Recently, a group at church decided to read Impossible People by Os Guinness. I didn’t need a lot of convincing. Some liken him to C.S. Lewis because of his intellectual clarity on matters of faith. That sold me.
Impossible People examines modernity’s challenge to Christian faith, a challenge Guinness believes is the most significant ever faced by the church. Modernity is slowly severing western civilization from its Judeo-Christian roots through various forces: consumerism, relativism, scientism, and biblical illiteracy, just to name a few. The result? Western culture is like a vase of cut flowers. Colorful blooms belie the lack of any root system to anchor, draw nutrients, and sustain life. Withering and death are foregone conclusions.
While Guinness’s diagnosis is complex and dire, his prescription is simple and hopeful: Know God, know the scriptures, and rely on the Holy Spirit. Guinness urges the church to return to a vital, living relationship with God. Theological concepts can’t compete in the post-modern market place of ideas, which is based on preference not substance. The current challenge can only be answered with spiritual reality and supernatural power.
Nothing will recommend Guinness’s book like quotes from it. So I’ll end with a few selections:
Is Jesus Lord, or are the forces of advanced modernity lord? The church that cannot say no to all that contradicts its Lord is a church that is well down the road to cultural defeat and captivity. But the courage to say no has to be followed by an equally clear, courageous and constructive yes—to the Lord himself, to his gospel and his vision of life, humanity and the future, so that Christians can be seen to live differently and to live better in the world of today.
There is only one voice that matters for us—the voice of God, and not the voice of the people or the voice of the times. And certainly not the warm embrace of popularity, the soft whisper of our own desires for comfort, the careful eye to our own reputations, the siren lure of being on the “right side of history,” or the mean faces of the bullying activists and the social media mob. Equally, there is only one judgment that matters, and one word of approval that counts in the end: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
[H]ow can it be that certain Christians loudly profess that they continue to hold to a “high view of biblical authority,” yet reject its clear, enduring teaching when it so clearly suits them, say, over the justification of homosexual marriage? What are we to make of their interpretations, with so many spurious arguments…all toward the end of so much obviously self-interested, self-justifying sinful behavior? […] It is surely time for some Christians to tremble when we read and hear the casual twisting and discarding of Scripture by those who still claim to be faithful. There is a rottenness in the church that must be addressed. Christians too need to return and stand humbly and obediently with all their fellow believers before the lordship and authority of Jesus Pantocrator, ruler, sustainer and judge of all the world.
What we need above all in the church today is for each Christian to have a profound personal knowledge and experience of God himself and a deep knowledge of the Scriptures as his authoritative Word. No one and nothing else can ever replace those essentials.
“Show me your glory” must therefore be our urgent prayer just as it was the prayer of Moses. Only those who know God in unmistakable reality can stand the test of the reality of the world of our day. In sum, our Western nations have both forgotten God and forgotten where they have come from. Now they are attempting to complete the process of severing the roots of Western civilization, destroying its root system, poisoning its soil and ruining its entire spiritual, moral and social ecology. Our Western societies may persist in forgetting God and rejecting his way. But whatever our societies do around us, we are to remain faithful and keep open the place for God in our living. Our privilege is to host the absolute presence of God and to live the way of Jesus so that our difficult and lonely task as his followers is to be faithful and so to be different and to live differently.