“… I met so many Christians who felt guilty of doubting, as if doubt was the opposite of faith, and that’s not true. The opposite of faith is unbelief. Doubt is a halfway stage, it’s being of two minds, you half believe and you half don’t believe. Like a spinning coin, it’s going come down one way or the other. Doubt is either going to be resolved and go back to faith or be left unresolved and move on to unbelief.” -Os Guinness
“…always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth”- 2nd Timothy 3:7
“so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”- Ephesians 4:14-15
It’s supposed to mean something when the clock strikes twelve on the last turn of the calendar.
Place your birthday, alongside Val Kilmer, on December 31st and it’s easy to learn from a young age the incredible melodramatic flatness that accompanies the human means of celebrating change. Sitting here this bitingly cold Monday morning, I’m trying to remember a year where the addition of one more candle on the cake, or the chiming of a fresh calendar cycle, actually ignited some significant chord within my reflections.
A birthday for me, a birthday for humanity. You’re a year older. The world still exists. Can you feel the enthusiasm?
We want one day to mean something. We want a defining moment where everything gets turned around and, in a Damascus-bright moment, the moment of truth hits us and we are converted to a new and higher way. Some people get that in a particularly dramatic conversion story, or a tender nuptial— yes, there was a wedding in my weekend — but the majority of days proceed just like the one before, and we are left feeling despondent that we don’t feel like we should in this specific moment.
We want articles that we read and the speakers we hear, to do the same thing as the start of a new year, but true change rarely comes with the perfect rhetorical pronouncement or carefully typed paragraph. This final part of the conversation with Guinness isn’t meant to be some sort of capstone to a revolutionary new vision of purpose and action, but rather a moment to stop, evaluate beliefs and ask, “Where do we go from here?”
Hopefully, in the vein of the two verses at the beginning, it’ll be to a place of greater Christ-centered reflection, directed towards the purpose of growth and action
Gay Marriage, Abortion, and the future of the church after the jump
Moving back a little, what were the circumstances surrounding your own conversion?
Like I said earlier, my family has a strong Christian tradition for generations, but in my case, while my parents were missionaries, they were arrested as Communists and held under house arrest what was then the capitol of China, and I was back in a boarding school in England. So, I didn’t have the direct influence of my parents through all my teenage years, but my coming faith at the end of my school years was partly through the influence of a Christian friend and partly through a debate in my own mind between the great atheists like Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus, and Camus was one of my heroes as a teenager and on the other side, people like Dostoevsky and G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis and I eventually came to believe the Christian faith was true and that side of the argument was the better argument.
After coming to faith, I’m sure you had moments of doubt, what were some of the ideas that helped sustain you?
Well, I wrote a book on doubt. There are actually very few books on doubt in Christian history and I wrote one of the few. That said, the doubts in the book aren’t my own doubts. I actually haven’t had many doubts, I’ve had a very clear sense of the Lord ever since I came to faith 50 years ago and I had a strong sense of why I believed what I believed. So, those doubts are not my doubts.
On the other hand, I met so many Christians who felt guilty of doubting, as if doubt was the opposite of faith, and that’s not true. The opposite of faith is unbelief. Doubt is a halfway stage, it’s being of two minds, you half believe and you half don’t believe. Like a spinning coin, it’s going come down one way or the other. Doubt is either going to be resolved and go back to faith or be left unresolved and move on to unbelief.
How do Christians foster a sense of community where there is space to ask those doubting questions within the church?
One of Schaeffer and L’abri’s assumptions was to give honest answers to honest questions, and he was very good at that. When we don’t know the answer we should say. There are various ways of institutionalizing that. For instance, I know that Hong Kong churches that, as soon as the sermon is over, they have a time of question and answers. So the preacher doesn’t get away with anything. Whereas in many of our churches there are many challengeable notions said. We should be so sure of what we believe, deep personal relationship with the Lord, that we are open to all sorts of questions all along, and we model that and mirror that in the way we live. We should not be afraid of questions.
What do you envision the role of the church in the future, five or ten years down the road?
Well, first the public square, it was originally for Greeks a literal place, a physical place, but then it became a metaphor, not only Parliament, French Assembly, but wherever public issues were debated, the op-ed pages of the newspaper. The key thing is today is that it is now virtual and includes the blogs and all sorts of things, so it’s more amorphous but it’s vocal. The church has its place, principally through Christians who are citizens, and as citizens in a democracy, we the people, the consent of the people, we have our place to play in the public. So, the church should mainly be there through the vital voices of Christians involved in public life.
So should churches be training Christians to go out and participate in the public life?
When De Tocqueville comes to America in 1831, he says, “religion is the first of the political institutions,” an amazing phrase but he’s saying because it’s indirect not direct and bottom/up, not top/down. There was no “church” dictating as say, the Catholic Church in France. He also says, that the pastor never addresses politics. In other words, the pastor preaches the word, the church members live and spoke the word, and they addressed politics. Now, in other words, the sign when Christian pastors are told to address and speak to politics, that’s a sign of weakness, not strength.
Are there some political issues that should be addressed directly?
They should address everything that is addressed in Scripture. There is spoken things about truth and lying, and so our pastor preached and incredible sermon in the time of Clinton’s lies and evasions and equivocations and so on. Now equally, something like abortion has a direct Scriptural understanding and can be preached, but a lot of things, say voter registration, are not biblical at all.
What happens when the culture merely sees the church for its campaigns against, like the Catholic bishops involvement in the health care debate?
