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Reviving the Church to Change the World (Part 1 of 2)

Air Date 04/30/2015

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Author Os Guinness discusses the need for today's Christian church to experience a spiritual revival if it is to be truly effective in changing the world for Jesus Christ. (Part 1 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


John Fuller: You know, historically in the middle of chaos in any culture, the church-- followers of Christ --have proven strong and determined to shine the light in the darkness. And this is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly, I'm John Fuller and Jim, sometimes things are hard in the world, but there's always hope in Christ.


Jim Daly: I believe it, John. Some people call me the eternal optimist, but I think as Christians, we should be a hopeful people and we should never let the world take away our joy and steal that very important gift that God has given us. And sometimes we can look at the culture and we can be overwhelmed by it, but I'm telling you what. God is in control and He knows what He's doing and we simply need to stand for Him in all of those fruits of the Spirit and move forward trusting that God will take care of things.

But we want to talk about it today and we want to do that with a very special, special guest, Dr. Os Guinness, who is a renowned author and social critic. He's senior fellow at the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics in Oxford and he's author a book called, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times. And John, there is no better time to talk about this subject than now and with that, let me welcome you, Os, to the program.

Os Guinness: Thank you Jim, an enormous pleasure. Where you began is exactly why I wrote the book.

Jim: And why is that?

Os: Well, there's so much doom and gloom and alarmism and people come up to me--I'm European, of course--and they'd say things like, "Are we going the way of Europe?" Well, actually there're signs of return to faith in Europe and I'm almost tempted to say, "I hope so."

Jim: (Laughing) Well, we're going to unfold that.

Os: But you know, there is a crisis.

Jim: When you look at it, people of faith, Christian faith, why do we become fearful when the very words that Jesus spoke to us should give us the courage to stand firm?

Os: Absolutely, and you can see our brothers and sisters. I grew up in China and saw the beginning of that brutal, vicious, systematic persecution and we've seen the sum of what's happening in the Middle East. But we're in a new situation, so our Western world [is] decisively created by the Gospel and yet, it's decisively repudiated it today. And so, I called this the ABC moment--Anything But Christianity. People will believe any weird, wild and wonderful thing except faith in Christ. And so we're in a different situation. We gotta recognize it.

Jim: What's working in the human heart to be that ABC person? Why is there such animosity toward something so wonderful, the Good News?

Os: Well, there's a general reason. Cultures in decline tend to turn against their old faith, whatever made them what they were. And the old faith in the west is clearly the Jewish Christian faith, so they've turned against it. But if you think some of the alternative philosophies are ex-Christian in a very special way. So Islam, in the seventh century, came out of Christian context, very corrupt one. Or you take secularism, no other cultures in the world have produced secularist societies like we have in the Christian West.

So you've got a very special animosity in each of the cultures and philosophies that are ex-Christian. And we are not used to that so there is a good deal of I call it "animosity," not hatred--the word is bandied around too much--but there is a real animosity we've got to come to terms with.

Jim: You write in the book about a profound transition, a moment and you feel like we're in that moment. What is that profound transition?

Os: Well my conviction is this is Augustinian moment.

Jim: What does that mean?

Os: You know, St. Augustine had the privilege and the challenge, he lived after 800 years of Roman dominance and Rome was sacked in his lifetime. The Vandals were at the gates of Carthage as he lay dying. And his vision was one of faith in our Lord that spanned the Dark Ages after the collapse of the church. And in many ways, we're not 800 years, no, but Western culture has been dominant in the world for 500 years and we're clearly living towards the end of that--the rise of countries like India, China, and so on. And so, we're in a new situation. You could analyze it various ways.

Jim: When you look at that, that people have talked about the torch, the flame of God, the Holy Spirit of God moving across the globe almost just right around the globe starting in the Middle East, Europe, the United States, Latin America, now moving into Asia. Is there credence to that? Is that the path it seems to be taking?

Os: I don't think that's biblical myself. The idea that it's gonna go west to Asia again and we're gonna be left behind, that's not biblical. If you look at our world, we're the product of two earlier missions to the West-- the first conversion of Rome. But what people forget is that when the Roman Empire in the West fell, so did much of the church and the Dark Ages were very dark. And Jim, you and I are Irish (Laughter). This is Ireland's greatest hour, the conversion of the barbarian people which is the second mission to the west. So, we're living today at the twilight of that long second mission, but instead of doom and gloom, we should say what the Irish did in the 5th, 6th 7th centuries. We've got to win our world back to our Lord again.

