It’s always refreshing to discover someone who speaks with authority both in/to the church and in the public square. Recently this was my delight in receiving a link from a friend regarding Os Guinness. Though I had heard of Dr. Guinness years ago as an authority on the implications of modernity, I had never really studied him. This discovery has sent me on a journey to listen to several of his recent addresses on YouTube. I look forward to reading some of the many books he has written including, The Call, The Global Public Square, and God in the Dark.
Guinness is the great grandson of the famous Irish brewer, Arthur Guinness. His grandparents and parents served as medical missionaries in China. Though other members of his family died during the great famine of 1943-44 in Henan Province, he managed to survive it and the great revolution of 1949 being expelled with many others in 1951. Back in his paternal homeland he studied at the University of London as well as at Oriel College in Oxford where he earned a PhD in the social sciences. For some years he traveled to India to learn about eastern religions. His faith in the Christian Gospel was established with deep conviction and usefulness despite initial doubts and questions. Having written and spoken widely, some of his greatest contributions to the work of God’s kingdom have been in helping to draft statements of public policy related to civil liberty both in the United States and Europe.
In listening to him on YouTube, I was impressed with his deep conviction concerning the power of the Gospel to effectively transform peoples and culture. He has a strong sense of passion to communicate about the great lessons of history in a way that enables and motivates seeking people to understand and practice their Christian faith in the public sphere. Though he is not a church man, he identifies himself fully with the church as he seeks to communicate the essence and implication of what it means to live as a Christian in today’s world. Few people whom I have listened to have the ability to communicate with such seemingly extemporaneous expression, organization of thought, and depth of subject familiarity. Guinness is a commanding figure who speaks with a great deal of spiritual clarity and authority regarding the relevance of the Christian faith in our times.
One of the presentations I enjoyed the most was an address which he gave to students at Chicago’s Wheaton College on the Art of Persuasion. Though he is obviously concerned about social justice it seems that he is concerned lest today’s western church loses sight of the essence and nature of the Gospel. In this lecture he says that evangelism has given way to social justice because it is difficult for Christians to speak persuasively about the Gospel. His plea is that Christians recover the biblical principles of persuasion.
Based on ideas of persuasion from the 16th Century Erasmus, Guinness speaks of the need to reframe people’s false impressions of the nature of the Christian faith. A secondary element in effective persuasion, Erasmus writes, is in the use of appropriate questions. This method of persuasion, used by Jesus, has a way of troubling people’s conscience. The use of parables is a third way of effective communication. When people are open, one can speak more directly to people’s hearts; when people are closed to faith in Christ, persuasion works better through indirect means of communication like stories. But this requires imagination.
Though Guinness recognizes the darkness of the current post-modern situation, he is not pessimistic about the future. Yet he recognizes that hope only rests in seeking the establishment of the kingdom of God. I’m not sure about his eschatological views but I’m inclined to think he tends toward an amillennialist perspective. Regardless, there is much Guinness has to teach about the way in which Christians should live and serve in these times. He emphasizes the work of the Spirit in the establishment of God’s kingdom. Acknowledging the reality of skepticism in the western world, he believes that the darkest hours are just before the dawn. Furthermore, decrying the tendency of evangelicalism to be too taken up with current trends, he makes a strong case for the idea that “the church goes forward best by going back first.”
Please join me in reading Os Guinness.