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IMPOSSIBLE PEOPLE: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization

Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization

By Os Guinness
IVP Books

Reviewed by David W. Virtue DD
October 24, 2016

The church in the West is at a critical moment. While the gospel is exploding throughout the global south, Western civilization faces militant assaults from aggressive secularism and radical Islam. Will the church resist the seductive shaping power of advanced modernity?

Three separate trends, sometimes singly and sometimes overlapping, have done the major damage down the centuries to the church's experience of the living power of the Holy Spirit and its recognition of the realities of the unseen world, writes Os Guinness, author of Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization.

First, there has often been a tendency toward a false and unbiblical specialization, so that spiritual power came to be seen as limited to certain people, rather than all Christians, and to certain places, rather than anywhere God's people are present. "They," the saints as special people, are obviously the gifted and anointed ones, and "we," the rest of us who are not so gifted and anointed, can then delegate our responsibility to them, with relief.

Second, the tendency toward specialization and corruption has often led, in its turn, to an equally common tendency toward overreaction. If the Reformation was right to attempt to reform the many corruptions surrounding the saints and the healing centers, there is no doubt that Reformed people sometimes made the mistake of throwing out the baby along with the bathwater-- and dividing the invisible by putting their whole stress on the Word of God at the expense of the Spirit of God.

Third, if specialization, corruption and overreaction were not enough, there have often been movements of open suppression of the supernatural, when the church has espoused different sets of ideas that have rejected the unseen as unreal and absurd.

The doctrine of cessation is one example, later followed by dispensationalism and demythologizing, and such ideas conveniently overlapped with the Enlightenment, whose naturalistic worldview openly dismissed miracles, as thinkers as diverse as David Hume, A. J. Ayer and Richard Dawkins have all made abundantly clear.

As modern people, we know how to put a person on the moon. We know how to market a car and sell a perfume or a politician. We know how to grow a church, and the recipe is there for any would-be pastor and church planter to download, from soup to nuts. With our latest science, technology, management and marketing, we have falsified Jesus and the Torah--we now know how to live by bread alone.

We have no need of God in any area of life. The entire hypothesis of faith is quite unnecessary. Fear made the gods, says modernism, and shakes its fist. God is no longer necessary, says modernity, and shrugs its shoulders. Modernism had no desire for God, or rather has a strong desire to have no God. Modernity does not even bother with the issue.

In sum, secularization has not meant that religion has disappeared in the modern world. Far from it. But it has meant that for many believers, the supernatural has disappeared for all practical purposes from their day-to-day awareness. The unseen has become unreal. Many churches have been lobotomized, but carry on as if nothing has changed.

These three crucial shifts are not an exhaustive account of the impact of advanced modernity. They are only broad samples of the damaging trends, and it is up to us to respond with robust and full-bodied Christian faith.

Our response should demonstrate a fearless confidence in the gospel. The impact of modernity is never inevitable. It can and must be resisted so that the Church's faith in Jesus demonstrates an integrity and effectiveness that prevails over modernity. But to resist modernity successfully, we have to recognize modernity clearly, and that is the task we must tackle with determination today.

We must hammer home the conclusion that our response requires a Christian account of the world of our day that goes deeper and wider than simply the challenge of ideas. Both modernism and postmodernism raise their own challenges to Christian faith in terms of ideas, but those challenges have largely been relatively easy to answer. But the challenge of modernity in this wider, fuller sense is one of the defining issues of this century, so it stands as a task for our times that cannot and must not be avoided.

In this, his latest book, Guinness, perhaps America's most prolific Evangelical (Anglican) social critic, has demonstrated that he understands, as few do, where Western culture has come from and where it is going. His wide-ranging scholarship across many fields has fitted him for the task and this book is his masterpiece.

The author, an in demand globe-trotting speaker, and author of some 30 books, refuses to be pessimistic about the growing secularization of America and the West, even though the spiritual darkness enveloping over the land, modernity, he writes, makes evangelism easier, but discipleship harder. Evangelism is easier because modern people are more open to changing faiths than people have ever been (in Peter Berger's words, all the choice and change of today's world mean that modern people are "conversion prone"). But discipleship as a "long obedience in the same direction" is against the grain of modern life and infinitely harder. Discipleship for the advanced modern world is an inescapable priority for our time, he writes.

If you have read previous books by this author, then you will not be disappointed buying this volume. It was this book's message that lay behind a recent gathering of world Anglican leaders in Cairo recently; men who influence some 60 million Anglicans in the Global South.

I cannot recommend this book too highly. If Guinness writes no more books (and he well might), this volume will be his greatest contribution to how Christians facing their biggest challenge in modern times, can and should embrace spiritual warfare with the whole armor of God.

This book can be purchased through IVP here: http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=4465
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