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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  • Dale Welch

    I guess I’m not as optimistic in seeing Christianity overcoming where we have arrived in our cultural styles. Churches don’t seem to be “taking a stand” as they are to love everyone and seem to not to want to offend the immoral style cultural group.

  • Dale Welch

    I guess I’m not as optimistic in seeing Christianity overcoming where we have arrived in our cultural styles. Churches don’t seem to be “taking a stand” as they are to love everyone and seem to not to want to offend the immoral style cultural group.

  • I have heard a lot of sermons like those of Guinness: Christians are too worldly to change the country. But consider that it may be possible that US Christians are no worse than Christians at any other time in history and the non-Christians are more hardened to the gospel. That was the case in Israel during the times of the prophets. Not a single prophet blamed the remnant of believing Israelis for the unbelief of the majority. God always blamed the rebellious for their rebellion. Jesus and the Apostles failed to transform Israel and God finally had to punish Israel by destroying the temple and Jerusalem. Did Jesus and the Apostles fail because they were so worldly? God used Samson to accomplish a lot of great works, but Samson was a very worldly guy. Look outside the US. Christianity is exploding on every continent but NA and Europe. Are the Christians outside of the West that much more spiritual? Not likely. Besides, God never used large numbers of people to accomplish his work. He only needs a handful, as the Bible makes clear. He left the world just 12 Apostles to evangelize the entire world. He doesn’t need for the entire church in the West to become truly spiritual before he can work. Just one spiritual person will be enough. Is Guinness convinced that not one spiritual person exists in all of the US?

  • I have heard a lot of sermons like those of Guinness: Christians are too worldly to change the country. But consider that it may be possible that US Christians are no worse than Christians at any other time in history and the non-Christians are more hardened to the gospel. That was the case in Israel during the times of the prophets. Not a single prophet blamed the remnant of believing Israelis for the unbelief of the majority. God always blamed the rebellious for their rebellion. Jesus and the Apostles failed to transform Israel and God finally had to punish Israel by destroying the temple and Jerusalem. Did Jesus and the Apostles fail because they were so worldly? God used Samson to accomplish a lot of great works, but Samson was a very worldly guy. Look outside the US. Christianity is exploding on every continent but NA and Europe. Are the Christians outside of the West that much more spiritual? Not likely. Besides, God never used large numbers of people to accomplish his work. He only needs a handful, as the Bible makes clear. He left the world just 12 Apostles to evangelize the entire world. He doesn’t need for the entire church in the West to become truly spiritual before he can work. Just one spiritual person will be enough. Is Guinness convinced that not one spiritual person exists in all of the US?

  • Matt Pool

    I would agree that non-Christians are more hardened to the Gospel, I think a big part of that is because the average Christian looks like the average non-Christian, so, rightly, what is the point in believing? It is more like the early church than it ever has been before. We have religious leaders that are either saying ‘anything goes’ where the Gospel is the ONLY conversation (with no follow up to a Godly life), or saying ‘nothing goes’ with so many rules and stipulations that the Gospel isn’t ever in the conversation. Obviously these are extremes, I don’t believe any one Church would think it was doing either of these things.

    In response to Rogers comment – Admittedly having not read the book, I don’t believe that Guinness is suggesting that there are no spiritual people in the U.S. There are many churches that see this change and are working hard against it to better equip their believers and help them really live the life the New Testament calls us to live with a lot of work towards being hands on in their neighborhoods and communities. In general, though, this is not the case. As a whole there are two camps of Christian: Living just like the world so nothing looks different, or living outside the world in a Christian Culture (reading only Christian books, listening only to Christian radio stations, spending time only with other Christians, etc.) It is the balance of ‘in the world, but not of the world’ that is missing. We have ‘in the world and of the world’ and ‘out of the world and not of the world’ which both have missed the point.

    The crux is this: We have setup a standard that not even we can meet. When we were saved we were not sin free. As an example: We see couples unmarried and living together and we cry, “Get married! the Bible says so!” But, do they need to get married? Or do they need Christ? It could very well be that marriage would make life worse for them as non-believers (we don’t know, we are not God, the Bible only tells us that a marriage centered on Christ will thrive). But the Holy Spirit can convict them (to get married, or to end the relationship) once they are a Christ follower. Telling them that they have to get married before telling them they need Christ is saying that there is something they have to do to earn salvation.

    I do think that the church in the U.S. is losing ground, but I do not think that this means we should all stop working to gain it back. The prophets kept working in their cities. Paul dealt with beatings, prison, and ultimately death but kept on working in his cities.

    There are several organizations that are already adapting to the changes, offering solutions that allow for real relationships, real training, and real community within our local churches. BILD International in Ames, Iowa is one such organization that I can think of as I write this. Another is City Unite in Denver. Christians in Politics, a UK organization, is another. These are organizations under the direction of the church working alongside the church for positive change through real relationships. I know there are many more. This is not the end of First World Christianity.

  • Matt Pool

    I would agree that non-Christians are more hardened to the Gospel, I think a big part of that is because the average Christian looks like the average non-Christian, so, rightly, what is the point in believing? It is more like the early church than it ever has been before. We have religious leaders that are either saying ‘anything goes’ where the Gospel is the ONLY conversation (with no follow up to a Godly life), or saying ‘nothing goes’ with so many rules and stipulations that the Gospel isn’t ever in the conversation. Obviously these are extremes, I don’t believe any one Church would think it was doing either of these things.

    In response to Rogers comment – Admittedly having not read the book, I don’t believe that Guinness is suggesting that there are no spiritual people in the U.S. There are many churches that see this change and are working hard against it to better equip their believers and help them really live the life the New Testament calls us to live with a lot of work towards being hands on in their neighborhoods and communities. In general, though, this is not the case. As a whole there are two camps of Christian: Living just like the world so nothing looks different, or living outside the world in a Christian Culture (reading only Christian books, listening only to Christian radio stations, spending time only with other Christians, etc.) It is the balance of ‘in the world, but not of the world’ that is missing. We have ‘in the world and of the world’ and ‘out of the world and not of the world’ which both have missed the point.

    The crux is this: We have setup a standard that not even we can meet. When we were saved we were not sin free. As an example: We see couples unmarried and living together and we cry, “Get married! the Bible says so!” But, do they need to get married? Or do they need Christ? It could very well be that marriage would make life worse for them as non-believers (we don’t know, we are not God, the Bible only tells us that a marriage centered on Christ will thrive). But the Holy Spirit can convict them (to get married, or to end the relationship) once they are a Christ follower. Telling them that they have to get married before telling them they need Christ is saying that there is something they have to do to earn salvation.

    I do think that the church in the U.S. is losing ground, but I do not think that this means we should all stop working to gain it back. The prophets kept working in their cities. Paul dealt with beatings, prison, and ultimately death but kept on working in his cities.

    There are several organizations that are already adapting to the changes, offering solutions that allow for real relationships, real training, and real community within our local churches. BILD International in Ames, Iowa is one such organization that I can think of as I write this. Another is City Unite in Denver. Christians in Politics, a UK organization, is another. These are organizations under the direction of the church working alongside the church for positive change through real relationships. I know there are many more. This is not the end of First World Christianity.

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