Can it be that after two thousand years “This too shall pass” is finally being written over the Christian faith too? Is the Christian church finished and the Christian faith headed for the great museum of history, as the enemies of the faith now charge and certain trends in the West now seem to indicate?”
With these poignant questions Os Guinness begins his new book Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times.
His book is, quite simply, extraordinarily relevant and timely. And that’s just one of the reasons why I’d like you to have a copy right away.
What are some of the challenges leading Guinness to call for a new Christian renaissance and to encourage Christians to once again change the world?
[I]t is a point of fact that in many, if not most parts of the Western world, what was still left of the Christian foundations of the West have collapsed or are collapsing. The Christian church is on the defensive almost everywhere. The Christian faith is derided among the thought leaders of our societies, and now we are told it is being abandoned in droves—even if many of the defectors are not really atheists or even agnostic, but in limbo between the characteristic halfway houses of “believing without belonging” or still “belonging without believing.”
Sadly, but not shockingly, Guinness notes that these forces are neither receding nor simply remaining static:
[T]he forces of barbarism are growing uglier by the day, not only externally but internally – from the rising tide of Islamic violence, the degenerating decadence of post-Christian Western secularism, and the evident impotence and disarray of the Jewish and Christian ideas and institutions that once inspired and shaped Western civilization.
If that weren’t enough to get the attention of thinking Christians, he rightly observes that,
After half a millennium of dominance, the West is being eclipsed in the global era, the United States as the lead society in the West stands on the verge of relative if not absolute decline, and much of the Christian church in both Europe and North America is in a sorry state of weakness, confusion, unfaithfulness and cultural captivity.
Yet if you’re familiar with Os Guinness, you know this prominent social critic is no mere “doom and gloom” type. Alongside his penetrating analysis of the challenges facing the church, he beckons Christians to understand history and see in our history the power of God and the potential we have to make a difference:
Make no mistake. The troubles facing the Christian church in the West do not mean for a minute that the post-Christian forces in the West have triumphed for long…The West has beaten back the totalitarian pretensions of both Hitler’s would-be master race in Germany and Stalin’s would-be master class in the Soviet Union. But it now stands weak and unsure of itself before three current menaces: first, the equally totalitarian, would-be master faith of Islamism from the Middle East; second, the increasingly totalitarian philosophy and zero-sum strategies of illiberal liberalism; and third, the self-destructive cultural chaos of the West’s own chosen ideas and lifestyles that are destroying its identity and sapping its former strength.
After noting that renaissance (the French word for rebirth) is a deeply Christian concept with roots in Jesus’ nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, Guinness says, “Call it renewal, call it reformation, call it restoration, call it revival, call it the simple but profound Jewish term return, or call it renaissance. What matters is that it is a movement that is led by the Spirit of God, which involves the people of God returning to the ways of God, and not in word only but in power”.
To skeptics who reasonably wonder if the West hasn’t run out of time and now exhausted its options, Guinness quotes Christopher Dawson, a British scholar who has been called “the greatest English-speaking Catholic historian of the twentieth century”:
Can this miracle be repeated in a world that has for the second time grown cold? Can the Word of Life once more enlighten the darkness of a civilization that is infinitely richer and more powerful than that of pagan Rome but which seems equally to have lost it sense of direction and to be threatened with social degeneration and spiritual disintegration?
It is obvious that the Christian must answer in the affirmative. Yet on the other hand he must not look for a quick and easy solution to a problem on which the whole future of humanity depends.
Realistically, you might ask, how likely is renaissance in the West? Perhaps “realistically” and “likely” aren’t the best ways to frame this question when it comes to the kingdom of God! As Guinness asks,
What were the odds that a rural carpenter’s son from an obscure backwater of the Roman Empire would outshine the pride and glory of the greatest emperor and the mightiest warrior captains of history? How likely was it that the birthday of a man viewed as a disgraced and executed provincial criminal would come to mark the year that for most of the world divides all history?
