James Davison Hunter, Negative Christian Politics, and Gospel *Pro*clamation

James Davison Hunter, University of Virginia’s Professor of Religion, Culture and Social Theory, analyzes the merging of American/Christian culture and the tragedy of Christian negation,

With the conflation of the history and identity of America with the life and mission of the Church (for the Right and the Left), there is a fundamental distortion of theological truth and historical reality….With the reduction of the public to the political and the subsequent politicization of so much of human experience, there is an accomadation to the spirit of the age that has made politics the dominant witness of the church to the world. And then there is Christianity’s embrace of certain key characteristics of contemporary political culture, a culture that privileges injury and grievance, valorizes speech-acts of negation, and legitimates the will to power. There is variation throughout the Christian community, of course, and yet the loudest public voices are all implicated in this in distinct ways. The problem, though, is especially acute for Christian conservatives…

…key leaders and factions within American Christianity have cultivated collective identities that are constituted in distinct ways by a sense of injury to the faith and to America itself…an identity rooted in resentment and hostility is an inherently weak identity precisely because it is established negatively, by accentuating the boundaries between insiders and outsiders and the wrongs done by those outsiders.

…rather than being defined by its cultural achievenments, its intellectual and artistic vitality, its service to the needs of others, Christianity is defined to the outside world by its rhetoric of resentment and the ambitions of will in opposition to others…

…but is the kingdom of God to be known predominantly by its negations?

The tragedy is that in the name of resisting the internal deterioration of faith and the corruption of the world around them, many Christians and Christian conservatives most significantly–unwittingly embrace some of the most corrosive aspects of the cultural disintegration they decry. By nurturing its resentments, sustaining them through a discourse of negation toward outsiders, and in cases, pursuing their will to power, they become functional Nietzscheans, participating in the very cultural breakdown they so ardently strive to resist.  (To Change the World, 173, 174, 175)

What is the answer to this constant attitude of negation among Christians that is acutely seen in the political sphere? One of the answers Hunter gives is that of the need for affirmation instead of negation in the church (231).

In light of this, Christians, especially Christian conservatives, must seek to cultivate what they are for more than what they are against. In this culture and political climate it is easy to be negatively against something–always wearing the white-hat, while the “other guys” were up against wear the black-hat. It’s much more difficult being for something.

The very nature of what it is to be a Christian is recognize that everyone wears the black-hat and only Jesus wears the white-hat. The collective identity of Christians should be rooted in who they are for, namely, Jesus and his accomplishment at the cross and resurrection, and what they have become in Christ.

Jesus did not die to make people conservative (or liberal). Jesus died to rescue sinful people from their rebellion against his Lordship and launch the kingdom of God. Before a Christian should be known as anti-______, Christians should be known as pro-Jesus. Christians are to be proclaimers of the gospel who are being changed by the gospel before they are anything else. As long as the majority of the evangelical church continues to believe that their primary mission is to be anti-abortion, anti-big government, anti-gay, or anti-whatever they are off their primary mission of being pro-Jesus–proclaimers of the good news that Jesus died to bring sinners in-whatever-camp to God.

This does not mean Christians will never be against anything–they will. It just means that their core identity is rooted in what God has done in Christ for (and not against) the world. The mission of Christians is to be characterized by Jesus’ mission who, in his own words, said:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)

Before we are against anything, let’s be unabashedly for that.

2 thoughts on “James Davison Hunter, Negative Christian Politics, and Gospel *Pro*clamation

  1. Great! Couldn’t agree more…the gospel is a message of relational reformation between man and God and between man and his neighbour. No mending of relations is possible when we as Christians are constantly pointing out one another’s sins and shortcomings.
    Removing a mote out of someone’s eye with a gun doesn’t seem quite appropriate.

  2. Pingback: James Davison Hunter, Negative Christian Politics, and Gospel *Pro … – Christian Politics News

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