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Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization Hardcover – July 2, 2016
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"The prolific Os Guinness, always with his finger on the pulse of our Western societies, considers the current state of our civilization, its fraying at the edges now more deeply tearing toward the center, and how Christians can and must be salt and light in this newly loosed menagerie. . . . Guinness lays out why we must enter this fray with the right tools, and also provides insight on how to use them." (Christian Renewal, August 24, 2016)
"His comprehensive grasp of history, philosophy, science, culture, and religion will give serious thinkers many hours of reflection. Guinness recommends solutions and he challenges believers to courageous action in defense of Christianity." (John Bernstein, Christian Market, August 2016)
"With his unique blend of incisive clarity and prophetic vision, Os Guinness has written a book that will challenge, encourage, and awaken us to live wholeheartedly for Christ in this 'grand clarifying moment.' I recommend Impossible People as a book for such a time as this." (Amy Orr-Ewing, director, The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics)
"Every time I sit down to read the prophetic words of Os Guinness, I feel my spine strengthen and my mind perk up. His clear writing and earned wisdom bring both courage and uncertainty; for while we can't predict where our culture will head, we can rely on the truth that guides and emboldens every generation to meet the moment for which we've been called." (Gabe Lyons, founder of Q, author of Good Faith)
"Os Guinness is a prophet. Hear him." (Eric Metaxas, New York Times bestselling author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy)
"This remarkable book helps us to clearly see how Western modernity is trying to replace Christian faith with a progressive secularism. It is a timely wake-up call for the church to stand firm against this fatal challenge. I urge every Christian leader to read it." (Mouneer Anis, primate of the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East)
"I read everything Os Guinness writes because he always challenges my thinking and enlarges my perspective. Impossible People may be his most important work. Read it, then buy five copies for friends and discuss it together. The message is that important. This could be the most important book you read this year." (Rick Warren, pastor, Saddleback Church, author of The Purpose Driven Life)
About the Author
Os Guinness (DPhil, Oxford) is the author or editor of more than thirty books, including Fool's Talk, Renaissance, The Global Public Square, A Free People's Suicide, Unspeakable, The Call, Time for Truth and The Case for Civility. A frequent speaker and prominent social critic, he has addressed audiences worldwide from the British House of Commons to the U.S. Congress to the St. Petersburg Parliament. He founded the Trinity Forum and served as senior fellow there for fifteen years. Born in China to missionary parents, he is the great-great-great-grandson of Arthur Guinness, the Dublin brewer. After witnessing the climax of the Chinese revolution in 1949, he was expelled with many other foreigners in 1951 and returned to England where he was educated and served as a freelance reporter with the BBC. Since coming to the U.S. in 1984, he has been a guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. He was the lead drafter of the Williamsburg Charter, celebrating the First Amendment, and has also been senior fellow at the EastWest Institute in New York, where he drafted the Charter for Religious Freedom. He also co-authored the public school curriculum Living With Our Deepest Differences. Guinness has had a lifelong passion to make sense of our extraordinary modern world and to stand between the worlds of scholarship and ordinary life, helping each to understand the other - particularly when advanced modern life touches on the profound issues of faith. He lives with his wife, Jenny, in McLean, Virginia, near Washington, D.C.
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The new world of technology promises that science can and will solve all problems and therefore our responses to these challenges is a “trial run for the even graver tests that lie ahead” (27). Guinness pleads that Christians and their churches be faithful to Jesus as Lord and not cave in to modernity and the “particular temptations of the sexual revolution” (30), the “acceptance of homosexuality, pedophilia and pederasty especially among the clergy” (31).
Guinness follows each chapter with a prayer and with questions for discussion, for example “Why do you think Christians have become so culturally weak when they remain a sizable community in terms of numbers?” (35).
The book’s first chapter is called “New World, Old Challenge” and speaks to the question of whether the West will sever or recover its roots, for “[t]he West has lost its soul” (39). As a post-Christian entity, it is not yet wholly pagan or secularist, but is close to being so. The Christian and Jewish beliefs that formed the foundation are collapsing and their old definitions are now being used in different ways. Freedom now means liberty and weird ideas are tolerated, even promoted, as long as they are not Jewish or Christian ones. Guinness is strong on this point: “The truth is that world, as Christians have known it for many centuries, has gone—and gone for good” (45). The biogenetic revolution may be in its infancy but it “could make the appalling Nazi experiments and China’s horrendous gendercide policy look primitive” (49). We now live in a global world with multiple modernities to contend with.
