Tag Archives: Hunter



In James Hunter’s final essay in “To Change the World”, the author takes his social theory critique and begins a turn towards the theological and the working out of what the church ought to look like if it wants to be an influence in the real world.The reality is that the institutions of our day:  be it churches, schools, universities, hospitals, governments, social agencies etc., they all have their roots in authoritative truths with a fixed point of reference.  The words surrounding their truths lend confidence to their objectives.  The words speak to why they exist and what mission they are continually on.  Given enough time, these words become assumptions to the way things are and how things work.  They form a bedrock, a foundation in which all the mortar and bricks are built upon.  The Enlightenment period in history was a dream of discovering all of these objective truths which in turn would lead us to a society always progressing towards utopia.  Hunter, like many others, are pulling back the curtain and saying the Enlightenment dream did not work.

“The Enlightenment’s own quest for certainty resulted not in the discovery of new certainties but rather in a pervasive and astringment skepticisim that questions all, suspects all, distrusts and disbelieves all.  Even in the early decades of the seventeenth century, the great poet John Donne wrote presciently of this new age, ‘New philosophy calls all in doubt.’  Marx and Freud made titanic contributions to the project of modern skepticism.” (p. 206-207)

This skepticism has led to dissolution, “the deconstruction of the most basic assumptions about reality.” (p. 203)  This dissolution is real and it threatens the viability and survivability of our culture’s institutions.  At the very least, the assumptions and the power those institutions once held has been severely diminished.  What can the church do given these circumstances?  Hunter tells the reader that “defensive against”, “relevance to” and “purity from” are not the answer to the cultural shifts and power systems.  What he wants to argue for, is a “faithful presence” or a kind of incarnational shalom to our world.  Whatever your context is and wherever your sphere of influence is, enact shalom (the peace of God) there.

“Faithful presence in the world means that Christians are fully present and committed in their spheres of social influence, whatever they may be:  their families, neighborhoods, voluntary activities, and places of work.” (p. 247) and “there is no way the old models could ever be sufficient to address the challenges of the present age.  What is more, there is a yearning for a different way, especially among the young; a way that has integrity with the historic truths of the faith and the witness of the Spirit and that is adequate to the challenges of the present moment.” (p. 276)

Shalom is us showing up and being church in our day.  Not defined by consumerism, individualism or the misuse of power, but by our gospel identity of being formed ‘in Christ’.  Shalom is us incarnating the servanthood of Christ in the most challenging issues that our neighbors are facing.  Shalom is caring about justice in a world of poverty.  Shalom is staying in a place of need when it’s more convenient to leave.  Shalom is loving your enemy.  Shalom is listening to your critics, being silent under judgment.  Shalom is about the other, not you.  Shalom is the way out, it is the way of freedom in a world of oppression.  Wherever you are, whatever you do . . . shalom.





When an individual or an organization states what they are “for”, are they really just using language and rhetoric for what they are “against”?   Continuing on in Hunter’s “To Change the World”, in essay II he brings up the dynamic of Ressentiment.

Ressentiment originates with Nietzsche from the French word where we get the English root of resentment.  But it is more than that.  Hunter says: “Ressentiment is grounded in a narrative of injury or, at least, perceived injury; a strong belief that one has been or is being wronged.  The root of this is the sense of entitlement a group holds.” (p. 107)

In the land of American politics this plays itself out with Right-Wing Christians saying that we have lost our way, that what we have now is not the Christian nation our forefathers established.  Their ressentiment is that this is a new holy war, to take back what is rightfully theirs that has been hijacked.  With Left-Wing Christians, they see the inequality of power and wealth and long for justice.  They are done with the zealots of the Right defining what Christian political activism is and want to argue for the “right” way, which is one of a more elite and refined intelligence.  Equality and justice over capitalism, they are the voice of the poor that the Right are involved with perpetuated their suffering.  Hunter also takes on what he calls the “neo-anabaptists.  Those that see all power structures and things of this world as evil and seek to be separatists of it.  Their ressentiment leads to a complete uninvolvement in the issues of their day and they find they cannot fully detach themselves from the fabric of the networked institutions they want no involvement with.  Ultimately, Hunter would say, their goal is futile. They aren’t detached, they are just acting in ressentiment towards the establishment.The idea of ressentiment is strong social theory.  Nothing will get the masses fired up more than a perceived enemy that is aggressively seeking your deterioration.  The idea that “they” are out to get us is a powerful one and you can find it on any of the 24/7 news networks, regardless of their leanings.

Hunter states:  “The sense of injury is the key.  Over time, the perceived injustice becomes central to the person’s and the group’s identity . . . Cultivating the fear of further injury becomes a strategy for generating solidarity within the group and mobilizing the group to action.”  (p. 107-108)

This is a good challenge to me as a passionate irishman.  It doesn’t take much for me to get fired up, have an emotional response and retaliate in real or perceived ressentiment. Playing the martyr and dehumanizing our opposition can take the place of  real dialogue of the issues and our difference of views.  This is the same for the arena of politics, church, education, civil issues, workplace and recreational organizations.My reflection to this issue as a leader is:  “Articulate yourself for what you are for, not what you are against.”peace,Marshall