Redefining a “Culture-War”

Admittedly, this next quote is a bit long, and could be complex. I encourage you to thoughtfully read and process it all.

Distribution of Christianity

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For Christians to regard the work of culture in any literal sense as “kingdom-building” this side of heaven is to begin with an assumption that tends to lead to one version or another of the Constantinian project, in which the objective is for Christians to “take over” the culture, fashioning all of the world in the image of the church or at least in accord with its values. Typically, this assumption leads to the dualism in which the culture either declares Jesus as Lord or it doesn’t. Christians are either “winning” the culture or “losing” it, “advancing the kingdom” or “retreating,” which is why all versions of the Constantinian approach to culture tend to lean either toward triumphalism or despair, depending on the relative success or failure of Christians in these spheres. This is why it is always dangerous to aspire to a “Christian culture” or, by extension, a Christian government, a Christian political party, a Christian business, and the like.

(James D. Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World pp. 233-234)

At first glance, this quote can seem at least controversial and possibly heretical. After all, we have been taught throughout all of our Christian lives that the duty of good, pious Christians is to go and impact culture, win the culture war, etc.

The problem with this predominant mentality is that the thing cherished is, in fact, a quasi-Christian utopia, where the morals, ideals, and values of the church are reflected and replicated in society. While eschatologically this is true that what began in a garden will consumate in a city (or empire, depending on your rendering of it), and the full and final manifestation of the Kingdom of God will in fact reflect all that he is, because the promise of Revelation comes finally to bear:

[15] Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

(Revelation 11:15 ESV)

But how, then, do we go about bringing the world that is to come here and now? How do we bring God’s shalom on earth if it is not brought through a culture war?

The answer comes when we examine what exactly we are questing for. Our utopia or Christ’s exaltation. What exactly are we trying to create?

I am a pastor, a husband, a father, and a lover of Jesus. I am also an unpredictable blogger, who can go for several years without blogging a thing, and then inexplicably write a book. Perhaps this is one of those times.

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Posted in Culture, Theology
2 comments on “Redefining a “Culture-War”
  1. David Garrison says:

    Doesn’t the confusion go beyond motives into means as well? Yes, part of the problem is our motives for a “Christian utopia.” But, even when our motives are sound, often we think the best means to exalt Christ is through political/legal means. After all, it worked so well for the Religious Right in the 80s and 90s, right?

    I haven’t read the book, but I wonder if part of Hunter’s point is that we’ve gotten the “means” of cultural transformation mixed up. We think we can only transform the culture through changing politics and laws, rather than seeking to engage and transform hearts and lives.

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