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

The Kingdom of God and Surprising Reversals (Guinness)

I always appreciate Os Guinness’ insights and comments on Christianity and culture.  In one part of his book Renaissance Guinness discusses some aspects of the kingdom of God.  One of those aspects he calls “surprising reversals.”  By this, he means that “God’s ways are not our ways, and his wisdom is so far above ours as to be a mystery” that surpasses our finite minds.  Guinness then notes from Scripture the various surprising ways that God carries out his plan and purpose (e.g. Moses, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and of course Jesus’ death on the cross).  The first are last, the last are first; the humble are exalted, the exalted are humbled, etc.  Here’s how Guinness ends this section, applying this truth to the Christian life:

“…Yes, we strive for excellence.  We know that nothing less than our best is worthy of our Lord.  Our concern is always to achieve our utmost for his highest.  We know that leaders have more influence than followers, that the center of a culture has an influence that far outweighs the periphery, that kings outweigh commoners, that the rich can get far more done than the poor, and that the well-educated know far more than the average person.”

“We know all that, we respect all that, and we take it seriously – and yet, and yet.  So we are also always ready for the surprising voice, the far-from-obvious leader, the last-person-you-would-ever-think would be the key player.  And yes, we are always ready to recognize God’s nobodies and God’s fools.  For these may be the truly anointed ones prepared to be seen and treated as nobodies and fools for Christ’s sake, whom God uses far more than we who are the obvious ones for God to use.”

Or, like James says, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith…? (NIV).”  Or Paul: “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27 NIV).  Thankfully, God in his sovereignty often uses average – or even less than average(!) – people to carry out his grand purposes.  This is the surprising reversal of the kingdom!

The above quotes are found in Guinness’ book, Renaissance, p. 107.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


The Call to Remember and the Christian Faith (Guinness)

God in the Dark: The Assurance of Faith Beyond a Shadow of Doubt by [Guinness, Os](This is a re-post from April, 2010)

This section of Os Guinness’ book, God in the Dark, came to mind when I was recently studying the repeated command of YHWH to his people: Remember the day you came out of Egypt…  Remember that the LORD your God redeemed you… Do not forget the LORD your God (Deut 5.15, 7.18, 9.7, etc).

“Clearly, memory for a Christian is not nostalgia or historical reverie.  It is far more profound than having a mental skill or a better-than-average ability to recall.  There is all the difference in the world, as G.K. Chesterton pointed out, between tradition as the living faith of the dead and traditionalism as the dead faith of the living.”

“The redeemed memory, as it works under God’s Spirit, keeps the living awareness of the present in line with a living awareness of the past.  Thus our gratitude and thanksgiving, which are spurred by a knowledge of the past, are linked to our faith and hope, which engage the present and look toward the future.  This gives continuity and wholeness to the life of faith that are indispensible to its growth and maturity.”

“Ideally the ministry of remembering should be a bright thread running through all our Christian living – individually, corporately, publicly, privately; in the quiet moment of the intimate prayer as well as in the open statements of public thanksgiving…”

These excellent quotes are taken from chapter 3 of Os Guinness’ God in the Dark.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Tension of Unbelief (Guinness)

Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion Fool’s Talk by Os Guinness is an excellent resource for thoughtful Christian apologetics.  I’ve mentioned it here before so I won’t go into details.  But there is a section I was recently reading again – a section which is well worth posting here.  It’s based on Romans 1:18ff:

“At the core of unbelief is ceaseless, unremitting and inescapable tension and conflict.  Unbelievers suppress the truth in unrighteousness, but it is still always the truth, so they can never completely get away from it.  An unbeliever’s view of the world without God may contain many deep truths and have all sorts of genuine merits.  But that view of the world can never be completely true, because the unbeliever will not accept God, without whom it will always be finally false at some points.  Yet at the same time, the unbelievers’ views of the world are never completely false, because they can never get away completely from God and his truth.  Unbelief is therefore always an inherently in tension, and it can never escape this conflict.  Whatever view of the world unbelief espouses, it is always partly true but twisted, and it is always twisted, though never other than still partly true.”

Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk, p. 93-4.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI