When the Church Becomes Worldly (Guinness)

 Here’s a helpful commentary by Os Guinness on worldliness in the church:

It would be idle to speculate what terrible new order today’s trendy clerics and faithless Christian activists are greasing the slipway for.  But we need not wait for the outcome.  The truth is that the greatest enemy of the Western church is not the state or any ideology such as atheism, but the world and the spirit of the age.  Anything less than a full-blooded expression of the Christian faith ahs no chance of standing firm against the assaults and seductions of the advanced modern world.

So when the church becomes worldly, she betrays her Lord, and she also fails to live up to her calling to be dangerously different and thus to provide deliverance from the world by a power that is not of the world.  When ‘saving us from ourselves’ has become the widespread problem of the advanced modern world, the worldly church has no supernatural salvation to offer and stands in shame and as desperately needing saving herself.

But that is not the end of it.  The worldly church is not only corrupt but cowardly, for much contemporary worldliness is a voluntary capitulation to the spirit and system of the age.  There are times when the powers of the age openly seek to seduce the church or brutally subjugate her to their own purposes.  That can be bad enough, as witnessed by the widespread compromise of Russian Orthodoxy under Stalin or Lutheranism under Hitler. But the contemporary worldliness of parts of the Western church, as exemplified differently by the extremes of either the Episcopal Church in America or the emergent Evangelicals, is in one sense worse.

As Jesus said, ‘You will know them by their fruit.’  Just wait long enough for their ideas to ripen, and in case after case it turns out that the much-trumpeted ‘new kind of Christianity for a new world’ turns out to be the old kind of compromise and heresy.  Such worldliness is inexcusable because it is self-chosen, naively and brethlessly self-chosen, and in many cases foolish beyond all comprehension.

From Renaissance, p. 119

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002


Do Not Forget Le Chambon (Guinness/Hallie)

 I’ve been impressed with Os Guinness’ book – more of a study guide – called When No One Sees: The Importance of Character in an Age of Image.  It’s basically a study guide on character: the importance of character, character in the crucible, cultural erosion of character, spiritual foundations for strong character, and heroes of character.  In this book, Guinness selected various authors and historical figures to help make his point about character.  These characters include James Madison, Winston Churchill, Plato, Augustine, Martin Luther, Sir Thomas More, and so forth.

In the section on “Heroes of Character,” Guinness notes how celebrities are NOT heroes, and he mentions that true heroes are those who teach us about true character.  One example Guinness gives is the story of the people of Le Chambon, France, during World War II.  These brave people protected more than five thousand Jewish children from certain death in the concentration camps.  Guinness notes, “They were Huguenots, fired by their faith and three hundred years of persecution following the Edict of Nantes.”  In fact, a dozen students in one of the schools there (some who would later become theologians) wrote a letter to a local French leader.  Here’s the letter:

Mr. Minister, we have learned of the frightening scenes which took place three weeks ago in Paris, where the French police, on orders of the occupying power, arrested in their homes all the Jewish families in Paris to hold them in the Vel d’Hiv. The fathers were torn from their families and sent to Germany. The children torn from their mothers, who underwent the same fate as their husbands.  Knowing by experience that the decrees of the occupying power are, with brief delay, imposed on Unoccupied France, where they are presented as spontaneous decisions of the head of the French Government, we are afraid that the measures of deportation of the Jews will soon be applied in the southern zone.

We feel obliged to tell you that there are among us a certain number of Jews. But, we make no distinction between Jews and non-Jews. It is contrary to the Gospel teaching.

If our comrades, whose only fault is to be born in another religion, received the order to let themselves be deported, or even examined, they would disobey the order received, and we would try to hide them as best we could.

Philip Hallie, who wrote about this event in his book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, reflected on this letter:

“Black and white.  The maneuvering between the two obligations to be ‘subject to the governing authorities’ and to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ was past.  The moment had come for the people of Le Chambon to pass their ethical judgment publicly, unequivocally, but without hatred or violence.”

This is indeed a wonderful and inspiring story of courage, faith, and character!  It’s a great read.

The above quotes are found in Os Guinness, When No One Sees, p. 270-272.  As a side, at the time of this blog post there are several very inexpensive used copies of this book on Amazon.  It’s worth the money for sure!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Church’s Dumbing Down (Guinness)

 (This is a re-post from May 2013).

A person only needs to listen to contemporary Christian radio for thirty minutes to realize that the Christian faith has been extremely watered down in our day.  Since there is little talk of the law, sin, and God’s wrath, any mention of Jesus reduces him to a divine friend or perfect life coach rather than the sovereign Savior of miserable sinners of whom Scripture speaks.  For an intellectual discussion of this topic, one of the “go to” books is one I’ve mentioned here before: Fit Bodies, Fat Minds by Os Guinness.  This is a great resource on how evangelicalism has nearly lost its mind.

