It seems that I have been barking up the Francis Schaeffer “family tree” of late. Before Christmas, I wrote about Frank Schaeffer’s (Francis’s son) new book and his critique of evangelicalism. Today I want to say a few words about one of Schaeffer’s most prominent disciples–Os Guinness.
I have actually read more of Os Guinness’s work than I have Francis Schaeffer’s. In divinity school I worked my through The Dust of Death and learned from a fellow student (John Ramer, are you out there?) about how Guinness outlined the entire book on the bottom of a bunk-bed while working at Schaeffer’s L’Abri. Around the same time I also read The American Hour. And last year, while teaching the “Vocation” unit in Messiah College’s “Created and Called for Community” course, I read The Call.
All of this to say that I know a bit about Guinness and I like a lot of what he writes. But I have never met him and have never thought of myself as part of his circle of intellectual disciples.
Here are some themes from the interview:
On the roots of evangelicalism: Guinness rightly traces the movement back to the eighteenth century and men such as John Wesley, William Wilberforce and John Wesley.
On people leaving evangelicalism: Too often, Guinness notes, people leave evangelicalism for political or cultural reasons. In other words, they do not like televangelists or the Religious Right so they abandon ship. He describes such reasons for leaving as “ridiculous.” Those who are embarrassed by the politics of evangelicalism or the culture of evangelicalism should not leave the movement, but seek to reform it.
On defining evangelicalism: “Evangelicalism is primarily theological and spiritual; people who define themselves and their lives and their faith by the good news of the announcement of the kingdom by Jesus of Nazareth. That is the historical and theological definition, if it was only this miserable cultural business, I wouldn’t be an Evangelical.”
On the differences between Evangelicalism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy: Guinness embraces a C.S. Lewis “mere Christianity” view of being a Christian. In other words, he embraces Catholics and Orthodox Christians who recognize “Jesus as Lord.” But he also believes that the “Evangelical impulse is deeper” than Catholicism and Orthodoxy because evangelicalism is always challenging corruption, formality, and heresy in the Church by going “back to Jesus.”
On the Williamsburg Charter: Guinness’s 1988 reaffirmation of the First Amendment, a document that set forth “a political framework of rights, responsibilities and respect for people of all faiths,” has led to threats on his life from Christians who do not believe freedom of conscience should be afforded to atheists or Muslims.
On evangelical responses to Barack Obama: The failure of the Religious Right in the recent presidential election has led to a “sullen, angry populism that is really anti-Christian.”
On being “post-evangelical”: “If someone is an ex-Evangelical, in other words, they once were an Evangelical, but no longer are, then terrific. At least they’re honest enough to say so, I mean that’s sad, but they’re honest. To be a post-Evangelical says nothing. What are they, positively? Are they liberal Christians, catholic Christians, orthodox Christians, neo-Orthodox, what are they? Post-Evangelical just says what they were, it says nothing about who they are. All the post-y terms are useless.” He also describes the entire “post-Evangelical” movement as “absolutely ludicrous
I think that Guinness’s definition of evangelicalism is one that I can honestly embrace.