Further undermining the notion that “odds” will determine the outcomes of the unprecedented challenges we now face, Guinness notes that the good news of Jesus “has a proven track record of being the greatest people-changing and world-changing force in history.” Underscoring the power of vision and commitment when combined with the power of God, Guinness quotes Soren Kierkegaard:
“The thought of Christianity was to want to change everything” and “Twelve men united on being Christians have recreated the face of the world.”
But what are some of the challenges facing us as Christians? Guinness cites three “Grand Global Tasks,” all of which factor significantly into CRI’s mission and vision:
- Preparing the Global South (where in the words of an African bishop the faith is “a mile wide and an inch deep.”) In the Global South, now home to the vast majority of Evangelicals, evangelism has been exploding but teaching and discipleship have been sorely lacking.
Consider, for example, that “the growth of the churches radiating from the Henan Province in north central China is said to be the fastest growth of the Christian church in two thousand years, and it is now widely reported that there are more Christians in China than there are members of the Communist Party itself.” As mind-boggling as this growth is, Guinness cites a house church pastor as saying “many of my people are only one unanswered prayer away from leaving the church and resorting to Buddhism or animism to solve their problems.” (my emphasis)
- Winning Back the West – While a formidable challenge by any stretch of the imagination, Guinness reminds us that, “a bunch of provincial misfits grew and grew until their faith replaced the faith of mighty Rome itself.”
- Contributing to the Human Future – Regarding our collective future on our planet that Guinness quotes Lord Martin Rees, who was Britain’s Astronomer Royal and Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. In 2003 he soberly warned, “I think the odds are no better than fifty-fifty that our present civilization on Earth will survive to the end of the present century.” Futurist James Martin of Oxford University was equally blunt: “Even if Homo sapiens survives, civilization may not.”
A moment’s meditation on the above thoughts adds considerable weight to CRI’s motto “…because Life & Truth matter.”
How large are these challenges compared to what the Christian church has faced historically? Guinness states accurately, I believe, that
“[T]he biggest global challenges of today and tomorrow may prove to be of an even greater magnitude. Tackling them will require an unshakable trust in God that can face any future without fear, a profound intellectual seriousness that is willing to wrestle with problems that are unprecedented in human experience, a constant reliance on God’s Spirit for fresh and creative imagination to conceive of what has never yet been, and an untiring perseverance that will be worthy of the heroism of the greatest reformers of the past.”
I don’t know about you, but I personally think his words here are one of best Christian prescriptions I’ve ever read regarding what needs to be our orientation as well as our action now and well into the future.
I mentioned at the start of this letter that the relevance and timeliness of Renaissance is just one of the reasons why I want you to have this book. Here are three more:
- “Practical” inspiration – Along with clearly and soberly analyzing the formidable challenges facing Christians today, Guinness provides encouragement and practical steps we can take to make a difference in our world.
- My thanks – As CRI is working overtime to make the impact of the ministry proportionate to the challenges that face Christians, I want you to have this book as my thanks for your gift to help make possible all that we do here.
- Prayers and Questions – While you can savor the multiple prayers that close the sections of the book and use Guinness’s thought provoking questions at the end of each chapter for either personal reflection or small group discussions, I’ve enclosed a prayer from Renaissance that I’ll personally be praying and I’ll ask you to join me in praying as well.
To receive your copy, simply make your gift online by clicking here, or on the Donate NOW! button below.
As CRI redoubles its efforts to equip Christians at home and abroad with hope AND tools for more fruitful living and effective witness, the role of your partnership can’t be overstated.
For the difference your partnership makes in so many lives, and for the encouragement your support provides to me personally, I’m deeply grateful
God bless you richly for being a much-needed agent of change for the kingdom!
Standing with you for life and truth,
P.S. The great 20th Century writer G.K. Chesterton once wryly noted, “At least five times…the Faith has to all appearances gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases, it was the dog that died.” In reading Renaissance, you’ll gain rich insights into the causes of death!