Part one of this book is called “A Ghost Mind.”  Guinness lists eight things that have dumbed down modern evangelicalism. The following list is my own summary:

1) Polarization: the focus on feelings at the expense of knowledge and reason.
2) Pietism: the emphasis on subjective experiential individualism at the expense of corporate and covenantal faith.
3) Primitivism: the romantic notion of going back to a simplistic innocent age of the past.
4) Populism: the idea of a religion of the people, for the people, and by the people.
5) Pluralism: the practice of affirming the lowest common doctrinal denominator, which leads to “deeds, not creeds.”
6) Pragmatism: the theory where “does it work?” is more important than “is it biblical?”
7) Philistinism: the blatant dislike of anything intellectual or scholarly.
8) Premillenialism [of the dispensational variety]: a theory of eschatology that nurtures anti-intellectualism by a fixation on the future and a disregard for the present.

That’s just a short snapshot of some outstanding chapters.  The second half of the book (called “An Idiot Culture”) discusses the cultural factors that also led to the dumbing down of modern evangelicalism:

1) Amusement: the modern love of (or lust for?) entertainment.
2) Consumption: the lifestyle which abides by the “gospel” of advertisements.
3) Image: the infatuation with trends, looks, weight, sex, skin, etc.
4) Visual: the ability to watch a three-hour movie coupled with the inability to read a serious three-hundred-page book.
5) Postmodernity: the loss of overarching truth, meaning, and morality.
6) Media: the twisting or ignoring of truth for the sake of entertainment and cash.
7) Generationalism: the separating of generations with labels and stereotypes.
8) Cybergnosticism: the blending of the virtual and what is real.

Again, I’ve summarized Guinness’ chapters in my own words.  I hope my summary gets your attention and causes you to read (or re-read) this excellent book.  This book is thoughtful, timely, and gives a straightforward diagnosis of a major problem in evangelicalism.  Reading it will not only give you an idea of evangelicalism’s anti-intellectualism, it’ll challenge you to strive more and more to love God with all your mind.

Here’s the info: Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994).

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

The Moral Slide of Western Culture Illustrated (Guinness)

 In chapter one of Time for Truth, Os Guinness tells a story that very clearly describes our culture’s moral downhill slide.  It also illustrates the turn from modernity to postmodernity.  Guinness mentions “The Lottery,” a fictional story that the New Yorker published in 1948.  When it did come out in print, there was plenty of moral outrage since the story was about human sacrifice in rural America.  Guinness notes, that the “story’s moral – the dangers of ‘going along’ in blind social conformity – found a passionate response in the generation that had stood up to Hilter.”

Fast forward to the 1970s to 1990s.  A professor in an American college used this story often during her 20+ years of teaching.  She noticed a shift in the way people responded to the story.  For the most part, with a few exceptions, the responses during the 70s and 80s were what you’d expect: moral disagreement with the idea of going along blindly and submitting to human sacrifice.

In the 1990s things changed.  The professor continued to assign the story and discuss it with the class.  However, her students of various ages no longer consistently showed moral outrage at the idea of human sacrifice.  The responses included, “The end was neat,” or “It’s their ritual.”  The professor was stunned after talking to a woman who was passionate about saving whales, had concern for the rainforests, and recently rescued a stray dog.  The woman, however, was unconcerned and unmoved about the idea of a human sacrifice ritual.  The professor later said,

“At one point I gave up.  …No one in the whole class of more than twenty ostensibly intelligent individuals would go out on a limb and take a stand  against human sacrifice.”

Guinness does a fine job of explaining how this story is an example of the culture in which we now live.  He noted that the 11th commandment of today is “thou shalt not judge.”

In such a world, what follows is simple: When nothing can be judged except judgment itself – “judgementalism” – the barriers between the unthinkable, acceptable, and doable collapse entirely.  And then, since life goes on and the sky doesn’t fall, people draw the conclusion that the original concern was unfounded.  Lighten up, the newly amoral say as they skip forward blithely, complicit in their own corruption.

You can find this entire excellent discussion in chapter 1 of Time for Truth by Os Guinness.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Evangelicals, Sexual Revolution, and Roadkill (Guinness)

Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization by [Guinness, Os] As I’ve said before, Impossible People by Os Guinness is an excellent book in many ways.  One reason I appreciate it is because Guinness calls the church to stand firmly, carefully, and purposefully on the truths and teachings of Scripture.  He laments how some evangelicals have waffled and wavered when it comes to sexuality, gender, marriage, and other similar topics.  What is so clear in Scripture has been abandoned, explained away, or simply ignored by evangelicals trying to keep up with the sexual revolution.  Guinness’ words are helpful:

“Today’s evangelical revisionists should take sober note.  Time and again I tremble when I hear or read their flimsy arguments.  They may be lionized by the wider advocates of the sexual revolution for fifteen minutes, because they are siding with that wider culture in undermining the clear teaching of Jesus and the Bible that stands in their way.  For there is no question that Jesus, the Scriptures and Christian tradition all stand resolutely in their way.  But in truth, the sexual revolution has no real interest in such Evangelicals, and they will be left as roadkill as the revolution blitzkrieg gathers speed.  But that is nothing compared with the real tragedy of the revisionists.  It is no light thing for anyone to set themselves above and against the authority of Jesus and his Scriptures.  The apostle Peter betrayed Jesus and was restored, but Judas stands as the warning for all who betray Jesus for their personal, sexual or political interests and condemn themselves for their disloyalty.”

