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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Faithful Presence, 21 Oct 2010
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I am always looking out for books that in their own way are intended to help mend our broken world: to make it in any way a better place. This book, suggesting as it does a different way to be Christian in twenty first century America, is such a book and, I think, makes an important contribution.
The author starts from the premise that not only is it a Christian obligation to cultivate and safeguard God's creation, to meet our own needs but also importantly to glorify our Creator, Christians simply want to do that anyway, and expend much time and money trying to do so. But why, he reflects, and in spite of the fact that 86-88% of Americans adhere to a faith, mostly Christian, do they live in a secular culture with so many problems whilst many minority groups seem to have a great deal more influence on society. America as a nation, he says, is losing its soul.
We are living under a misapprehension. We have a false idea that changing hearts and minds will of itself change a culture; that there is some link between values and hearts and minds and a good society. This logic, he tells us, is flawed. Hearts and minds do matter, but will not in themselves change what he describes as the DNA of a culture. He goes on to carefully explain why
The basis of the book is an analysis of the three most prominent Christian political theologies in America, the Conservative Right, the Progressive Left, and the Neo-Anabaptists, their modes of thinking further characterised by him as respectively "defensive against," "relevance to," and "purity from," and these he carefully explains. But he also tells us why these paradigms are all in his view flawed, reflecting at the same time upon the paradox of power for a Christian, and the dangers of Christian leadership that is too politicized.
His arguments and logic draw him to propose a new paradigm, based on the concept of Faithful Presence, an idea that he tests against history, showing us that it is not without precedents. He then goes on to develop this theme, explaining in practical terms how Christians may pursue Faithful Presence in all aspects of their lives, and he calls upon us all to take this on board from the local parish church outwards into the community, the workplace and into leisure activities, carrying the gospel message of faith and hope and love to those of any faith or none. This is not something that is reserved for Christians; Christ's love speaks to a basic human need in the whole community, and practiced well, such a paradigm should work towards a flourishing of the world all around us. He supplies a few illustrative vignettes for inspiration.
I found the critique of where we are now, and the development of this alternative vision for the twenty first century, well reasoned, the logic carefully developed, and the whole well grounded historically and theologically. It was a pleasure to read.
Although the book is clearly describing the Christian culture in America, the principle espoused, of Faithful Presence, is not geographically confined and is of relevance for any Christian of any land. The reflections on power, status and elitism, on politics, the challenges of Difference and Dissolution, and his 11 propositions on culture and cultural change from which he goes on to develop his theme, will rest just as well with a UK reader.
I am sure there will be those who will find something to criticize in the detail, the theology, or the history. I would say that the idea put forward, practised thoughtfully, can only benefit our society and should be given a chance. We should all be more interested in helping make our world a better place for all, and not stifled by idle pedantry. As Hunter himself says at page 206: "...in the contemporary world we have the capacity to question everything but little ability to affirm anything beyond our own personal whims and possessive interests." Christians cannot, he says, change the world, and as Christians this must not be our primary task, which is to worship God and honour him in all that we do. That is the irony in his title. But "by enacting shalom and seeking it on behalf of all others through the practice of faithful presence, it is possible, just possible, that (Christians) will help to make the world a little bit better."
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