Whenever people see the church as a capital “C” or Islam as the Ulema, it frightens people. But, I think we should enter public life, as Christians, as Catholics as Evangelicals or as Muslims as citizens, and that’s where our voice should be heard. The trouble is, as the Catholics know well, is that they have politicians, and the current argument is with Edward Kennedy, who are Catholics but who are they to impose their views on public life? So, they are pro-choice, not pro-life. In other words, that’s a crisis of authority, and thoroughly engrossing interchange between Bishop Tobin of Rhode Island or wherever and with Patrick Kennedy. It’s a letter, gracious, beautifully stated and I thoroughly agree with Bishop Tubben.
So, you would see him as a model of what a leader should be in the church?
Challenging a Catholic member to live and speak as a Catholic. That’s what I meant about a crisis of authority.
That’s what you meant about the public square being a place that was not prejudiced towards religion, but you can’t keep it free from religion either…
Exactly, in other words, in the civil public square, members of every faith are free to engage in public life, on the basis of their faith, that’s religious freedom. But, in a framework of what is just and free for others too.
Now, here in the District, the issue over gay marriage is supremely in the forefront. That’s something that Christians have become obsessed about over the last few years, is that an issue that should be a big issue for the church, and how should we be dialoguing over this issue?
You can see that one of the temptations of young Evangelicals is to say, “Well, because abortion and same sex marriage were the “hang-up” of the older generation,” they’re not going to bother. And that is foolish. Always the question is “what is the Biblical position for Evangelicals, and is that consequential?” And I think that same sex marriage is. It’s one of those fundamental building blocks of a strong society, so, the biblical position is paramount but you can make strong sociological arguments, say go to Brad Wilcox’s website and see all the sociological evidence for the chaos of dysfunctions that come, especially for children, for same sex relationships in the long run. Or you could go to Dennis Praeger, the rabbi in Los Angeles who points out the civilization-based arguments of cultures that elevate homosexuality, usually degrade women. Do women really want that?
But I think that the fundamental arguments of the secular world and the anthropological world, there are two fundamental divisions in human experience, between the sexes and between the generations. Parents and children and man and women, and the deepest way of bonding those and creating a society that goes on and continues, is through one man, one woman and marriage and they are having children and its as simple as that. Lord Keynes, who was a homosexual, said, “in the long run, we’re all dead.” In other words, gay societies will not perpetuate themselves.
So, the long term consequences will be absolutely disastrous.
But with the advances of technology, in-vitro fertilization and so on…
Well, you still can’t have gay partners; you just have massive adoptions and so on. The evidence is overwhelming for a harvest of dysfunctions on the way.
We just haven’t seen the fruit of what’s coming?
It’s still in the early stages. For the framers, religious liberty and civil liberty were twin brothers, Washington said that the revolution was fought for both. What the gays have done is to degrade religious liberty and use civil liberty to trump it. Now, that’s disastrous and creates huge problems for religious believers down the line and you can see also, that other groups are going to play the same card.
The polygamous and the polyamorous are down the line, and then way down the line things like animal sex, all declaring themselves a civil right, because you can’t stand against it. The very tactic that they use is disastrous.
Should abortion be a make or break issue as Christians engage in discussion or decide on voting for specific candidates?
We shouldn’t be single issue candidates, you know, one congressman said to me about ten years ago, “If there’s a flood a small boy can put his finger in the dyke, and try to stop it, but if there’s a mudslide, what can we try and do?”
That’s the world that we’re living in. So, the idea that if we can get abortion right, everything else will be right is folly. And you can see, say the Republican Party, has played that card to manipulate Christians to vote for them, regardless of what else they do. So there are many, many issues. Single issue politics is naïve and counter-productive.
And, closing up, one of the great things about the Evangelical Manifesto is its emphasis upon humility and apology for past misdeeds– for you, what are those certain things for you, either intellectual or personal that you might regret?
You should really ask my wife. There have been a good many. I have a notion of Christian thought style, and two of the marks are humility and corrigibility: we always all go wrong and we all need correction. That’s one of the strong marks of Proverbs, it’s fools who don’t like to be corrected, so the question is to all of us, there’s a lot of talk about accountability these days, but could we really have biblical challenges and say, “look, you’re out to lunch on this one,” I have half-a dozen friends who can say that to me without any bad consequences. I’ve seen a lot of Christian leaders go wrong, simply because they didn’t have corrigibility in their lives, they became above contradiction and that’s very dangerous.
What’s the most exciting thing that you see about the Evangelical movement in the U.S.?
When I talk about all the things that are wrong, they are usually in areas of generalizations. The exceptions are incredibly encouraging; you take something like the International Justice Mission and the rise of a passionate fight against trafficking. This is much closer to William Wilberforce than any other things more recently.
Or you take a movement among the Christian legal society, or dental organizations as people seek to integrate their faith with their work. Or you take Christian business men, say Don Flow of Flow Automotive in Charlotte Southeast, who has done an incredible job of consistently applying his faith in every area of his life. This sort of thing is incredibly encouraging. So, for every generalization, there are things which are incredibly encouraging. I am not a pessimist. It is always about getting us back to be truly Evangelical and living as consistently like Jesus that we can be.
And that means more than just an adherence to a nice moral code; it means an adherence to the Scripture…
Because Jesus adhered to these things— “just as it is written”— His attitude to Scripture should be our attitude to Scripture, everything He was, we are called to be.