Jim: How--

Os: It's not all over.

Jim: --how do we go about doing that? I mean, you're talking to folks for the most part married couples, people with kids, John and I, we have children. We're worried about their future. Will they have the freedoms that we have today? We see them slipping away. It feels like nobody believes we can win.

Os: Oh, we certainly can and we have in the past. Take the revival under Wilberforce and Wesley in England, but let's leave that to one side at the moment. You know that maxim "think globally, act locally," That's a secular one. Our equivalent, I think, is to think and pray globally with vision for the entire world, 'cause the Gospel's for the whole world.

But to act locally, and for each of us, that's the sphere of our calling. So, none of us can save the world. We're just little finite people, but we're called to be faithful. Are we homemakers or teachers or lawyers or computer scientists or cab drivers or political leaders? If each of us is faithful in the whole of the spheres of our calling, the salt and light will be salty. The tragedy in America with the huge majority and yet tiny minorities, like say the gays and the lesbians, bless their hearts, have far more cultural influence than we do. Something's wrong. The salt is not being salty.

Jim: Well, what is that? I have asked myself that question over and over again. Why has it come to this? Why is the salt not salty? And why is there so much power in small groups like you said?

Os: Well, you have to do the hard work, Jim. We couldn't do in a few minutes of analysis as to why. For instance, our Lord calls us to make him Lord of the whole of life, but the very structures of our modern world force us to have a fragmented rather privatized faith--privately engaging. publicly relevant. So, the salt is innocuous. And the tragedy in America is not that Christians aren't where they should be. The tragedy is they're not what they should be right where they are.

And you can see Evangelicalism in a kind of meltdown and we have an amiable "accommodationism" to everything that comes down, be it anagrams or yoga or whatever, people are incredibly uncritical. So, the same people who would smell a relavist, you know, at 100 years, when they meet things like consumerism, which turns everything into a preference and so on, they're undercut and you can see our evangelicalism has lost its integrity and its effectiveness.

Jim: You said something that really is intriguing to me and that's on the issue of the saltiness and being critical. How do we do that? Another way to say that is, holding truth and grace in the proper tension. How do we do that? We seemed to be struggling with either wanting to be fully engaged on the truth side--telling people they're living incorrectly; they're not honoring God--or on the other side, being only about grace as you said and not engaging the truth of God's word. How do we go about doing that in our neighborhoods?

Os: Well, truth and notions like sin have been incredibly trivialized today. And I think, you know, Carl Bott talked about faith having what he called "a binding address." You believed something, you behaved a certain way, but that link between belief and behavior is gone. So, what we believe and how we behave, they're going two different directions today. It's part of the meltdown of faith. And you can see that there are reasons for this. We've shifted from authority to preference and it's not because we've been attacked or bad theology has come in, although that's there, too. It's that in the consumer society, everything's a choice, a preference, a whim, including our faith and our lifestyle and all these sort of things. And there's a massive meltdown.

You know, the best analysis of our advance modern world is in terms of it being a liquid world. Things that were once solid—faith, freedom, human dignity--they're just melting and evaporating into the air. And so, we've got to come to terms with this. So, the Gospel's exploding in the Global South, thank God. But the Global South is largely premodern. And our privilege for the Lord is to stand firm in the heart of the advanced modern world and to show that our faith in Christ can prevail against the toughest most seductive challenges of our day.

Jim: The question is how to compete with the tools that are used by those who would oppose a godly worldview. I mean. It's the media. It's Hollywood and the shows that are produced. It's seems to be a withering advancement to where how do you how do you proclaim a worldview that is different from that and succeed at it? That maybe why we're fumbling. We don't have—

Os: Well, we've gotta always remember—

Jim: --mechanisms.

Os: --we've got to begin by living ourselves.

Jim: Well, that's very true.

Os: That's where it has to start.

Jim: That's the strongest media you have is live it.

Os: Absolutely, and as you know, Focus on the Family, the tragedy is that the three nurturing institutions of any free society are all in crisis--the family, the faith community and the school.

Jim: Hm.

Os: Those are the nurturing institutions without whom [sic] freedom never lasts. And they're all in crisis. We've got to start there, the way we live and some of these basic nurturing institutions. Now you're right. The media is overwhelming progressive and liberal--MSNBC and so on. But we've got to get in there and one of my next books is on persuasion, you know, 'cause a lot of Christians are good when it comes to proclamations or pronouncements or protests or picketing or whatever, but they missed the key P word, "persuasion." How do we speak to people who don't agree with us at all--

Jim: Uh.

