Articles

Os Guinness Explains Our Calling to This Cultural Moment

BreakPoint Podcast

01/3/22

John Stonestreet

**The following is a transcript from the interview – Please excuse typos as we try to hold to the authentic transcription of the conversation**

John Stonestreet: Welcome to a special edition of the Breakpoint podcast, thrilled to welcome back here, someone who’s no stranger to the Breakpoint audience? That’s author, social critic, public, intellectual thought leader all-around great guy as I’m out of adjectives to describe you, Os Guinness, but always great to have you on the program. 

 

Os Guinness: Thank you, General layabout and good friend of yours. But that’s a good way to put it. 

 

John Stonestreet: But I’ve appreciated Os for so long. I think all the audience knows how much I’ve relied on your analysis of the cultural moment. You and I are going to be together in Phoenix for an event there in January and we’ll be talking about that here in just a second, it’ll be an event that folks in Phoenix can join us live but also will be available over Livestream and really what we’re trying to get at is kind of a lay of the land. I think a lot of people are just sensing or have the sense that this is just a chaotic cultural moment. I mean, there are times when things are kind of boring, you kind of think back in the nineties and you know, where, you know, the things that we’re capturing our attention, where were these kind of salacious details of, you know, kind of voyeuristic looks into our you know, celebrities, things like that. And now you talk about international, you talk about domestic, you talk about everything from a global pandemic to economic, you know, unsettlement things don’t seem okay. And I know culture ebbs and flows. But how would you describe, you know what people are sensing and feeling right now? 

 

Os Guinness: Well, I think this is truly what’s called a civilizational moment. So America is experiencing its deepest crisis since the civil war, but equally, it’s part of the overall crisis of the Western world today. And so I think we need to really appreciate the gravity including the gravity for people of faith because faith is being deeply rattled and subverted at the same time. So it’s an extraordinary moment. 

 

John Stonestreet: Yeah. I mean I guess everyone thinks they kind of live in an extraordinary moment I guess, but this one just kind of feels like there’s so much more at stake and it’s hard to I think that distinguish between the cultural news stories, the headlines. I mean that’s the sort of stuff we talk about on Breakpoint every day. It’s really hard for us to distinguish between what’s noisy and what’s important and noisy and important aren’t always the same thing. 

 

Os Guinness: No, you’re exactly right. I happen to think you do an incredibly good job because you look at the issue and then you look at the deeper significance and I wish more people would do that. Far too many people I think doing looking at what I call midlevel problems, you know I’m constantly asked would I say something about civility. Well as you know I’ve written on it and I believe in it deeply but that is not anywhere close to the heart of the crisis today. Well, there are people looking at problems of character and so on and that isn’t close to it either. So I think you do a good job because you’re looking down to the deep things in other words when you want to analyze, you want to stay. What’s the baseline? So for me, one of the baselines for America is, you know, St. Augustine’s idea that you judge your nation, your assassination in terms of what it loves supremely. And there’s no question what America loves supremely is freedom. And so the question is how is freedom going? Always a big question for me? And I think it’s going extremely badly at the moment. In other words, the baseline is so important and the same when you come to the church. You know, I’m constantly getting people sending me George Bonner’s latest on teenagers. Can’t believe this and so on. And we’re obsessed with polls and my response. You know, the old maxim, damn the polls. Think for yourself. In other words, Americans are obsessed with polls because think of regard, they desire what other people desire. The issue today is not being fashionable or unfashionable. It’s are we faithful to our Lord in terms of how we’re living. So again and again, I say people, what’s your baseline from which you’re really thinking. 

 

John Stonestreet: Well, I want to revisit the baseline for the church because I think that’s absolutely important. I mean, I so much of what’s happened, I just had this conversation on our podcast with my co-host Maria, that’s so much of the conversation for the church over the last couple of years has been, you know, this will damage the witness of the Church, will damage the reputation of the Church. And I’m just not sure that how high a priority that should be as opposed to the reputation of Christ. I mean, our ability to be winsome, but I want to go back and start on the freedom question because I think there’s so much there really grateful last year for Carl Truman’s book, talking about the radical individualization of freedom you’ve written and this was a very shaping book, I think it was in a Free People’s Suicide, where you talked about the greatest enemy of freedom is freedom. I mean, winning freedom is not remarkable in human history. Keeping freedom. That’s remarkable. Do you think in the West, and especially in America, we are at that sort of level of a pivot point of keeping or losing freedom, and why? 

