This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
As we saw last week, the most proven strategy for cultivating large scale cultural change is not electing the “right people” and trusting them to force legislative change from the top-down. Mass change happens when hearts and minds are transformed. And hearts and minds are transformed not by laws but by acts of culture. As Andy Crouch says in his exceptional book, Culture Making, “The only way to change culture is to create more of it.”
But if we’re honest, creating for change requires a level of engagement that many in the Church aren’t used to. Part of the appeal of merely voting for change is that it is relatively easy. If you don’t like the direction the world is heading, it’s far easier to sit on social media and rage against the machine than it is to roll up your sleeves and actually do something. So we vote and pray that politicians in Washington, London, or Brasília will do the work for us.
In a way, this is a form of retreat. This is our “temporary home,” so rather than work to change the world, we create Christian subcultures and sit back and wait for eternity. But as today’s passage shows us, that is not the call of the Church. Like Israel was in Babylon, we too are in exile, awaiting the arrival of our eternal home. But that doesn’t let us off the hook in the present. No, we are called to create and engage—to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city.”
Hannah More understood this call well. In 18th-century London, More was a prolific playwright and author “whose works at the time outsold Jane Austen’s ten to one.” From humble beginnings, More was catapulted into great wealth, fame, and the distinction by historians as “nothing less than the most influential woman of her time.”
More’s remarkable influence had everything to do with how she used her talents to advance God’s Kingdom. She didn’t view her faith as a private thing to be disconnected from her work. More saw her work as a means of shaping culture and putting every square inch of creation under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
As More’s biographer wrote, “She did not wish to retreat from culture into a religious sphere, but rather to advance with the wisdom and truth of religion into the cultural sphere.” Indeed, themes of the “wisdom and truth” of the gospel made their way into much of what More wrote, making her a powerful combatant in the “culture wars” of her own day.
As she once wrote, “One must not merely rail against the darkness, but must instead light a proverbial candle by creating literary and cultural works that rival and surpass the bad.”
As we’ll see next week, the greatest “darkness” of More’s time was the abomination of slavery. And it would be this poet’s partnership with a politician named William Wilberforce that would lead to slavery’s abolition.