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  • DATE February 3, 2014
  • URL oneinstitute.com/tile/holy-impatience/

Holy Impatience

Vincent Bacote on common grace and cultural engagement "beyond faithful presence"

In 2010, the sociologist James Davison Hunter got culturally engaged Christians talking with the publication of his book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Hunter argues that most forms of Christian cultural engagement fail to “change the world”—despite pervasive claims to the contrary. He critiques efforts of the Christian Right, the Christian Left, and the neo-Anabaptists before articulating a vision for what he calls “faithful presence,” which he considers a positive alternative to the short-sightedness and triumphalism of other models of engagement.

Writing in the Journal of Markets & Morality, theologian and ethicist Vincent Bacote counters this proposal by suggesting that the ideas of the Dutch academic, churchman, and politician Abraham Kuyper “helps us see that while the concept of faithful presence is a good starting point, a vibrant doctrine of common grace provides greater incentive for positive Christian influence on cultural change and development.” In Bacote’s view, Kuyper provides a model for transformation that doesn’t fall into the trap of triumphalism, but that doesn’t leave us on the cultural sidelines, either.

After reaffirming faithful presence as a good starting point, and conceding the prevalent temptation to triumphalism among many culture-making Christians, he writes:

“Yet is it not also possible that faithful presence carries a contrasting temptation to be unnecessarily content with the status quo or “slow change”? Is there not also the possibility that what one regards as faithful presence could be mistaken and in fact oppose God-glorifying change? Moreover, one of the most significant reasons faithful presence is insufficient is because there are people in the world who do not have the luxury of waiting decades for change to happen or for hoping that when their grandchildren are alive certain changes will ultimately arrive. If one lives in crisis, yet lives in a context where public participation is a genuine possibility, then faithful presence needs to be the beginning but hardly the end and definitely subject to ongoing reflection so that faithfulness is truly an expression of fidelity to God.”

In our work, faithful presence is a good starting point. But eventually, there will come a time when we are called not to settle for the status quo, but with “holy impatience” to work for the transformation of the marketplace for the glory of God and the common good.