The times we live in have been referred to as the “Unbelievable Age,” according to Os Guinness, a Christian social critic and author of The Call. Speaking to a Lifework Leadership class in March, Guinness said, “No one would have thought 20 years ago that we would be seeing the things within American and around the world that we’re seeing now,” he said. “It is an incredible challenge for followers of Jesus to live with integrity and effectiveness and really be salt and light in our culture.”
Many people are alarmists, filled with discouragement and even doom and gloom. But Guinness asserts, “That’s not Christian language at all. We should always speak the language of faith and hope and mission.”
Guinness acknowledges that the Christian and Jewish faith together is under extraordinary erosion or assault today. “We are living in 500 years of western dominance, which is clearly now declining,” Guinness said. “Will we have a vision of faithfulness that will be true to our Lord and adequate to the extraordinary times in which we’re living?”
We have to have “an unshakeable, unwavering confidence in the power of the gospel,” he asserts.
While the Christian faith is the most numerous on earth, and the church is the most diverse community on earth, Guinness said, “We haven’t done a good job in really flourishing as a church under the conditions of modernity. We must win back our western world.” he said. “By that I don’t mean a political crusade or a cultural warring, but winning people back to Jesus — not because the West is anything special, but if you think about it, the West is our Jerusalem and we are called to go to Jerusalem, Samaria, and the remotest parts of the earth.”
We must also contribute to the human future, he said, noting that a lot of the world’s issues will need to be answered in the adulthood of the younger generation. “If they are answered well, humankind can look forward to calm sailing. If they are not answered well, or not answered at all through drift and neglect, humankind is going to be profoundly in trouble: economic questions, technical questions, scientific questions, environmental questions.” Guinness said, “We need the Good News to be in the forefront of some of those discussions.”
Gospel and culture
He reflected on the surprising relationship of the gospel to culture and civilization.
“Jesus call us to forgive without limits, to love our enemies, and when we live this way together, the result is a Christian culture,” said Guinness. “The salt and light has effect in a way of life lived together.”
Guinness said people often forget the really magnificent gifts of the gospel to the western world. Here are five great gifts of the gospel to the west.
1.A culture of philanthropy and giving and caring
The parable of the Good Samaritan changed the world. That ability to cross boundaries and go beyond is at the heart of the early church’s reaching out to everybody in need, the rise of hospitals, hospices and orphanages.
2. The reform movement
There have been evils that have needed reforming such as infanticide and slavery, but most of the great reform movements have been inspired by Christian views of humanity and led by followers of Jesus.
This powerful modern institution was once rooted in faith and the light of the scriptures.
4. The birth of modern science
“Obviously we owe science to the Greeks in its ancient form,” said Guinness, “but there was no conflict between religion and science. Most of the early scientists like Copernicus and Newton were passionate followers of Jesus.”
5. The human rights revolution.
This came from people like William Wilberforce who knew that you fought for justice because people are precious, made in the image of God.
City of God and City of Man
So, what humanly is the secret of the transforming power of the Gospel?
The obvious answer is God’s power, but Guinness points out, “God is sovereign, but we are significant. We do play our small part to play and when we live out the gospel it not only transforms individual lives, but it transforms whole cultures too.”
He noted that St. Augustine in his book City of God makes the point that we’re called to be in the world but not of the world.
“A great example of that was when the Israelites were told by God to plunder the Egyptian gold, but they used that gold to set up a golden calf – in not of,” said Guinness. “In Romans 12 Paul says, ‘Be not conformed, but rather transformed by the renewing of your minds.’ Plunder the gold of the world of your time, but don’t set up a golden calf. Christians are called to be against the world for the world. The trouble is its wonderfully easy to say, but much harder to do.”
Augustine talks about the City of God and the City of Man. Guinness explained, “There are two humanities; those who love themselves develop the city of Man and those who love the Lord develop the city of God.” He concludes that we are essentially resident aliens in this world. “Our citizenship is in the City of God but we are in the middle of the City of Man. Ultimately they are completely different, but they are intermingled in ways we have to be careful about.”
When the church lives the in not of well, it creates a social tension with the culture that is culture shaping. But Guinness said, “While the church today is the largest majority in America, tiny groups of less than 2 percent of America have far more cultural influence than we do and one of the major reasons analysts say is that much of the church is more shaped by American culture than it is by the gospel. We are worldly and many people haven’t even examined the problem.”
It takes three things to have real transforming power, Guinness asserts.
1. Engagement “We are to be in the world and no pious sounding language should ever rationalize that away.”
2. Discernment “We’ve got to know where the world of our time is terrific, beneficial, and where subtly or overtly its shaping us in ways that are against the way of Jesus.”.
3. Courage “Under today’s challenges it will take courage to be true to Jesus and the unwavering authority of the Scripture.”
“Engagement, discernment, courage – when the church does that, you can see in history it is in, it is not of, there is tension with the world and the gospel transforms cultures as well as individual lives,” said Guinness. “By God’s grace that’s what we want to see again.”
To learn more, read the latest book by Os Guinness, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Age.