People say you can't judge a book by its cover. That may be true, but the stuff on the cover can still be what compels you to check it out in the first place. And this is exactly the case with Os Guinness's latest, Renaissance.
The name on the cover compelled me to pick the book up - Os Guinness has long been an insightful and prophetic voice speaking to American evangelicalism through his books and speaking. The subtitle of the book compelled me to take a closer look: "The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times." In a world almost deaf amidst the cacophony of voices addressing how evangelicals relate to culture, Guinness's voice is worth listening to as he offers realism and hope.
For any Christian that wants to think thoughtfully on interacting with, in, and among culture (whatever stance you may currently take), this book is a must-read.
Os Guinness, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2014.
WHAT? (WHAT'S THE BOOK ABOUT?)
This is a book that tries to help evangelicals properly identify the cultural moment we're in, and to think carefully about how we can move forward in a way that is fruitful for the gospel and faithful to the gospel. By summarizing the first chapter, I hope you'll be able to discern the trajectory of the book and sense its relevance for Christian faithfulness within a broader culture.
Summary of the 1st chapter ("Our Augustinian Moment"): Guinness opens his book by helping us identify (as best we can) the significant cultural moment in which we're living: "Like ants on the vast floor of the Grand Canyon, none of us can see far enough and high enough to truly know where we are in the surging course of history. Only God knows. My own best assessment is that we are in a time of momentous transition..." (22). This "momentous transition" is due in part to the growth of at least three forces that threaten culture as we have known it: (1) Muslim extremism, (2) "illiberal liberalism," and (3) "the self destructive cultural chaos of the West's own chosen ideas and lifestyles that are destroying its identity and sapping its former strength" (cf. p. 19). Nevertheless, Guinness is optimistic in the power of the gospel to change the world, and challenges us not to assume the gospel but to remember that "that transforming power [of the gospel] is precisely what must be understood all over again, re-experienced and demonstrated once more in our time" (21). Guiness challenges us to a new Christian renaissance, which he states in the following way: "It is, I believe, that we trust in God and his gospel and move out confidently into the world, living and working for a new Christian renaissance, and thus challenge the darkness with the hope of Christian faith, believing in an outcome that lies beyond the horizon of what we can see and accomplish today" (28).
In the rest of the book, Guinness then develops and teases out many of these themes brought up in this first chapter. Below I've included the full Table of Contents, so you can get a sense of what else Renaissance covers:
WHY? (WHY DO - OR DON'T - YOU RECOMMEND THIS BOOK?)
I talk with a fair amount of people who could be grouped into one of two categories. On the one hand, there are those who are "apathetic" to the cultural environment in which we find ourselves - they don't watch or keep up with the news, they don't care that much about worldwide events, etc. On the other hand, I talk with others who are consumed by the latest headlines, spend their evenings watching some politically-tilted news channel of choice, and are concerned that everyone doesn't think like they do.
Within these two extremes, Guinness offers insight we all need to listen to. Guinness calls us to identify our cultural moment - we can't and shouldn't ignore it. Guinness holds out hope in the power of the gospel - reminding us that our attitude should ultimately be one not of anxiety and hand-wringing, but one of trust and faithful perseverance. These are lessons we can all benefit from - whether we fit into one of the above-mentioned categories or not.
WHO? (WHO SHOULD CONSIDER CHECKING THIS BOOK OUT?)
This is a book for everybody. For people working 50 hours a week, this book encourages faithful, Christian perseverance in whatever calling you have - you can bear fruit for the gospel in an office or as a health care worker, on a construction site or staying at home with your family. For students, this book can help you identify the significance of our time in history - may it give you a hope-filled vision for faithfully committing to a lifestyle and vocation that intentionally seeks to honor our Lord. For ministry leaders, this book reminds us that we never move past the gospel, but we must continually rediscover the beauty of the gospel and demonstrate its power in each generation - may we hold the beauty of the gospel out for all those in our care, and always be in awe of the gospel ourselves.
HOW? (HOW SHOULD THE BOOK BE APPROACHED?)
This is a book that will best be read reflectively and responsively. By reflectively, I mean that this book should be read slowly - not only to appreciate Guinness' historical allusions and his literary skill, but (more importantly) to reflect on what his words mean, and to make sure we don't too-quickly glance over his observations of such tremendous significance. I love that Guinness concludes each chapter with a prayer to help us slow down, reflect, and look to God.
This book should also be read responsively - actively considering how we can faithfully embody the good news of Christianity, whatever our calling or station in life. Guinness has included discussion questions at the end of each chapter, making this book conducive for groups - an excellent place to consider appropriate responses to each chapter of Renaissance.
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