Social critic Guinness touches on challenge of evil


LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Christian social critic and author Os Guinness has thoughtfully articulated a Christian perspective on a wide array of issues. A protégé of Francis Schaeffer, Guinness was in Southern California at the end of October for a speaking engagement at Bel-Air Presbyterian Church.

As part of the church's "Conversations with Consequence" series, Guinness spoke on the topic of evil in a weekend session that featured a screening of "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" and a panel discussion about the media's portrayal of evil.

Guinness, author or editor of more than 20 books, is no stranger to the topic. Evil has been a central theme of his speaking and writing ministry for more than 30 years.

His most recent book, "Unspeakable, Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil," came about from the encouragement of a group of Wall Street executives whom Guinness addressed on the topic just days after the attack on the World Trade Center.

"I've written the book so that there are seven steps to thinking through the challenge of evil," Guinness said as he explained his approach to the subject.

It is a work that could just as well have been written before 9/11 and points to other events in world history where evil seemed to prevail.

"Nine-eleven will fade from memory," he said. "I wanted to write a book that was much more enduring than that."

Born in China to medical missionary parents during World War II, Guinness witnessed first hand horrific evil and suffering during the early days of the Chinese Revolution. Currently a resident of the Washington D.C. area, he is a graduate of the University of London and Oxford, and a founder and former fellow of the Trinity Forum.

Guinness expanded his comments to the broader topic of the evangelical church in world affairs in a telephone interview preceding his weekend speaking engagement. He linked his thoughts to a larger question that he said emerged at the end of the cold war, "Will the West recover its roots?"

"The church has effectively lost Europe," he said.

The author cited Poland and Ireland as the only European nations with a Christian majority, while he summed up a sobering reality on the continent that gave birth to Western civilization.

"If you look at America, the church has lost its influence in most of its leadership positions," he said. "Evangelicalism is in somewhat of a meltdown."

Guinness remarked that evangelicalism has reached a point where people are abandoning it in droves. He suggested that what evangelicals need is a reaffirmation of identity, a reformation of evangelical behavior and a repositioning in the public square, which he suggested is too closely aligned with the religious right.

"Evangelicals are not fundamentalists," the writer said. "The defining principle of the evangelical is the person who defines their faith and their life by the first things of the good news of Jesus."

Guinness continued to emphasize a distinction between the two labels.

"Here is the point," he said. "Fundamentalism is a modern reaction to the modern world. Evangelicalism goes right back to Jesus."

Guinness characterized evangelicalism as a reforming movement.

"It reforms whatever it sees today in light of whatever Jesus said and taught," he said.

The Emergent Church
While the emergent church may present an alternative to the evangelicalism of the 20th century, Guinness said that many in the movement have sold out to postmodernism. Although he was careful to make the point that the emergent church is not a monolith, he cited two major problems he sees within the movement.

"It takes on board the ideas of post modernism uncritically," he said. "It is very clear about what is wrong with the evangelicalism they know, but it is not clear about the gospel."

Guinness contrasted the emergent church movement to the Protestant reformation.

"The reformers were very clear about what was wrong, but very clear about what was right and true," he said.

The result, in his opinion, is that the emergent church movement has a lot of confused people within it. Guinness said Christians today are captive to a modern view of time—past, present and future. What is needed, he suggested, is a biblical view of time.

"We are too culturally short-sighted," Guinness said.

The public square
Evangelicals, he said, need to reposition themselves in the public square. He has seen the beginnings of it in New York, where young Christians are quietly permeating fields like film and law.

The social critic and writer has begun work on his next book, which he characterizes as a Christian proposal for civility in public life.

Guinness's participation in "Conversations with Consequence," was sponsored by The Beacon, a ministry of Bel Air-Presbyterian Church to and for people of faith working in the entertainment industry.