The Possibility of Elitism?


As a part of the doctorate program I’ve started with George Fox University (DMin in Global Missional Leadership), we are reading and discussing a provocative book on how exactly world change happens:  James Davison Hunter “To Change the WorldThe Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World“.    Hunter’s thesis in his first essay is bascially that within traditional Christian thinking, we have fallen hook, line and sinker for a kind of Platonic idealism.  That we may “hope” and “dream” about changing the world, but our ideals don’t match up with the reality that is steeped in history.  Culture is tangible and real, it does not exist in the mind and in our ideals.  Within the evangelical tradition, we have long tended to over-spiritualize our endeavors and under-estimate the reality of power and position.The most challenging part of Hunter’s first essay to me was the idea that culture change has rarely if ever come from the periphery, but always comes from the positions and places of power within culture.  I’ve not been silent about the fact for the past 12 years or so that I have intentionally sought the periphery to affect the kind of world change I was desiring.  Choosing grassroots over institutional in my form of church, flat leadership vs. hierarchical.  Hunter deeply challenged these presuppositions for me in a healthy way.  I am not making drastic changes in my doing, but I am continuing my reflection that I need to wrestle with the facts of history and world change if in fact that is my end goal.Hunter speaks to Evangelicalism’s lament over not seeing the change it desires:

“the main reason why Christian believers today (from various communities) have not had the influence in the culture to which they have aspired is not that they don’t believe enough, or try hard enough, or care enough, or think Christianly enough, or have the right worldview, but rather because they have been absent from the arenas in which the greatest influence in the culture is exerted.” (p. 89).”Christians are absent from the institutions at the center of cutlural production.  The cultural capital American Christianity has amassed simply cannot be leveraged where it matters most.” (p. 91)

The Gospel of Jesus is a gospel to the poor, the outcast, the disenfranchised, the imperfect, the weak, the lonely and the unloveables.  I don’t read Hunter discounting that.  I read Hunter saying that if we deeply care about this gospel, if we think the Kingdom of God is the hope for the world, then we should care about how change happens to these ends.  On the flip side is the trappings of power.  History can show us as well that power and position corrupts, so how do we buffer ourselves from such temptations and remain in our gospel-identity?  Israel had many kings, only 2-3 were good.  However, one of them, namingly David was such a powerfully influencing, world-changing King that his influence through his elite position still dominates Juadaism, Christianity and that strip of land on the east bank of the Mediteranean Sea.Elitism can be a trap, but might also elitism be an opportunity for Kingdom world change?    I am yet chewing on Hunter’s thesis.peace,Marshall

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