Listen: English author and social critic Os Guinness talks about how 2020 is the year for the church to seize opportunities to bring about change in the world
This year has been both unprecedented and a constant reminder of the unchanging, familiar aspects of human life: our mortality, our desire for meaning and the juggle of staying true to purpose in the face of daily distractions.
English author and social critic Os Guinness has long pondered the dilemmas of human existence and supernatural faith, most recently as a senior fellow at the OCCA The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and resident speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
This year, Os has been acutely aware of how our modern approach to life – defined by planning, control and an abundance of busyness – has been forcefully recalibrated, causing a lot of us to reassess how we live in the world and the role we believe the church should be playing in society.
Os told Hope 103.2 that 2020 has been a year of “Uknown unknowns”.
“For the world at large, what it’s done is hit at the sense of control which is at the heart of modernity,” Os said.
”Our ‘not being in control’ shouldn’t be surprising though.”
Os sees our lack of control as a fundamental reality of our existence.
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“As a person of faith I live that way anyway; I’m not in control,” he said.
“My wife and I begin each day trusting God, and looking to Him for the outcome of whatever we’re trying to do that day.
“Both in terms of wisdom [for this] confusing, challenging and complicated world… and just the strength and energy to tackle things that need to be tackled, knowing that much of it’s way beyond any of us… but that we can try and make a difference.”
In all that the new decade has thrown at us so far, between the pandemic, political jousting and racial unrest – particularly in America – key themes of fighting for justice, loving the one who is unlike you and taking up our civic responsibilities have loomed large.
While the burden of it all may be understandably wearisome, the challenges of our day are something Os sees as holding great opportunity for the church, to use trials for the church to truly shine.
“If you go back to the early church, plagues and times of disease and sickness were actually tremendous opportunities for great moments of witness,” Os said.
“You take the plague of Galen (the Antonine Plague) of 169BC: in those days there wasn’t much medicine – certainly no vaccine – and so the surest way to respond to a plague was to get out of town as fast as you could… but the Christians stayed.
“They cared, and they fed and they looked after the sick and, actually, some Christians died out of that compassion, but at the end of it the pagans said, ‘Great is the God of the Christians’; they saw love in action.”
Now based in America, Os is seeing first-hand how the American church is handling the current social climate and being perceived by the nation, and realises there’s a lot of work for Christians to do before we’re seen as true examples of Christ’s message of redemptive love and empathy.
In fact, Os said the church has a deficit of influence that needs to be remedied.
“The scandal of the American church is that it’s the one church in the west that is numerically a huge majority of Americans and, yet, has less cultural influence than tiny groups,” he said.
“You take our Jewish friends who are 2 per cent of America and, yet, they so punch above their weight intellectually, culturally, financially – they make a terrific impact in America.
“Christians, who are meant to be ‘salt and light’, have almost no cultural influence at this time when they should do. So many people are waking up to the poverty of the church and one of the best things that’s coming out is a new sense of hunger for revival, and an awakening, because the American church is in bad shape.”
One reason for that is that while most Christians can agree there are injustices at play, there are disagreements about how to respond to them.
The example Os believes the church should model itself on that of the Hebrew prophets who confronted inequitable powers and pursued the tenets of the Kingdom of God as an ideal way of life – they didn’t submit to cultural powers, but to Him.
“One of the mysteries of history is why there aren’t more voices speaking out against brutality and cruelty,” Os said.
“And I think the reason is, humans are always very impressed with power – even to the point of just resigning themselves to what they can’t change.”
If this year teaches us anything, Os hopes it’s that we do have the ability to bring about change, and that we need to use our one-fleeting life to do it.
“Life is very short, life is very vulnerable and life is very fragile,” he said.
“So how are we making the most of it? Clearly one key part of our response to the shortness of life is an understanding of our calling: we’re not called to do everything, we’re called to do our ‘something’. We need to know what it is and then do it with all our heart. I think the pandemic has been very useful in clarifying that for people.”
Os Guinness’ latest book, Carpe Diem Redeemed, is out now. Listen to his full conversation with Laura Bennett in the player above.