When Evil is Cool (Guinness)

It’s no secret that our culture’s leading and loudest voices refuse to call evil what it is. Killing a baby in the womb is called a choice. Hostile rioting and violent looting are called protesting. Sexual sins are called rights. Vicious and murderous words on social media are called freedom of speech. And the list goes on.

There are many reasons why people today will not call evil what it is. Some don’t believe in objective right and wrong. Some are afraid of offending others and losing popularity and/or votes. Some just don’t care either way. Another reason “evil” is not our cultural vocabulary is because of the slow but steady moral decay we’re experiencing. Os Guinness describes this quite well in chapter 9 of Unspeakable. [I do want to note that although the following quote is quite critical, Guinness does also focus on the postitive in this book and gives Christians a biblical way to respond to evil.] The section of the chapter where this quote appears is called “When Evil Is Cool.”

…Radical idea by radical idea, violent film by violent film, explicit song by explicit song, brutal video game by brutal video game, edgy cable show by edgy cable show, and shameless scandal by shameless scandal, the momentum grows and the binding forces concentrate. What was once unimaginable becomes thinkable and then fashionable. What used to be abnormal is now normal. Where we were shocked, we are now indifferent. What started as soft-core became hard-core. Where before the definition of deviancy slowly became more limited, now, in the mad scramble for ratings and market share, there is an all-out race for the bottom in the name of the ‘daring’ and the ‘edgy’ – which always turns out to be the violent, the vulgar, the explicit, and the tasteless.

Each transgression builds on the last one and binds us to the next one. To break off at any point is to cast everything up to that point in a bad light, so each transgression serves as the permission and the dare to press on to the next. The result is an entire society following the addict’s piecemeal slide into bondage and a civilization’s descent into decay…”

Os Guinness, Unspeakable, p. 104.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Christian Courage or Christian Compromise? (Guinness)

Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization by [Guinness, Os] Impossible People is an excellent book by Os Guinness that discusses what it means to courageously and faithfully follow Jesus in our Western culture that is more and more antagonistic towards the claims of the Christian faith.  We always need a call to stand up for the truth when the going gets tough.  This applies to our current situation as well, since it is illegal in some places to publicly worship our King, Jesus.  I realize our “quarantine” situation is not a black-and-white one, but whatever the case, we do need to put following Christ and his word first on our list of priorities as his people.   Obedience to him is more important than the laws of man and our own personal health.

After Guinness discussed Christian courage and faithfulness in light of persecution in the East he wrote,

“And what of us in the West? Are we showing that we too are prepared to follow Jesus and his authority at any cost?  When an imperceptible bow would have saved Daniel’s three friends, they defied King Nebuchadnezzar’s idolatry at the threat of being burned alive.  When simply closing a window and drawing his curtains could have saved Daniel himself, he chose to risk the lions rather than mute his allegiance to God.  When a mere whiff of incense would have saved their lives, early Christians refused to acknowledge Caesar as lord rather than Jesus and were made human torches or the evening meal for wild animals.  When it seemed quixotic to take on the emporer, the empress, and all the empire, Athanasius took his stand for truth ‘contra mundum’ (against the world) and was exiled five times for his faithfulness.  When he was told he was arrogant or out of his mind to follow his conscience and defy the consensus of tradition, Martin Luther stood firm in the face of the fiery stake that had cremated Jan Hus before him….

What then of us? Are we living in the light of the great cloud of witnesses and martyrs who have gone before us?  Or in the comfortable conditions of the advanced modern world, where the seductions of modernity are more of a threat to our faithfulness than persecution? In the golden era of the Roman Empire, Pliny the Younger advised Emperor Trajan that Christians should be executed solely for their tenacity and intransigence.  ‘Whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinancy ought not to go unpunished.’  The similar charge in the death of many martyrs was routine: ‘Since they remained unbending, obstinate, I have condemned them.’

Would we be convicted today for being stubborn, tenacious, unbending, and obstinate? It is surely undeniable that only rarely in Christian history has the lordship of Jesus in the West been treated as more pliable or has Christian revisionism been more brazen, Christian interpretations of the Bible more self-serving, Christian preaching more soft, Christian behavior more lax, Christian compromise more common, Christian defections from the faith more casual, and Christian rationales for such slippage more suprious and shameless.

…It is time, and past time, to turn this situation around and take a stand worthy of our Lord – before the cock crows and we are left with the bitter regret that our brothers and sisters around the world stood firm and paid with their lives, but our generation in the West betrayed our Lord in such a pitiful way….

Yes, this is a pretty blunt way of speaking, but also very necessary.  I highly recommend this book if you need an encouraging and motivating read for help on the journey of following Jesus with Christian courage.