Os: --who think we're out to lunch? We've got to be persuasive in the same way our Lord was and the great spokesmen down the centuries have been.

Jim: Sure. You know one thing that I've noticed Os is, it seems to me as I've talked to people that would not support the views that we have whether that's the homosexual activist community, the abortion industry, but people that I've intentionally wanted to talk to. It's fascinating to me that we're wired in such a way and I think it's why God said, the Lord said to love your neighbor because when you show sincerity, even with people who oppose you, and they sense a certain love for them, it's like they're heart can't help but open up to you.

Os: Uh-hm.

Jim: And you do become friends and you do begin to talk. There's an element there that's really intriguing isn't it?

Os: Absolutely, so all communication must begin and end and go the whole through in love. And a practical example like Dan Cathy reaching out to gay leaders, or take Wilberforce. He was the most vilified man in the whole world when he started, twice attacked physically and attacked in the papers and you know by everyone, but he loved his enemies. He was humble, humorous, but he did work at it. I mean, he figured out what he called "launchers." How you got to a cocktail party? How do you go to somewhere that's absolutely against you and you raise a question? And so, you know one of his greatest tracts was his little Wedgewood plate--the head of a slave in the middle in chains. And Wilberforce knew that a question biblically is much more subversive than a statement. So the question round the plate, "Am I not a man and a brother?" And he figured that out carefully. If you look in Scripture, our Lord is brilliant at asking questions.

Jim: Hm.

Os: And questions are very subversive. So statements aren't. Statements are take it or leave it. Questions get under someone's skin.

Jim: That is fascinating; I mean, that's really true.

Os: We've got to learn some of these things again.

Jim: Yeah, the art of asking the right question.

John: Hm.

Os: The art of persuasion

John: Hm.

Os: It's very Christian and we need to do it, but it has to be done as you said with a real love and I would add, in the power of the holy spirit.

Jim and John: Hm.

Os: A lot of Americans, we're actually much more secular than people realize. Paul talks about bringing thoughts captive to Christ and that is an argumentation to learn. That's knowing how to really pray and bring in the power, supernatural power, because behind many of the ideas we're opposing are principalities and powers

Jim: Hm.

Os: And we can't argue these just by mass movements.

John: Well some really, big concepts and deep thoughts and biblical, ideas about how to engage, in the culture. The book that we're talking about on today's "Focus on the Family" is called Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times. Our guest is Os Guinness and we'll have a description of the book and ways that you can order it at And by the way, when you make a gift to this ministry of any amount, we'll send that book to you as our way of saying thank you for supporting the work here to Jim, I guess it would be appropriate to say "to equip the saints to do the work."

Jim: That's a good way to say it.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: And I want to ask you, Os where you left off there. I think it takes courage, because I think one of the big things we can believe privately fervently what we believe in Christ. The challenge is expressing it in a culture that will begin to push back.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: And maybe it's that some people are uncomfortable with that. They don't have the answers. They lack confidence in expressing their faith. And so, they retreat and they're good in their home teaching their kids but that's not enough is it?

Os: No. And in the book, we'll look at St. Augustine and our Lord's words we're called to be in the world but not of the world. Now what does that take? Two extremes reduce the church to impotence. One extreme is to be so other worldly we're not engaged at all. Our Lord told us to be in the world. That's not an option.

The other extreme is to be in it and of it and sadly that's increasingly the problem of much of evangelicalism. It's indistinguishable from the world. How are we in it, but not of it? That's easy to say, hard to do. I think you need three things. One is engagement. The second is discernment. In other words, people have gotta know where is the world of my day good, beneficial for the kingdom? And we thank God for it, like health care. But where is it really seductive and dangerous? And it's not always when it's opposed to us. The real problem of advanced modernity, we can do everything so well without God with our own brilliance and technology, we don't need the Lord.

Jim: Huh.

Os: And much of the church could go on happily with church growth even if the Lord wasn't there.

John: Hm.

Os: So we need engagement. We need discernment, but you mentioned the third thing, courage. So wherever the world of our time, whether its ideas or its practices, are against the kingdom of our Lord, we've got to say no. You know, Churchill, he always said, he had a wonderful line. He said the Persians, he's quoting Alexander the Great, "The Persians of Alexander's time would always be slaves, 'cause they didn't know the meaning of the word 'no.'"