“Both Jesus and the apostle Peter tell us to ‘remember Lot’s wife’ (Lk 17:33), but our Christian revisionists should remember Lot himself.  Having chosen the benefits and privileges of living in the well-watered garden country of Sodom, having married into their social circles and having worked his way up to into the inner leadership of the city, Lot was suddenly confronted by the moment of truth.  He had been utterly naive and deluded in trusting the Sodomites.  When the chips were down, they had no respect for his hospitality, no time for his different moral standards, and they threatened to deal with him as brutally as his guests: ‘This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them’ (Gen 19:9).”

“Poor Lot became a joke even to his in-laws.  In spite of all his efforts and contrary to all that he imagined, he had still not arrived, and he was never accepted as he imagined.  He was always the alien – as Abraham never forgot that he was and was respected for being.  We of course should always be resident aliens as faithful Christians who are in the world but not of it – regardless of the world’s pressure on us to change with the times and line up with the so-called right side of history.”

Os Guinness, Impossible People, p. 74-5.

Shane Lems



Called To Serve (Guinness)

I like this book so much: The Call by Os Guinness.  Here’s a section I found this morning while re-reading part of the book.  It has to do with God’s call and gifts:

“In the biblical understanding of giftedness, gifts are never really ours 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.”

“This is also why it is wrong to treat God as a grand employment agency, a celestial executive searcher to find perfect fits for our perfect gifts.  The truth is not that God is finding 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.”

“…God does call us to ‘be ourselves’ and ‘do what we are.’  But we are only truly ‘ourselves’ and can only truly ‘do what we are’ when we follow God’s call.  Giftedness that is ‘ours for others’ is therefore not selfishness but service that is perfect freedom.”

Os Guinness, The Call, p. 46-7.

Shane Lems

Choice, Truth, Authority (Guinness)

Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization by [Guinness, Os] In his 2016 publication Impossible People, Os Guinness shares some very helpful insight on our cultural situation as it relates to the historic Christian faith.  This is a very good book; I’m sure I’ll mention it here again.  Right now I want to note the section where Guinness gives three examples of the damage modernity has inflicted on the Christian faith and the church.  The first is modernity’s emphasis on choice and preference – an emphasis which “tends to undermine all forms of authority other than its own and replaces them with the sense that all responses are merely a matter of preference.”

“…From breakfast cereals to restaurants to cuisines to sexual identities and temptations to possible sexual arrangements, we are offered an infinite array of choices, and the focus is always on choosing rather than choice as the content of what is chosen.  Just choose.  Simply choose. Experiment.  Try it out for yourself.  How else will you know unless you have tried it?  After all, there are always others, there is always someone or something more, so unless you try them how are you to know whether you have missed the possible holiday, relationship, or philosophy that might really hit the jackpot.”

“…Even God is reduced to consumer choice, and when truth is taken out of the equation, sticking to one choice is no longer a matter of intellectual conviction but a sign of timidity as well as folly.  Surely, the unspoken adpseak tells us, you should always be open-minded, for the genuine freethinker will always wish to choose and keep choosing, to experiment and keep on experimenting.  Our freedom is the freedom to choose, regardless of whether our choice is right or wrong, wise or stupid.  So long as we can choose, we are free.  Choosing is all that matters.  Truth, goodness, and authority are irrelevant to the central act and main event: you are the sovereign chooser, and you are free to exercise your sovereign right to choose and choose and choose again in whatever way you like – untill all choices seem the same and each one shrivels into insignificance.”

Guinness does explain this in more detail, which is for sure worth reading, but it’s too long to quote here.  Here’s part of his critique of the “sovereign chooser”:

“When such autonomous, free-choice consumerism washes over society from the shopping mall to the bedroom, the office and the ballot box, the result is predictable.  What will be the price of obedience to authority, and what will be the respect according to principled dissent?  Choice – unbounded autonomous, subjective sovereign individual choice – is the playboy king of consumerland, and with comfort and convenience as his closet courtiers and cronies, he now rules much of life.  Authority and obedience are therefore banished together.  They are the unwelcome spoilsports whose entry might ruin the fantasy game of infinite choices.  The result is no surprise – a grave crisis of authority within the church, and a rash of positions and interpretations that in any clearer thinking generation would be frankly seen as the rejection of the authority of Jesus and the Scriptures that they are.”

Read that last sentence over again.  I think Guinness is exactly right.  Stay tuned for more on this book later….

Os Guinness, Impossible People, p. 69-70.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI