I have been enjoying Nathan Martin’s interview with Os Guinness over at“Evangel.” Earlier this week Martin posted the second installment of his conversation with Guinness. Here is my post on the first part of the interview.
Below you will find some coverage and thoughts on the the second part of the interview:
On the “new atheism”: Guinness believes that evangelicals are partly responsible for it. He admits that a lot of the criticism levied against Christians by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris is correct. The church has indeed been “ghastly” in history. He calls evangelicals to admit this. When the criticisms of atheists are accurate they should be used by the church to “lead us closer to Jesus.” Guinness laments the current state of America’s “civil public sphere,” especially its intolerance. Should Christians respond to the “new atheists?” Of course, says Guinness. But it should be done “cheerfully” and in a civil fashion.
I was intrigued by Guinness’s point about evangelicals being partly responsible for atheism. Anyone who wants to explore this subject more deeply should look at James Turner’s Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America, George Marsden’s The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Unbelief or Bruce Kuklick’s Churchmen and Philosophers: From Jonathan Edwards to John Dewey.
On young earth creationists: Guinness says that “most of them are frank embarrassments to actual scientists, and yet that is the majority position among Christians.” (I think he probably means “evangelicals” here).
On intelligent design: “…there are many serious believers and scientists in that. My quarrel with them is that they are politicizing this issue…” Guinness concludes that the “real argument” is between theistic evolutionists like Francis Collins and intelligent design advocates. In the end, Guinness cites St. Augustine’s belief that “it’s always a mistake to hitch the church, and theology, to any passing view of science, for the simple reason that science changes.”
On the fissure between intellectualism and evangelicalism: Guinness blames this fissure on the 1960s. He says that “Evangelicalism and fundamentalism slept through the 60s” and when they woke up in the 1970s they morphed into the Religious Right. Fair enough, but this is more of an argument about evangelical involvement in political life than it is about evangelical intellectual life. I would argue that evangelicals were asleep–both politically AND intellectually– well before the 1960s. As Mark Noll has made clear, evangelical anti-intellectualism has been around for a long time.
On the “Jesus Movement“: “I was a strong critic of the counter-culture and all those movements in the 60s, but I was the strongest critic of the Jesus Movement because it was very shallow and trendy and transient, and that’s what it proved to be. I’m critical of a lot of these trendy and transient things, including the extremes of the emergent church which are equally trendy and transient.”
On the Emergent Church: As you might guess from reading his thoughts on the Jesus Movement, Guinness has little good to say about it. To him, the emergent church is basically a bunch of negative Christians who are “getting over the hang-ups of the churches that they grew up in.” He likes the emergent criticism of modernism, but chides it for its failure to criticize post-modernism. Yet, after Martin pushes him a bit, he does admit that Christians should “craft the message of the gospel to where the hearers are.”
On postmodernism: It is a “philosophy that is on its way out.”
On his own “prophetic” voice: First, to be fair, Guinness feels very uncomfortable being called a prophet, but when pressed he does think he has gotten a few things right over the years. Here is a snippet about mega-churches.
…you wouldn’t believe the attacks I got when I wrote “Dining with the Devil,” which is a critique of the mega-churches, the very first written critique of the mega-churches. Now, nearly 20 years later, the points I made would be accepted very widely, even by the mega-church pastors, and so I have yet, can I say this humbly? I’ve yet to be wrong on any major point; I never predict the future.
On the greatest theological problem facing the church today: “Modernity shifts theology from authority to preference.” In other words, theology no longer has any binding authority over people’s lives. Evangelicals have embraced a “cafeteria spirituality.” They take what they like, and leave the rest. Once again, I think Guinness is correct, but I am not sure that this is a particularly new idea. It seems the Nathan Hatch and R. Laurence Moore have had a lot to say about this in the context of American history. In other words, the American church has followed the whims of democracy and consumerism for a long time. Or at least this is what I tell the students in my courses.
On Christian apologetics: “Apologetics, a generation ago, was too modernist. I, somewhat lovingly, mock it as ‘1001 reasons why Jesus rose from the dead’ and so on. It was highly modernistic, answers for everything. There are dangers today that apologetics are reviving, in new conferences and so on, all in the effort of the culture wars, and that is dreadful.” What? You mean we should trash our copies of Josh McDowell and Gleason Archer and R.A. Torrey?
On young people leaving the church: “The church is exploding and the gospel is advancing incredibly in the so-called ‘global south,’ Africa, and parts of Latin America and Asia, but not doing so well in the west.” The West is “reaching a very critical stage in its captivity of the modern church through modern culture.”