Jim: Hm.

Os: We need courage today. When the world is wrong, we go a different way. The caving in to the sexual revolution is pathetic. You know, the people say to me, how could the German Christians have caved in so easily to national socialism and the answer is very simple--very easily if you understand the times in which they lived. And the amiable accommodation of much evangelicalism today has lost the courage to say "no."

Jim: I think that's the problem though, Os. I think we struggle on how to say no in a way that doesn't put too much distance there.

Os: Yeah, no you're right.

Jim: And we don't have the art of persuasion and we can't sit down at the table with somebody that doesn't think our way. I know at times when I've met with people, I've been criticized by, you know, some within the Christian community saying you shouldn't meet with those people. But how do you take the Gospel to people without meeting with people?

Os: If we are confident in the Gospel, the way of Jesus is the highest way of human flourishing.

Jim: Hm.

Os: I was appalled to read a pastor, evangelical pastor in San Francisco, who is leading his church away from orthodoxy towards espousing gay marriage and he actually said that biblical views of celibacy were destructive of human flourishing.

Jim and John: Hm.

Os: Now that's terrible. The way of Jesus is the highest shalom, well-being, flourishing for human kind. And we've got to have the confidence to know that, so we're arguing for the best interests of our gay friends. We're arguing for the best interests of our liberal friends. We've believe in freedom. We've believe in human dignity. And we can argue that fearlessly because the Christian faith is true and the Gospel gives the grounds for the best way to live.

Jim: Hm.

John: Well, I'm thinking of the person who is trying to process. There's so much that you're talking about Os and they're overwhelmed. They just need to make it through this chaotic day. How does a mom whose shuttling kids around or the guy who's putting in overtime just make it make it all work, how do we in our daily lives live out those convictions in such a way as to be winsome, but not weirdly different? I don't hear you saying that we need to be wearing our differences on our sleeves in some strange way.

Os: No, absolutely.

John: How do we do that?

Os: No, I'd always go back to calling, 'cause our modern global world is overwhelming. You know, Marshal McLuhan, we're in a global village, but he's partly wrong, because that notion of village is too cozy.

John: Hm.

Os: Every leader or everyone starts to think about the modern world, what we've been doing the last few minutes. You immediately realize we are dealing with the entire world at the entire time and it's overwhelming. And the only way out is to remember at the end of the day, I'm just a little finite person. I've only got 24 hours. I've only got so much energy, only got so many dollars, very little. I can't manage the world. I certainly can't save the world. All the Lord asks me to do is to be faithful in my calling

John: Hm.

Os: Now it sounds overwhelming because we're talking about big things today. But at the end of the day I know my little sphere is all I'm responsible for. So the homemaker, the teacher, that's where I began, lawyer, each person in the sphere of their lives but it must be the whole of that sphere, in other words, not a privatized faith.

John: It's not Sunday faith--

Os: No.

John: --that you're talking about.

Os: No and if you look at the tragedy of evangelicalism in the 20th century, for the two thirds of the 20th century, we were out of it.

John: Hm.

Os: The wake-up year was '73. And it was '75, the Moral Majority started, many things like that, but for most of the 20th century, with very few exceptions like say Carl Henry, Francis Schaffer, and a few others. Evangelicals were disengaged. It was Evangelicals who were described by Theodore Roszak as privately engaging--

John: Hm.

Os: --publicly irrelevant. We let the culture get away from us--

John: Hm.

Os: --with a faith that was wonderfully warm hearted. I love evangelicalism pietism. We must never lose that.

Jim: You know, Os, when you look at the younger generation, I'm thinking the 20-, 30-somethings, you see some really good things there in terms of their desire to be engaged, to be more fully, I think, more fully orbed. Some of the critics would say what they're missing though is the orthodoxy, that many are not well grounded. They're well meaning, but they're missing some of the orthodoxy. What's your observation of the next generation, the younger folks that are coming up?

Os: Well, what you're saying is exactly right. I would go actually further. You can look at all the things they're apt to lose. And I grew up under the teachings of John Stott, people like this. You really had solid preaching and wonderful warm-hearted deep theology, but I go further than all that, Jim, although we haven't got the time. There is a broad today, an American notion of "generationalism."

Jim: Uh-hm.