Os Guinness, Impossible People, p. 29-30.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

Hatred, Forgiveness, and Justice (Guinness)

carpe diem cover image In chapter 5 of his excellent book, Carpe Diem Redeemed, Os Guinness makes a great point that true justice does not have hatred as its fuel:

…Hatred poisons society and holds the hater captive as mercilessly as any ancient Pharaoh, Southern overseer, modern tyrant, or sexual predator.  Will the United States ever transcend racism and sexism?  Certainly not through the ways in which racial and sexual politics are being waged now.

Booker T. Washington exemplified the way of the gospel in shining contrast with many of today’s racial and sexual activists.  Freed by Abraham Lincoln from slavery in Franklin County, Virginia, Washington was remarkable for his complete absence of any bitterness.  ‘I was resolved,’ he wrote, ‘that I would permit no  man, no matter what his color might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him…I pity from the bottom of my heart any individual who is so unfortunate as to get into the habit of holding race predjudice.’  In strong contrast, he wrote, there were those then (and there are those today) who make it their business to  keep stoking racial wrongs in the public square.  ‘Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances because they do not want to lose their jobs.’

Born in slavery and facing the dark rise of the Ku Klux Klan, Booker T. Washington knew the degradation of slavery all too well and hated it as an institution – as we should hate racism today.  The stark contrast between the spirit of such great African American champions and that of many of today’s racial activists is stunning.  These great ex-slaves and oppponents of slavery knew that freedom that begins in the heart must never issue in hate, whereas activism that is not free in the heart only compounds hate even as it claims to fight hate.  Justice pursued with hate leads only to more evil and even greater injustice.  To be reconciling and restorative, justice must be pursued with an eye to the possibility of genuine repentance, genuine forgiveness, and genuine reconciliation – and thus with hearts that are freed from bitterness.

The past is always present.  It is certainly not dead.  But forgiveness and reconciliation can draw the poison out of hate so that the past no longer kills the present but liberates it to go forward freely into the future.  Through repentance and forgiveness, the poison is prevented from spreading.  The ball and chain is broken.  Reaction needs\ no longer follow action.  Even before the end of time, the past can be redeemed in part, with the evil acknowledged and contained.

Os Guinness, Carpe Diem Redeemed, p. 95-6.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

No One Will Remember You! (Guinness)

carpe diem cover image

We probably don’t think about it too much, but there is such a thing as an unbiblical and unchristian view of time and history. False religions often have erroneous views. For example, Mormonism teaches that matter is eternal. Many Eastern religions teach reincarnation. And so forth. However, Scripture teaches that God,who is not bound by time, created all things out of nothing. Time has a beginning. History has meaning and is moving forward. God is in total control of it all. He has a purpose and a goal for this world. And so on.

Speaking of time, Os Guinness’ 2019 publication Carpe Diem Redeemed is a great discussion of time and history from a solidly Christian perspective. Here are two paragraphs I marked up – they’re good ones to encourage you to get and read this book!

We are simply not at the center of existence. We will not always be here, and the universe will go on without us as if we had never been here. Most people never hear of us even while we are hear, and all too soon it will be as if we had never been here at all. For almost all but the tiniest handful of us, the day will come when there is no trace uof us in the living memory of the earth. Thus for all our sense of significance, whether modest or inflated, we are all, as the Greeks said, ‘mortals.’ In the words of a Roman epitaph, ‘As I, so you, so everyone.’ Or as the Bible states simply, ‘You are dust, and to dust you will return.’

…Our human challenge is to make the most of our time on earth and to know how to do it.

…Seizing the day, making the most of life, and understanding the meaning of life are inseparable. All three require that if we are to master time, we must come to know the author of time, the meaning of time, and come to know the part he calls us to play in his grand story, which makes the deepest overall sense of time and history. Even more, wonder of wonders, we are then invited to live lives that align our individual hopes and destinies with the very purpose and destiny of the universe itself.

Os Guinness, Carpe Diem Redeemed, from the introduction.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Calling, Gifts, Service (Guinness)

 If you haven’t read The Call by Os Guinness, you should put it on your “to read” Christian book list!  It’s an in-depth look at vocation (or calling).  I was looking over some of my highlights in this book today and came across the following quotes that really have been helpful for me and my own Christian life:

“…God normally calls us along the line of our giftedness, but the purpose of giftedness is stewardship and service, not selfishness.”

“A sense of calling should precede a choice of job and career, and the main way to discover calling is along the line of what we are each created and gifted to be.  Instead of, ‘You are what you do,’ calling says: ‘Do what you are.'”

“In the biblical understanding of giftedness, gifts are never really ours or for ourselves.  We have nothing that was not given us.  Our gifts are ultimately God’s, and we are only ‘stewards’ – responsible for the prudent management of property that is not our own.  This is why our gifts are always ‘ours for others,’ whether in the community of Christ or the broader society outside, especially the neighbor in need.”

“The truth is not that God is finding us a place for our gifts but that God has created us and our gifts for a place of his choosing – and we will only be ourselves when we are finally there.”

Os Guinness, The Call, p. 45-46.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015