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.