a tasty guinness

Many years ago I tasted a guinness. In my work situation I found myself articulating a minority perspective and it was causing tension within and conflict without. I happened to have the briefest of conversations with Os Guinness while in the US and he had the simplest of advice. I have passed it onto numerous people. "Ask questions - don't make exclamations". In the heat of verbal battle, lower the voice, slow the pulse, cool the spirit - and ask probing questions that have people expose the heart of the issue. Leave exclamation marks to others and watch them put their foot in it...

I've enjoyed his books over the years - but not for awhile, as he is more a self-described 'social critic' within the American context. Dining with the Devil, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, The Call, Time for Truth, Prophetic Untimeliness - but also his two classics, The Dust of Death and The Gravedigger File.

I am at a Vision Weekend here in Phoenix, organised by the Langham Partnership (USA) people. I've tasted a guinness again. Os has been the evening speaker (and, by the way, he IS a direct descendent in the famous Irish brewery family). He has been speaking about the role of church in society and how influence happens. A few resonant chords were struck...

Explore the secret of the transforming power of the Gospel
It is about living the 'world-denying, world-affirming' tension about which CS Lewis wrote. 'Being against the world for the world'. This being 'in the world - but not of the world' - is a lot harder to be and to do than this little phrase rolling off the tongue might suggest. We need to be engaged always, discerning always - but also committed to the 'courageous refusal'. Sometimes we don't go with the flow. Sometimes we say 'no - no further, thank you'. This 'refusal' keeps the tension alive in our cultural presence and this is the secret of the church's transforming power. The power can only come when we are fully immersed at the very same time that we live 'at a distance'. To me, it sounds a lot like Jesus' teaching on salt and light.

More briefly:
Count on the unique dynamics in the spread of the kingdom
'The Spirit leads'. Look at the book of Acts, with the story of Philip (ch 8) being the obvious example. Make space for God to take the initiative. Follow his call. Watch for the 'grand reversals' by which he loves to work - starting with 'the first shall be last' and many, many more.

Clarify the paradoxes of Christian engagement with culture
The 'greatest danger is success' with the Christendom experience, in which political and religious power converged causing unending damage to the witness of the church, being the enduring example. Watch for the 'darkness before the dawn' with revival, where things are characteristically bleak before the Spirit moves mightily, being the shining example. 'Go forward best, by going back first' with power of knowing history and leaning on history, as the plans are laid for the future, being the guideline.

Guinness also quoted a source (not explicitly Christian at all) on 'How ideas shape culture':
(i) through leaders, rather than followers.
Christian witness has a 'residual populism which condemns it to being ineffectual'.
(ii) through the center, not the periphery.
The draining influence of Christianity in the USA is linked to the way it has fled from New York, Washington DC and Los Angeles in order to inhabit (and succeed) in Colorado Springs, Wheaton and Orlando.
(iii) through networks, not institutions.

All good stuff that I didn't want to lose - so I posted a blog!  I suspect his newest book, The Global Public Square, works with some of these ideas if you wanted to take this a little bit further. If Guinness is a new author to you, begin with the very new (this one here) and the very old - like The Dust of Death and The Gravedigger File. That might be the best way "in".

In the NZ setting I have discerned a general unwillingness to engage with Guinness, partly because we have a lot invested in approaches to mission that call the church constantly - and exclusively, oftentimes - to adapt to the surrounding culture in order to survive. In hoping that this might be the secret of our success, it more often continues to sow the seeds of failure. That is the glaring blindspot we face.

nice chatting



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