Gift Guide

To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World

Hardcover (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $18.97
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 32%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (12) from $18.97   
  • New (7) from $22.85   
  • Used (5) from $18.97   


The call to make the world a better place is inherent in the Christian belief and practice. But why have efforts to change the world by Christians so often failed or gone tragically awry? And how might Christians in the 21st century live in ways that have integrity with their traditions and are more truly transformative? In To Change the World, James Davison Hunter offers persuasive—and provocative—answers to these questions.

Hunter begins with a penetrating appraisal of the most popular models of world-changing among Christians today, highlighting the ways they are inherently flawed and therefore incapable of generating the change to which they aspire. Because change implies power, all Christian eventually embrace strategies of political engagement. Hunter offers a trenchant critique of the political theologies of the Christian Right and Left and the Neo-Anabaptists, taking on many respected leaders, from Charles Colson to Jim Wallis and Stanley Hauerwas. Hunter argues that all too often these political theologies worsen the very problems they are designed to solve. What is really needed is a different paradigm of Christian engagement with the world, one that Hunter calls "faithful presence"—an ideal of Christian practice that is not only individual but institutional; a model that plays out not only in all relationships but in our work and all spheres of social life. He offers real-life examples, large and small, of what can be accomplished through the practice of "faithful presence." Such practices will be more fruitful, Hunter argues, more exemplary, and more deeply transfiguring than any more overtly ambitious attempts can ever be.

Written with keen insight, deep faith, and profound historical grasp, To Change the World will forever change the way Christians view and talk about their role in the modern world.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The most important book on religion in recent years." --Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Hunter's corrective argument for authentic Christian engagement with the world is refreshing, persuasive, and inspiring." --Publishers Weekly

"Hunter is a thoughtful man, measured in his comments and fair minded in his analysis."--Peter Wehner, Politics Daily

"James Davison Hunter's latest work, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World is a fascinating study of cultural transformation."--Jim Denison, Associated Baptist Press

"The year's most widely discussed Christian book." --David Skeel, The Wall Street Journal

"Hunter addresses important and relevant issues that all Christians in the U.S. need to consider. His ideas and analyses are frequently insightful and helpful, and his style is provocative and engaging."--Christian Century

"Brilliant."--John A. Coleman, America

"The structure of this book is quite simple....I found his three-fold typology to be useful at a desciptive level, but I was dissatisfied with the solution that he proposes"--Donald E. Miller, University of Southern California

"There's much in these pages to debate, but the church will be better for the conversation."--Winn Collier, Religious Herald

"Ambitious and impressive...Hunter's call for a more institutional and broadly public understanding of social change is a welcome and important insight. Readers of this journal will find his nuanced sociological arguments to be a rich resource in moving theological interpretations of culture from the narrow confines of political theology to the more open conceptual riches of public theology."--International Journal of Public Theology

"How should Christians act in the world? The dominant answer in America today seems to be: through politics. But the major model of Christian political action, visible most obviously but not exclusively in the Christian Right, has been a politics fuelled by resentment and a sense of victimization, actuated by a strong will to power, and a propensity to demonize its opponents. This politics is a capitulation to the worst elements of the contemporary culture it claims to be redeeming. Hunter offers an acute end penetrating analysis of this paradoxical and distressing phenomenon, and carefully charts an alternative course for contemporary Christians, a form of 'faithful presence' within culture and society. The book is brimful of insightful challenges to our conventional understanding of things, and of inspiring suggestions for a new departure." -- Charles Taylor, author of A Secular Age

"For anyone interested in American Christianity, whether believer or observer, this is an extraordinarily important and valuable book. Hunter's analysis of culture and the capacity of Christians to influence it (or not) is the most sophisticated and subtle I have ever seen, explaining why most treatments of the subject are gravely inadequate. His treatment of religion and power in the American context is similarly illuminating. Finally his theology of faithful presence offers a promising alternative to most of the approaches on offer today whether from liberals or conservatives. The encounter of social science and theology has often been vapid; Hunter shows how vibrant it can be." -- Robert Bellah, co-author of Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life