Os: A generation used to be biological. So, when our Lord talks about this generation in Luke 11, everyone live on the earth at the same time. But increasingly it's sociological, people who are shaped by the certain common cultural experiences. And so, generational has become a new form of identity. Well, he's a boomer. She's a "nexter." He's a Millennial--

Jim: Right

Os: --and so on, as if we're all different. And the game has become a new form of relativism. Have you heard the little phrase, "Well, it's a generational thing. You wouldn't understand."

Jim: Oh yeah

John: Hm.

Os: That's ridiculous. We're all human beings and you can see it's a new form of the distrust of authority.

John: Hm.

Os: You know, don't trust anyone over 30. Well, he's out of date, whatever, you know and so on. We've got to tackle that. It's part of the worldliness of our time, falling for this view of generationalism. And the real challenge today is know [how] to hand on well. And I often say to Americans, think of the Beijing Olympics. It was the first time that America had no relay runner on the podium. And the Beijing Olympics, you heard that incredible sound of that hollow aluminum baton dropping.

Jim: Right.

Os: They didn't hand it on and we're in great danger of evangelicalism of doing a poor in handing on to the next generation and then the weaknesses that you're mentioning are coming out and sadly, we'll pay for them.

Jim: You know, I mean, that is well said. And there's so much there in terms of that need to pass on the faith to that next generation. But there is skepticism, because they see and label everything now as bigotry. If you're not directly in line with the culture, especially around sexual identity and those issues, it's bigotry; its hatred, rather than it's hope and it's a better way and it's a better worldview if you follow Christ in this regard.

Os: But part of the answer to this and too many of us is spending time just attacking extremes. We've got to do that, make a clear stand. Where are the Christians standing setting out a huge construction vision--

John: Hm.

Os: --of what the Gospel means for the human future? You know, the end of the book, I quote that debate 60 years ago where they're talking about the Christian Gospel and civilization. And they raise the question, can the church be warmed again, in other words revived? And some of them, like Emil Brunner the Swiss theologian, are not sure. The challenges in the modern world may be too much. But Christopher Dawson says, "Of course, the Gospel can warm the church again" but then he adds, "We must not answer that too quickly or lightly because on the outcome of the answer depends the future of humanity." And that's right. In other words, if you look at the giant questions facing the world there are overwhelming again, John, but if you look at them, where are the secularist answers? They're not there.

John: Hm.

Os: They can't give a grounding say to freedom or to human dignity and many of these things. Truly it's not a cliché to say only in the good news of Jesus do we have some of the deepest answers for the future of humanity, but we better be there articulating them. In other words, we can't just always be negative. Someone's got to paint the highly constructive, imaginative, appealing vision of the way of Jesus.

Jim: Os Guinness, man, in some ways it makes my brain hurt to sit (Laughter) and listen to you, but that's a good thing. It must be exercised.

John: Uh-huh.

Jim: But you have brought so many good thoughts to us today and I appreciate that admonition actually, to go deeper with the Lord. There are more questions, and I know more answers that I would like to cover. Can you stick with us, come back next time and let's keep the conversation going?

Os: Delighted to.


John: Well, I hope you can carve out the time to listen in tomorrow, as Os Guinness challenges and encourages us to be salt and light in our neighborhood, our community, in our world and to make an eternal difference for Christ.

And he's given some very important concepts for us to think upon and act upon and if you'd like to deeper, ask about a copy of his book, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times. I've got so much admiration for Os as a writer and I know you'll grow from reading this book. And let me say thank you for helping us to reach the hearts for Jesus Christ here at Focus on the Family every day. More than 500 people a day are committing or recommitting their lives to God and that's in big part because of your support. So, send a gift of any amount today, knowing that there'll be a world-wide impact. We'll send a copy of that book, Renaissance to you as our expression of gratitude for your generosity. Call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or donate at .

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time. We'll continue the conversation and offer more insights from Os Guinness to help you and your family thrive. 

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Os Guinness

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Os Guinness is an author and social critic. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of London and his D.Phil in the social sciences from Oriel College, Oxford. Os has written or edited more than 30 books, including The CallTime for Truth and Long Journey Home. His forthcoming book Fool's Talk – The Recovery of Christian Persuasion will be published by InterVarsity Press in June, 2015. Os has spoken at dozens of the world's major universities, and spoken widely to political and business conferences on many issues, including religious freedom, across the world. He is currently a senior fellow at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics in Oxford, though he still lives with his wife, Jenny, in the Washington, D.C. area.