Acton Institute Powerblog

Changing the Culture of a City

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Concentric CirclesJulius Medenblik, the president of Calvin Theological Seminary, passes along an anecdote from Michael Lewis’ new book, Boomerang: Travels in the New World.

Read the whole selection for the entire context. It is worth it.

But I wanted to highlight the upshot in particular, the answer to the question, “How do you change the culture of an entire city?”

The answer? “First of all we look internally.”

You change the culture by starting with yourself, from the ground up. You have your own personal culture; change that first. You have a familial culture; work on that. You have a professional or social culture, as well. Focus on that. If you want to change the culture, this is the only strategy that works.

Hunter Baker put it this way:

The first moves are the most immediate. If you are a child, be a respectful child who wants to learn and grow. If you are an adult, take care of your parents as they age. If you are a husband or wife, stay committed to your spouse. Work on sustaining a stable and peaceful household in which all the members feel heard, cared for, and respected. If you are a parent, focus on loving your child’s other parent, providing financially and emotionally for the child, and encouraging the child in learning. If you are a grandparent, help young parents adjust to the newness of their role and encourage them in the hard work of taking care of children. If you live in a neighborhood, work on getting to know your neighbors and doing favors for each other. If you are a member of a church, focus less on what the church is doing to entertain you and spend time finding out how you can help others both in their quest to know God and by meeting needs in their daily lives. When you engage in business whether as a producer or customer, honor your contracts, pay your bills, and do not take advantage of others. God gives us many offices to occupy in this life. Were we to take all of them seriously, the need (and appetite) for government to fill voids might be far less great.

And then there’s this, one of my favorite sections from Herman Bavinck’s The Christian Family:

All good, enduring reformation begins with ourselves and takes its starting point in one’s own heart and life. If family life is indeed being threatened from all sides today, then there is nothing better for each person to be doing than immediately to begin reforming within one’s own circle and begin to rebuff with the facts themselves the sharp criticisms that are being registered nowadays against marriage and family. Such a reformation immediately has this in its favor, that it would lose no time and would not need to wait for anything. Anyone seeking deliverance from the state must travel the lengthy route of forming a political party, having meetings, referendums, parliamentary debates, and civil legislation, and it is still unknown whether with all that activity he will achieve any success. But reforming from within can be undertaken by each person at every moment, and be advanced without impediment.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.


  • As Catholic Catechism Paragraph 1869 teaches, repeated acts of personal sin create structures of sin. And structures of sin make us accomplices of each others’ sins by reason of our own contributions to the structure. Logically, it would also work in the opposite manner. Acts of virtue, like those of City Manager Batchelor, can build upon the virtuous acts of others in a way which replaces the rotted and predominantly sinful structure with a new and predominantly virtuous one.