"Insightful, creative, refreshing, challenging, realistic, and calm but hard-hitting, To Change the World offers a sharp critical and constructive vision for American Christianity that simply must be engaged by all sides. Hunter gives us big-picture, alternative thinking at its bets. His deft interrogation of the Christian political left, right, and center in America nails it, just as his constructive, alternative vision rings true in its promise. A rare achievement and a must-read for people of faith in these times." -- Christian Smith, author of Soul Searching and Souls in Transition

"No writer or thinker has taught me as much as James Hunter has about this all-important and complex subject of how culture is changed." --Tim Keller, author of Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters

"It is groundbreaking, it is comprehensive, and it is visionary. Above all, it is wise, both sociologically and theologically. No Christian entrusted with institutional leadership or cultural power should miss the chance to read it. It will be provoking better Christian conversations about culture for years to come, and may well help our secular neighbors understand what Christians really are, or should be, aiming for-even when we use slogans like 'to change the world.' Bravo."--Andy Crouch, Books and Culture

Publishers Weekly
“To change hearts and minds” has been the goal of modern Christians seeking to correct a culture deemed fallen and morally lax. Hunter (Culture Wars), a distinguished professor of religion, culture, and social theory at the University of Virginia, finds this approach pervasive among Christians of all stripes and in every case deeply flawed. It can even “undermine the message of the very gospel they cherish and desire to advance.” In three “essays”—groups of chapters developing a concept—Hunter charts the history of Christian assumptions and efforts, investigates the nature of power and politics in Christian life and thought, and then proposes a theologically sound alternative: what he calls the practice of “faithful presence.” This practice has “benevolent consequences... precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world... but rather it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth.” Well reasoned and thought provoking, Hunter’s corrective argument for authentic Christian engagement with the world is refreshing, persuasive, and inspiring. (Apr.)
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199730803
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 4/14/2010
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 264,080
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

James Davison Hunter is LaBrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture and Social Theory at the University of Virginia and Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. He is the author of Culture Wars and The Death of Character.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Essay One Christianity and World Changing
Essay Two Rethinking Power
Essay Three Toward a New City Commons: Reflections on a Theology of Faithful Presence

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 3, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Encourages a false Privatized Christianity

    Hunter's theme of the "theology of faithful presence" begins well as it repeats the same call for a holistic worldview that Francis Schaeffer and Rushdoony wrote about earlier. Hunter says we need to be consistent in living out our faith within the culture, especially with those we encounter in our various social circles.

    I especially appreciated his evaluation of those evangelicals and fundamentalists that have adopted a dualistic split in the way they live out their faith (p. 248). They believe their lives within the world (the culture) are secular and that the Bible does not apply to that part of their lives. In their view, the Bible is solely relegated to their religious life within the church culture. This is what I refer to as the half-way Gospel. It teaches an unbiblical Platonic dualism that makes Jesus the lord of only half of our lives - the spiritual part.

    The Bible teaches Jesus is lord of everything, which includes the world and its cultures. This false theology has produced Christians that are biblically divorced from their surrounding culture (neighbors). They fail to act as a salty biblical influence to both the people they encounter and the cultures in which they reside. I wish Hunter would have further evaluated this dualism, which largely stems from Dispensational theology and its Platonic, dualistic worldview. It displaced the earlier Covenant theology of the Reformation which had a holistic worldview that transformed Europe and laid the spiritual foundation for our nation. (See "Who Are We?" by Samuel Huntington)

    The influence of Platonic dualism needed to be addressed better but I believe it has also affected Hunter's thinking. He does not appear to be convinced that we are called to change the world. Yet, Jesus specifically said we are to accomplish this by discipling the nations according to "all" that He has taught us in the Old and New Testaments. To disciple the nations implies that we are to change the world's cultures. We do this not because some "supposed great scholar" determined that we should or shouldn't, but because Jesus commanded us to do so. (See "Christianity Unshackled" by Eberle).

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)