Arts & Culture & Public Square

Os Guinness: In a Changing World, Christian ‘Renaissance’ Brings Hope

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In a world where it feels like change is coming at warp speed, many of the Christians I talk to are discouraged.

More and more they feel estranged from mainstream culture as the Judeo-Christian influences that have been the supporting structure of Western civilization quickly collapse. As David Brooks laments in a recent article,

American culture is shifting away from orthodox Christian positions on homosexuality, premarital sex, contraception, out-of-wedlock childbearing, divorce, and a range of other social issues.

Many Christians fear they will soon be treated as social pariahs because of their obedience to scriptural requirements on issues like gay marriage. As Brooks writes, “They fear their colleges will be decertified, their religious institutions will lose their tax-exempt status, their religious liberty will come under greater assault.”

Enter Os Guinness, whose book, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times, sets out to answer this question:

Can the Christian church in the advanced modern world be renewed and restored even now and be sufficiently changed to have a hope of again changing the world through the power of the gospel? Or is all such talk merely whistling in the dark – pointless, naive, and irresponsible?

Os Guinness suggests that throughout history the Christian faith has transformed entire cultures and civilizations, building cathedrals and universities, proclaiming God’s goodness, beauty, and truth through art and literature, modern science, medicine, and human rights.

Guinness is not alone in his estimation of the influence of Christianity.

In his book, How Christianity Changed the World, Alvin Schmidt writes about the profound impact Christianity has had on the development of Western civilization:

No other religion, philosophy, teaching, nation, movement – whatever – has so changed the world for the better as Christianity has done. Its shortcomings, clearly conceded by this author, are nevertheless heavily outweighed by its benefits to all mankind.

Can the Christian faith similarly change the world again today? Can Christians once again be revived to become a renewing power in our society?

Guinness answers yes, but only if we answer the call to a new Christian renaissance challenging darkness with the hope of Christian faith.

American Christians in the church today are in cultural captivity, much like the church in Europe just before the Reformation. Sadly, American evangelicals are second only to Protestant liberals in their “sometimes brazen, sometimes unwitting worldliness.” Their inability to be in the world and not of the world has robbed the Church of its effective witness over the last 100 years.

The power of Christianity to influence culture rests in its practice of truth as revealed in scripture and its ability to faithfully and fruitfully live out the gospel.

To that end, Guinness is convinced a critical mass of believers living out the ideas found in God’s Word can have a powerful, positive influence on the surrounding culture.

Guinness says,

When followers of Jesus live out the gospel in the world, as we are called to do, we become an incarnation of the truth of the gospel and an expression of the character and shape of its truth. It is this living-in-truth that proves culturally powerful.

We need men and women who are “transformed” by the gospel, not “conformed” by the world. Men and women who once again positively influence the culture in which they live. Individuals like William Wilberforce, who…

…captured the heart of such a Christian renaissance when – long before Mao Zedong – he said, “Let a thousand flowers bloom!”

Renaissance is a strongly encouraging book set against the pessimistic view or the unrealistic triumphalism held by far too many of the leaders in the church today. Guinness implies that the death of Christian influence may be greatly exaggerated.

He quotes GK Chesterton, who once remarked that five times the church has “gone to the dogs,” but each time “it was the dog that died.”

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