 

Os Guinness: No, absolutely. The way I put it, and I may do this in phoenix, I call it the three outright oppositions to the faith and to the West, the Christian West one, the red wave, secondly, the Black Wave and thirdly, the Rainbow Wave, in other words, if you look at the first one, Classical and cultural Marxism, both different, but both coming from the same stable. They’re explicitly opposed to the faith Solzhenitsyn always used to say that hatred of God is more important to the radical left than either politics or economics. Well, you look at the black way by which is meant the explosion of radical Islamism since the Iranian revolution in 1979. And if you think of everything from al Qaeda right down to the Taliban and so on, you can see again that while they attack the little satan, Israel, they’re always out to defeat in their literature, The great satan, which is the Christian west, of course, the same is true of the rainbow wave, the sexual revolution, because if you go back to the architects and I always point out to people, you know, a lot of people think it comes from you Hefner and Playboy magazine and the pill and permissiveness, you know, things from the sixties, but it goes all the way back to the same quarter in Paris that the political revolution came from the Palais royal. And if you look at one of the architects later say Bill helm, right, he’s quite explicit, they want to subvert 3000 years a civilization that was the Jewish and the Christian and he says we’ll never win unless we overcome one the church and two parents, that’s why you want to have sex education at three and four, you sideline parents now, you look into each of those, the red, the black and the rainbow, they’re all expressly antichristian and the tragedy of the churches. Many don’t understand it. And then were still some are caving in with all the work pastors and woke people today. 

 

John Stonestreet: Yeah, well it’s interesting that connection as well between an attack on faith and an attack on the family. I mean, I think a lot of people have pointed that out, Is there a hope for rebuilding faith unless it also comes along with rebuilding the family? 

 

Os Guinness: Families and churches and schools are the triple matrix the bedrock institutions in which both faith and freedom are born and kept alive. So they’re each of them absolutely critical, but in each case, we got to understand what’s against the institution and then how do we resist it? 

 

John Stonestreet: Well, and not just get caught up in passing outrages or attacks here and there, we need people to have a much broader understanding all of this is stuff we’re gonna be talking about in Phoenix, Os, on January the 14th at redeemer bible church, very grateful for our friends there in the town of Gilbert, which is right, basically part of the Phoenix area. And we’re gonna have an evening conversation on just trying to identify the cultural moment and a lot of it has to do with just because it feels so chaotic, so many people feel like things are just up in the air. You just kind of look at one thing after another after another that happened to our culture and this past year we talked about Haiti some and on Breakpoint. And the point was, you know, look, Haiti had a really bad run, right? I mean, if you talk about politically culturally, certainly with earthquakes, but there are countries, there are civilizations that have the built-in strength to be able to navigate these sorts of challenges. And then there are other civilizations and societies where these sorts of events become just not. I mean, disruptive is an understatement. They become destructive. We think about how the world has handled a global pandemic. It just seems like there’s a lot of things pointing to the fact of what you’re saying that the center is not holding anymore. We’re not the sort of people that can handle these sorts of big challenges that other times and in other places, people could maybe that’s an overstatement. 

 

Os Guinness: But obviously we, you and I both believe john I don’t think so. Okay. I think what you’re saying is straightforward. You know, a lot of people are focused on climate change, but they’re not focused on what’s called cultural climate change and that’s actually going to be much more damaging because climate change is obviously a matter of the environment outside us, whereas the cultural climate change, it affects us and the very things you’re talking about our capacity to respond and so on. So I see the three parts of that cultural climate change philosophical cynicism. you know, postmodernism complete undermining of truth and goodness and beauty and all that. And then moral corruption and then social collapse the unraveling of many institutions. So we’re in a place of incredible deepening chaos and I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet. You know, the second to Alexi de Tocqueville, the great french commentator is Lord James Bryce, who was an Englishman around 1900. And he warned about what he called the completist revolution of all. What does he mean? He said, if you look at Europe, Europe is in a bad way at 1900, but Europe always does have a tradition of a sort and social cohesion, people are living in small cities, small towns, so they hold each other accountable living together. He said 1900. Remember America has no tradition and no social cohesion, the freest mobile society in history. And he said nothing holds America together except one thing religion. He said, That’s 1900 now, he says it’s unthinkable that religion in America is anything but strong and powerful and under present, he said, if the day comes that America loses religion to faith, then you’d have the completist revolution, there’s nothing to hold American society together. And so whether it’s corruption in politics or whatever, you can see the beginning of this massive decay, which is incredibly sad and incredibly dangerous. 

 

John Stonestreet: One of your best selling books, Os is the book The Call and you and I were talking about this the other day, one of the lines in that book that stood out to me the most and I used to use it with my students when I taught at the college level all the time, is that we have to and understanding are calling what God wants us to do. And of course, when I’m working with college students, that’s what they’re wondering, you know, what, what does God want me to do with my life? Does God want me to marry this person? Doesn’t want me to be a missionary. Whatever one thinks you say there is, it’s not just what you love, it’s not just the gifts and the talents that you have, it’s not just the way that he’s built you, it’s the time and the place, It’s the gravity of the cultural moment. I see that in Acts 17 when Paul says that God determines the exact times and places in which we live. So here we are at this very fragile cultural moment, on a civilizational level, as you’ve, I think very clearly described in your books, The Magna Carta of Humanity and A Free People’s Suicide. As you’ve described here, just over the last few minutes, the church is placed here, you and I are and and and the folks that will be joining us in Phoenix on January the 14th, the folks that are listening will be joining us on the Livestream on January the 14th where we want to see this moment, not just as a, you know, bad luck that we’re here, but as a calling from God that christ determined that we’re here, What’s that look like for us? 