Chapter two is called “The Greatest Challenge Ever” in which Guinness examines the philosophy, political policies and processes that encompass modernity. There are now an infinite array of philosophical choices open the Christians fueled by “free-choice consumerism” (69) and faulty theology. The authority of Jesus and the Scriptures are dismissed as churches become fragmented, with “different purposes, priorities and ways of life” (76). Guinness finds that “as faith grew fashionable, the increase in secular power meant a corresponding decrease in spiritual power” (83). What has followed is “specialization, corruption and overreaction” with a subsequent loss of discipleship in the church.
An intriguing chapter (three) is called “The War of the Spirits”, something our Christian culture, for the most part, does not address. Guinness notes that “You can judge a culture by what it talks about and what it refuses to talk about, and talk of ‘spiritual warfare’ would be a useful litmus test today” (93-94). It concerns not only world order, but also the “idolatry of nations”. Guinness sees this most clearly in the example of how the great scholars of the ages have shown beyond all reasonable doubt that the Bible is opposed to homosexuality, as well as heterosexual behavior outside of marriage, and “yet our brave new Christians trust their own brilliant reinterpretations and serve their own interests without a qualm“ (110).
Guinness recognizes that Christians, despite historical examples of failures, and atheists, despite their rancor and rhetoric, must live together and he suggests several things to help them do so. However, first he asks “Can Christians and atheists still be cobelligerents, united in their common commitment to freedom?” (162). To do so there must be “modern liberal societies” that depend on assumptions and actions that they do not generate, recognizing that the differing worldviews are based on traditions, secularism, and other factors. It follows that “Nothing is more urgent for democratic societies than the forging of a civil and cosmopolitan public square that does justice to the interests of both partners in the relationship” (165).
His chapter, “Yesterday, Today, Forever” addresses the generational problem of conveying the heart of the Christian faith from generation to generation. This, it seems, is a difficult problem, given the individualistic generation of “many Evangelical churches [that] resemble a field of quick growing, quick-disappearing mushrooms rather than a longstanding forest of oaks” (176). Without the wisdom of the past, the present generation is shortsighted and selfish. For this transmission to happen, Guinness notes that we need two essentials: passing on healthy relationships, and the kind of natural marriages that produce sustainable societies. In summary, “We must restore our own healthy practice of Christian tradition and renew its life-giving transmission that reflects the character of the Lord, whom we worship” (192).
Of course, the practical question is “What do we do about it?” and chapter seven (“Give us the Tools”) provides some suggestions. For one, we must recognize that technology is not enough—we need Christians who “have a profound personal knowledge and experience of God himself and a deep knowledge of the Scriptures as his authoritative Word” (196-197). Technology alone becomes an idol, providing information, but alienating us from face-to-face conversations.
Guinness maintains that we are fighting a spiritual war and that we need the supernatural warfare God has provided to win that war. Jesus was explicit about his adversary and His authority to overcome Satan. We also need to know something of the history of ideas so that we can refute many of the false claims made by postmodernists about Christianity. A further tool is “cultural analysis”, so that we can analyze and understand our culture and the “signs of the times” we are living in and observing today.
In the afterword called “A Time to Stand”, Guinness states that “Impossible people are called to be different and different they will be or they will not be Christians” (217). Christians must be true to their calling and, for example, speak out against the slaughter of the unborn, the “foolish alternatives to the natural family” (220) and even the magic arts of the best technologies. Then, God, “In his mercy…may revive his church, and the Christian faith may flourish once again and provide the working faith of the West….” (223).
This is an important and current book for serious Christians to read. Os Guinness is well equipped to provide an overview of the history of ideas that have gotten our society into its present insipid condition. However, he doesn’t leave us mired in the past, challenging us to understand what is happening around us and respond as faithful followers of Christ.