educators who, in the context of dense networks, imagine, theorize, and propagate an alternative culture." This sounds like a plea for foundation grants, but it's good for rich Christians to understand their potentially crucial role.

What we don't need is another denigration of Christian political involvement. Hunter suggests that Christians should "be silent for a season and learn how to enact their faith in public through acts of shalom rather than to try again to represent it publicly through law, policy, and political mobilization." I'm all in favor of compassionate activities, but can we afford political silence in this time of liberal aggression? My column deals with that question.


Faith in the Constitution

By Marvin Olasky

Seth Lipsky's The Citizen's Constitution (Basic, 2009) illuminates liberal distortions and also explains why some things are the way they are. For example, a clause regarding presidential elections in Article II, Section I, led to a national Election Day on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Why then? Early November was "after the fall harvest but before the weather got bad enough in much of the country to restrict travel." Why a Tuesday? "Because holding elections on Monday would have required many voters to begin traveling on the Christian Sabbath."

Why does the Constitution assume a Creator without referring to Him explicitly, as does the Declaration of Independence? The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life, edited by Daniel Dreisbach, Mark David Hall, and Jeffry Morrison (U. of Notre Dame Press, 2009), is a fount of scholarly information about who believed what and whose beliefs changed. Alexander Hamilton, for example, moved from theistic rationalism to his deathbed statement: "I am a sinner; I look to . . . the mercy of the Almighty, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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