 

Os Guinness: We’ll put it another way, John one of the key elements of discipleship is responding to the times. You know, people like to quote David’s men skilled in reading the signs of the times our our our Lord rebukes his generation. They can read the weather, but not the signs of the times. You think of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem because there’s one version puts it, they missed God’s moment when it came Or you have, I think Acts 13 is incredible where Paul says about King David, he served God’s purpose in his generation. We have paul elsewhere saying we’ve got to redeem the time because the days are evil. And so in other words, I think what’s missing in the American church is a living awareness of the nature of the times we’re in. Now, of course, you add to that, what’s calling? Well, the Biblical view of leadership is not someone at the top or someone out front is the person and the jews are very strong on this. It’s the person who takes the initiative and takes responsibility for either the opportunity or the crisis right in front of them. In other words, it’s every one of us in our spheres of calling, some are teachers, some are doctors, some are factory workers, some are politicians, you name it. People who take responsibility for the opportunities and the crises right in front of their noses at their level in their sphere. And that’s what we’ve got to recapture today in the present crisis. You take, say the famous quotation from Martin Niemoller, you know, they came for the unionists and I wasn’t one, so I didn’t speak up. They came for the jews and I wasn’t once, so I didn’t speak up. They came for the Catholics and I was a protestant. And then you remember, he says, and then they came for me And there was no one left to speak up. This is a time when every American, certainly every follower of Jesus has got to stand up and speak out exactly where they are. 

 

John Stonestreet: I think one of the hard things is we’re used to winning, you know, we’re used to being in the quote-unquote right side of history on some of these issues. I’ve wondered for a while if we’re in a Bonhoeffer for a moment or a Wilberforce moment and maybe that’s not the most helpful framing. But you think about both of these men who found their culture in chaos in crisis. Wilberforce works and works. He works with others and he sees a real renovation Bonhoeffer for of course, just the more he works, the worse it gets until eventually there’s a collapse. I know, being prophetic in that sense God has brought cultures back from the brink. He’s brought lives back from the brink. He’s brought churches back from the brink. Are we in a Wilberforce moment or a Bonhoeffer for a moment or doesn’t matter? 

 

Os Guinness: Well, only the Lord knows that all we’ve got to be is faithful, but I would say, you know, I read a lot of say you have the great profits of the monitors of cycles of history, Arnold Toynbee, you know, Petirim Sorokim or Philip Reiff, Charles Spangler, you know, some are pessimistic, some are optimistic, but the optimistic ones like Sorokim are those who say that religion has a vital part to play in a civilizational crisis. Now put that in Christian terms, we always believe in freedom, our freedom. So we’re not defeated, there’s no determinist but more importantly, we believe in renewal and revival and the power of the word and the spirit to break out even now, of course, that’s God’s sovereignty and God’s mercy and all we can do is pray and bring the Lord our desperate need. But I think we should be people who look to him with hope. 

 

John Stonestreet: Well, my friend Os, before we go here, I just want to mention to next month you’ve got a new book coming out the great quest invitation to an examined life and a sure path to meaning releases early February 2022, is that right? 

 

Os Guinness: Well, sadly because of the supply chains, there’s no paper and so the publications put back to March and I hope that’s actually the second time. I hope it doesn’t get put back much further because it’s about the search for faith and that’s incredibly important. We read of all the nones, the rising number of people with a receding faith. But forget the polls I said earlier, forget the polls and get people to think for themselves. Faith is essential in the present crisis. 

 

John Stonestreet: It all fits together. I mean, you know, we don’t think of ourselves as Christians and individualistic terms, but at the same time, we were just as the culture needs the church, more than ever, we have this kind of rise of the nones, the growth of people who just refuse to have any sort of spiritual authority or identification. And then of course the famous deconstructions of faith that we’re seeing across much of the Christian celebrity world, all of this stuff just really matters. Os, always great to talk with you, I’m looking forward to being with you on January the 14th there at Redeemer Bible Church in the Phoenix area, you can go to colsoncenter.org/phoenix. That’s colsoncenter.org/phoenix. The event’s absolutely free, thanks to our friends at Redeemer Bible Church as well as Waterstone, as well as the Counsel for Arizona policy, they are helping us put on this evening. If you’re not in the Phoenix area and you want to join us, you can also sign up for the Livestream of that evening there at that same website, colsoncenter.org/phoenix. And we’ll continue this conversation about this cultural moment and what does it look like to understand our calling as followers of Jesus, both individuals and his churches here in this cultural moment. Os, looking forward to being there with you in Phoenix and thanks so much for all that you shared with us today.

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