A quick note to say that notes on Desire of the Nations chapter 2 are in the works.

In the meantime I want to mention another book that is currently shaking me up. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Hunter, a professor at UVA. The title tells us that he is biting off more than he can chew. It is essentially three extended essays. I’m most of the way through the first, in which Hunter describes the current Christian views concerning transformation of culture – the need and the means. He explains (correctly, I think) that American Christians view culture as a matter of ideas and worldviews, and understand cultural transformation to be something that can happen relatively quickly if Christians adhere to a deeply biblical worldview. Further, Christians tend to think of cultural transformation as primarily political. Hunter goes on to make the case that this view of culture and cultural change is deeply mistaken: major shifts are generally led not by ordinary people but by elites.

So far I am finding this analysis both refreshing and painful. Refreshing because it puts paid to the notion that if we just perfect our worldview (through worldview camps, reading the right books, or whatever) and “take a stand” (through political lobbying and involvement) we can “take back America” or the world or whatever. Painful because on some level my ego wants to feel like I’m changing the world. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, it is Christmas. Listening to Annie Lennox’s new album, A Christmas Cornucopia, I am struck with how many of the old carols (“God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen”, “As Joseph Was A Walking”) focus on the fact that this newborn baby is born to be king.

This night shall be the birth time
Of our gracious Heavenly King;

He neither shall be born
In housen nor in hall,
Nor in the place of Paradise,
But in an ox’s stall.


Amen. The child in the trough shuts the mouths of kings. He alone is the innocent judge. He reveals God’s justice and mankind’s injustice. He reveals God’s might in his own weakness.


2 thoughts on “Christmas Update

  1. I’m reading through your Desire of the Nations posts with great enjoyment and hope to reply when I get to the top. And it was a pleasant interruption to read this blurb on Hunter’s book, one that I’ve given thought to lately as well. It looks as though I will be able to hear him speak later this year:


    Wish you could join me.

  2. Me too! I was able to hear Vinoth Ramachandra a few months ago at the Veritas Forum at Brown, which was great: a good entree to his work, which I’ve been picking through slowly since. If Hunter has a fault, it is that he comes off as simply jaded or overwhelmed. There is not enough Calvinism. It’s like reading Rodney Stark. “These historical processes are too big for you to affect. I’m a bigshot professor and I can’t really do anything, so you little people definitely can’t.” Underestimates the impact that, in God’s Providence, key individuals, small groups, and lay movements can and have had through history.

    Riffing off of Hunter I conclude that (1) Christians should seek to change from within, which means presence in the universities, the professions, and most basically but importantly the cities; (2) that (and this agrees with Andy Crouch) our approach to the world cannot be merely cerebral but embodied – in meals, in gatherings for worship, in making and doing things, in raising children and building hospitals; (3) populism has good aspects but a land with only populist faith is a place where that faith will die – we need humble elites.

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