As part of a series called “Anglican Insights” orchestrated by the ADV, Os Guinness spoke in TFC’s Historic Church last Tuesday evening. Arriving a bit late, I sat in the back row, thinking this strategic – I could leave early if it got too boring without incurring any disapproving looks. But the lecture was far from boring. Guinness had a way of addressing some tough issues head on without raising the defenses of his listeners. An author and a social critic, Guinness made it clear that there are dire issues facing the Western Church as we know it, but he did so without raising accusations or pointing fingers. In his opening remarks, he stated that the real problem facing the Church is not secularism or militant Islam, the problem is the Church. Guinness went on to issue seven challenges to his listeners in order to combat further crumbling of the Church:
- Appreciate our Anglican heritage with realism. The Reformation of the sixteenth century was a rediscovery of the Gospel, renewed the emphasis placed on Scripture, and allowed for the laity to participate in communal worship. Indeed, the Reformation was one of the leading contributors to the rise of the modern world. But, Guinness gently reminded us, history is never simple. The Reformation had many sins of its own: iconoclasm destroyed many great works of art. Even with the new emphasis on the Gospel, Protestants were continually outshone by Catholics in terms of mission: the Jesuits had mission hubs in Asia and Latin America by the close of the sixteenth century. Political entanglements also pervaded the work of Reformers: as Anglicans, we certainly know this to be true. Reflecting realistically on our past will help us face the future.
- Face up to the cultural transformations of our age. There is no denial that there has been a shift from the Industrial Age to the Information Age, which has certainly made our globe seem much smaller. There has also been a shift from Singular Modernity to Multiple Modernity, a concept which may be a bit more difficult for us, as Americans, to accept: Modernization no longer equals Westernization. This is especially evident in the recent events concerning the Anglican Church during which the Church of Nigeria came to the rescue of orthodox believers in North America.
- Be prepared for a war of spirits. Immanuel Kant predicted that rationalism would necessarily lead to “perpetual peace.” We need to look no further than our daily news outlet to see that this has not been the case, nor does the trend seem to be headed in that direction. Existing in the same societies are completely different world views with completely different values, accounting for the culture class. Culture wars are fueled by holy wars, whether between religions or between denominations. The war of spirits has also seeped into individual believers. The acid of pluralistic relativism is eating away at the orthodox beliefs of individuals. (52% of American Christians believe that Jesus is not the only Way.)
- Keep the challenge of secularism in perspective. Secularists seem to have a lot going for them: they are often among the educated elite, they seem to have a lot of fuel against any religious worldview. But, Guinness reminds us, all their great ideas are baseless. Secularists, and Atheists in particular, really have no grounds for morality. (In one of Richard Dawkins’ books, he expresses a sort of moral outrage at the idea of boiling a lobster alive. I wonder whether he is able to defend his averseness from an evolutionary standpoint.) Guinness also characterizes secularists of having an extraordinary “tone-deafness”: they cannot pick up the music by which ordinary people live their lives, they are indifferent to the richness and mystery of life.
- Keep the challenge of Islam in perspective. The Islamic passion for justice, as well as its great moments in science and scholarship are admirable. But Islam is increasingly becoming de-territorialized and de-confessionalized. In short, it is beginning to face the problems of modernization. We need look no farther than the current conflict in France over the burqa to see this. No matter which side of the matter you take, it is obvious Islam is having to face modernity head on.
- Face up to the lethal distortions of faith in the modern world. Guinness states: “The modern world has done more destruction to faith than all the persecutors of Christianity combined.” He cites three factors: a shift from integrated to fragmented faith; a shift from authority to preference; and a shift from exclusivity to syncretism. The shift from integrated to fragmented faith is obvious in our lifestyles: where we work and live and worship are no longer within the same spheres. I can’t walk to work, nor can I walk to church. The demographics in my neighborhood are much different than those in the neighborhood where Restoration is located, and these different spheres have different world views. The shift from authority to preference is illustrated in there being no cohesion between belief and behavior. (Evangelical behavior certainly, more often than not, does not reflect belief.) The shift from exclusivity to syncretism is a reflection of modern consumerism: take what you like, leave what you don’t. Consumerism has pervaded even our worship.
- Pray and work for Reformation revolution in modern times. Bizarre things are happening in this country in the name of Christ (the Michigan “Christian” militia group comes to mind). We, as Christians, need to hold the distortions of Christian doctrine in the same contempt Luther held Tetzel’s indulgences. Remembering that the Church has a doctrine of its own failure, we continue to have hope that the Church can be awakened. Our faith should be such that it survives the teeth of modernity and continues to influence culture.
In short, Guinness challenges us to analyze the modern world to understand the difficulties it presents to Christian living. The Church may have been temporarily crippled by modernity; indeed, it seems to have gone terribly astray, but we have theology and history to give us hope. So we continue to live and work for the building of the kingdom, knowing that we need not fear, for He who is greater than the world is within us.