In his next chapter, Hunter sketches his theology of “faithful presence.” He begins by making a strong connection between presence and place.
“Rather, in every instance, God’s word was enacted and enacted in a particular place and time in history. In all, presence and place mattered decisively. Nowhere is this more evident than in the incarnation” (p. 24).
This is curious, because he leaves the point about place largely undeveloped. But the incarnate Christ is the universal particular, and this defines true globalism, as well as true parochialism. It really does have ramifications for how local and particular love can be kept out of tribalism, or at the terrible end, blood and soil idolatries, while at the same time not dissipating into the vague mist of globalizing bromides. I was sorry that Hunter didn’t develop this more.
Because Jesus is Lord, and only because Jesus is Lord, I can love living in Latah County, here with my people, and also love the approach of the day in which all the nations are truly united — not in Turtle Bay, located in Manhattan, but in Jesus Christ, located at the right hand of the Father.
Hunter is strong when it comes to laying down premises, and weak on the follow through. In the course of his argumentation in this book, he says many wonderful things. In this chapter, his critique of the neo-Anabaptist gnosticism is particularly trenchant. For another example, he says that the two essential lessons for our time are these — first, the fact of incarnation is the “only adequate reply” to the challenges of late modern dissolution, and that the point of the incarnation is the only adequate reply to the challenges of difference (p. 241). This is marvelous, and it stays a marvelous abstraction until we come to realize that the point of the incarnation was to transform our sorry little planet into something glorious, and to do this in time and in history, and in such a way as to show up in newspapers.
Hunter says wonderful things, but he can’t let the clutch out.
“Faithful presence means a constructive resistance that seeks new patterns of social organization that challenge, undermine, and otherwise diminish oppression, injustice, enmity, and corruption and, in turn, encourage harmony, fruitfulness and abundance, wholeness, beauty, joy, security, and well-being” (pp. 247-248).
Okay, I’ll bite. Where do oppression, injustice, etc. get challenged, undermined, and diminished? Where do wholeness, beauty, and joy take root? The point is clear enough — the rainbows have appeared in the sky, and the smurfs have come out to dance. But when will this happen? Where does it happen? On what scale does it happen?
This is important to mention because Hunter has already made it abundantly clear that it cannot be permitted to happen too much, for if that occurred we would find that we had a little too much triumphalism and Constantinian shalom going.
Previously, Hunter has made a point of urging us to remember that a bunch of our work in this world is not in any way establishing the kingdom. But then, curiously, he says this:
“All of this has resulted in a peculiar approach to faith and vocation. For generations of faithful Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, vocation in the secular world was at best a necessary evil. To the extent that work had ‘kingdom significance,’ it was as a platform for evangelism” (pp. 248-249).
Rather than saying “necessary evil,” it would be more accurate to say that evangelicals and fundamentalists have thought of work as some kind of a neutral good, but as having no direct kingdom significance. They said this because of a debiliating eschatology, which is exactly the same reason that Hunter has argued for precisely the same thing.
But because God has placed eternity in our hearts, we are not built to relate our labors to nothing much in particular. If our hedge-planting, plank-sanding, columns-of-numbers counting, ship-building, logging, mining, fishing, legislating, architecture, and more, are not kingdom work, then we will come to relate it somehow to that which is kingdom work. Hunter relates it to evangelism and faithful testimony just as the evangelicals and fundamentalists do, with the only difference being that he is intellectually sophisticated enough to talk about it in terms like “faithful presence” and “shalom” — instead of doing it the old school way by leaving tracts in laundromats. The same basic move of creating eternal significance is occuring.
But thinking missional shalom instead of evangelistic soul-winning only makes you cooler, not more effective at it.