After reading James Davison Hunter’s To Change The World, and then Ken Wytsma’s Pursuing Justice, I’ve kept thinking about the idea of “changing the world” and the extent to which such a thing is, or is not, possible.
In a section on vocation and the Kingdom of God in Cornelius Plantinga’s excellent book Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Eerdmans) he draws on the thinking of John Calvin, who noted that short of redemption and the experience of grace, we all have a tendency to oscillate between pride and despair. When we realize, however, that we’re incapable of doing anything on our own, our pride is (or ought to be) shattered. And when we grasp the good news that God’s grace and power are in no short supply, our despair begins to melt away. Redemption, in other words, frees us from performance anxiety.
Plantinga expands on this concept in terms of Christians’ approach to reforming culture, writing that while “changing the world” doesn’t depend on us, the world will in fact someday change, and we have every reason to want to get in on the action:
As a matter of fact, Christians have been put in a solid position where the reform of culture is concerned: we have been invited to live beyond triumphalism and despair, spending ourselves for a cause that we firmly believe will win in the end. So, on the one hand, we don’t need to take responsibility for trying to fix everything. The earth is the Lord’s, and he will save it. On the other hand, we may take responsibility for contributing what we uniquely have to contribute to the kingdom, joining with many others from across the world who are striving to be faithful, to add the work of their hands and minds to the eventual triumph of God.
In other words, we can be honest about our finitude without despairing. And we can get to work without thinking too highly of ourselves. I’ll take it.