Monday, June 19, 2017

BookPastor >> "Impossible People" (Os Guinness)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on July 26th, 2016.


TITLE: Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization
AUTHOR: Os Guinness
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016, (240 pages).

When Os Guinness writes, it is always a challenge not simply to sit down and read but to rise up and do something. Filled with biblical conviction and a faithful desire to be obedient to God's calling, Guinness harnesses his years of experience and knowledge of our culture to raise a battle cry for Christians to take their stand. There are four major challenges not only to the Christian faith but to Western civilization. First, the challenge of being weakened. The Judeo-Christian faith has been weakened and overrun by secularism and modernity. Second, the challenge of internal splits which has two post-Christian forces that threaten to move society toward nihilism on one side and extreme humanism on the other side. Third, the challenge of two major external forces. With a weakened Christian perspective, Western civilization becomes more vulnerable to aggressive secularism and radical Islam. Fourth, the need for courage and bold witness in the light of such obstacles. Can Christians rise up to these challenges?

Guinness compares this present challenging age to the first three centuries clash with the Caesars and the sixteenth Century threats from the Ottomans. He coins the "four infamous S factors" as Secularism; Secularization; Separationism; and Statism. In order to survive against the grand showdown, we need to take a leaf from history. Be reminded about how Daniel and his friends stood up against the idolatry of Nebuchadnezzar; how the early Christians would rather die than deny their faith; and how Athanasius fought the heretics of old. The tragedy of many mainstream WWII German Christians is how easily they cave in to the political ambitions of Hitler. Will the West today commit a similar error of omission? Instead of reforming from within, many are becoming more accepting of the outside world, even compromising their biblical principles.

Guinness's earlier book, Renaissance describes the response of Christians regardless of the challenges. This companion book reverses it by focusing on the challenges and how Christians must face up boldly or be washed over. Courage and conviction are needed to be the impossible people that we have been called to be. Of the new world, Guinness looks at the changing face of Islam; the shape of China; and the impact of secularism in the West. He laments at the following three distortions of postmodernism:

  • Pick and Choose World: From respect for authority to reveling in personal preferences
  • Private World: Faith is Private but publicly irrelevant
  • World Without Windows: Shift from Supernatural to Secular 

He reminds us that the world we live in is more spiritual than we may think. Without acknowledging the presence of evil spirits, we are poised to let our guard down. We confuse idolatry with nationalism. We erroneously believe in the utopia of unity based on humanism. From observations about relativity, secular thought, and flaws of present western society, Guinness leaves his harshest criticisms to the evangelical group, or people who call themselves Bible-believing Christians. He laments the lack of sacrificial living and the wholesale acceptance of liberal ideas and unbiblical points of view. While atheists and secularists are dead set and convinced about the irrelevance of religion, the same cannot be said for the Christian at large. Like a frog swimming in the warming waters of postmodern environment, the Church is in danger of being cooked by the heat of various idols and gods that have occupied the altar of the Christian community. This lack of conviction about one's belief is itself a problem. Moreover, Western society is spiraling downward.

Roughly, the framework for reading this book is: 1) Understand the Challenges; 2) Pray for Divine Assistance; 3) Call to Stand and be Counted. Guinness states and describes the external climate affecting society and the Church today. With particular concern for the Church, he observes that old problems are appearing in new clothes. The challenges of paganism and heresies of the past are reappearing in the forms of aggressive atheism and dismissive secularism. With the displacement of the Christian worldview; the deteriorating regard for the Church; and the diminishing influence of Christianity; the problems can only get worse. The only way forward is to stand up to be counted for God. This does not mean militant behaviour or radical campaigns. It simply means returning to the conviction of biblical principles. It is a call for Christians to get back to the truth for themselves. After all, if they are not convinced or convicted about the gospel and relevance of Christianity, they will not be able to be of much influence in this world. If the salt is not salty and the light hidden under the pillow, what good is salt and light? If we, no matter how small and how insignificant in society at present, if we are willing to be that mustard seed of faith, God can indeed help us grow. It is a call for us to be right with God. Guinness provides several tools for us to use. First, discernment and wisdom are needed to help us engage with the world and especially the arena of spiritual warfare. Only when we recognize there is a war will we be willing to arm ourselves to be ready in defense and if needed to fight in enemy territory. Second, we need to be discerning of the ideas and when we have a grasp of the history of ideas, we will be better equipped to question the ideas' validity and truth. Third, there is the need to grasp the discipline of knowledge to become a more thoughtful Christian community. We cannot let secularists and atheistic humanists grab all the attention about what it means to be a thinking community. We must offer a Christian perspective readily and widely.

We must come back to the Bible and be re-ignited with what it means to be witnesses for Christ in our society. For Western society, with Christians increasingly being marginalized, we must stand up to be counted. This means being renewed from the inside out. Guinness's call is not about taking up physical arms or getting engaged physically in the politics or institutions of the world. It is more spiritual in nature. We need a renewal of the mind to see things from God's perspective, to share God's truth widely and with conviction. We need the transformation of the heart to rid ourselves from the idols creeping into the Church. It is a call to be the impossible people that we have been called to be. Impossible as far as the world is concerned, but possible when God is in charge.

Some readers may be a little uncomfortable with the strong stance taken by Guinness. Some may even accuse him of fear mongering or beating a straw man. If we do so, we must consistently apply such sentiments to the liberal thoughts and radical secularism happening all over society. Just ask who is being marginalized right now. From the school classroom to the public politics, religious thoughts are increasingly pushed to the personal private domains, protected in part by the freedom of religion act. Even then, this freedom of religion and faith have limits, especially when it comes face to face with the institutional powers of secularism and humanism. I think this book is more about a wake-up call for Christians to come out of their slumber. It is a rousing effort to remind us that we need to be faithful to God's Word. As long as we maintain that faithfulness, as long as we are bold to proclaim the truth as laid out in the Word of God, we can become the people to stand against the ills of society and in doing so, declare the righteousness of God's kingdom come. It is not mean to wrest power or gain influence in politics of social domains. It is still very much a spiritual warfare.

Os Guinness is a respected speaker and keen observer of the intersections of faith and society. He is a prolific author of books like The Call, Dining With the Devil, The Gravedigger File, and No God but God. He is one of the few voices who consistently urges the Church to bring stay true to biblical truths.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of IVP Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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