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Summer Reading Group: ‘To Change the World’

The summer is here and our third annual summer reading group will begin in mid-June. In previous years, we’ve discussed books that tackle subjects such as the emerging church and the creation/evolution debate. This year, we will engage James Hunter’s highly acclaimed To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. The book, which some have described as a modern version of Niebuhr’s classic Christ and Culture, explores the church’s relation to culture, power, and society.

In the fall, the whole country will be engaged in what is shaping up to be a divisive presidential election.  This book offers us a chance to begin thinking about Adventism and the way we engage with and/or disengage from politics. In Loren Seibold’s recent post, “Should Seventh-day Adventists be Republicans?” he draws attention to Adventists who are attracted to the theology of the Christian right. Of equal concern to those Adventists would be the segments of our community inspired by the political left.  Both of these groups may express dismay over Adventists who resonate with our roots in the Anabaptist tradition. Hunter’s book is in critical dialogue with all of these traditions, which is bound to spark some healthy conversations.

But culture involves much more than just politics; so, the book will also give us an opportunity to reflect on how our Adventist spiritual trajectory relates to art, education, philosophy, other religions, etc. In this way, Hunter’s book may also generate interest in the topic of the upcoming Spectrum conference: New Directions in Adventist Spirituality which will be held in Portland, Oregon, over Labor Day weekend. 

Hunter maintains that we need a different way of Christian engagement with the world, which he calls “faithful presence.” This ideal of Christian spiritual practice is not only individual but institutional and involves all aspects of social life. Hunter argues that practices of “faithful presence” will be more Christlike and transformative than political power plays could ever be. 

The book is divided into three essays. We will subdivide each essay into three sections, totaling nine posts. Our bloggers will include past contributors to the summer reading group, as well as some new names. The schedule will be as follows:

Essay 1 – “Christianity and World-Changing”

Essay 2 – “Rethinking Power”

Essay 3 – “Toward a New City Commons”

Engaging Hunter’s work will offer us all a chance to reflect on the spiritual implications and transformative possibilities of our interactions on this blog, in our church, and throughout the public sphere.  We invite you to join us and anticipate your comments, questions, experiences, and insights. Feel free to invite a friend and write a short comment below if you plan to participate.

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