Not getting along is nothing new. We’ve been doing it for centuries and we’re getting better at it all the time. The only major difference lies in that through most of human history up through the Cold War of the late twentieth century, we didn’t care all that much. We wanted to get along as much as on our own terms as possible. But if, as a nation, we couldn’t, then to reference Lewis Carroll in “Alice in Wonderland”, “…off with their heads!” Or its equivalent in the moment of time and culture. And religion, including Christianity, served as blessing, bully and bullet. But protesting, pointing and pulling this together because even those talking about it the most are not outside being part of the problem. In the folk revival of the early ‘60s, the Kingston Trio sang about it in something called “The Merry Minuet”.
They’re rioting in Africa
They’re starving in Spain
There’s hurricanes in Florida and Texas needs rain
The whole world is festering with unhappy souls
The French hate the Germans
The Germans hate the Poles
Italians hate Yugoslavs
South Africans hate the Dutch
And I don’t like anybody very much
Enter Os Guinness. In A Free People’s Suicide, he argued that human freedom must not only be won, it must be maintained. As a British descendant of the famed Guinness brewing family, he’s convinced that America is not only in a unique position to demonstrate this – we must do so. As a Christian and protégé of pastoral apologist Frances Schaeffer, he goes a step further in The Global Public Square arguing that the freedom of religion in its best expressions stands as the only sure way that the many faiths, faith splinters and thought systems of all kinds can not only co-exist but thrive. He says this in full recognition that world tension over almost everything cannot go on indefinitely without serious consequences. Guinness’ great contribution to these kinds of questions lies in that he’s no panicky, apocalyptic, doomsday ranter. He brings deep thought that generates solid hope. “America’s going down because…” freaks should read this or any of his last few titles because Os Guinness still holds a rich biblical and intellectual faith in the West, and in this book, for the world.
At least three major points are worth mention here. Calling it “The Golden Key”, Guinness describes something called “soul freedom” – “the foundational freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief that reflects, promotes and protects the inviolable and alienable dignity and worth of all human beings.” Second, he champions a global public square characterized by civility (not innocuous niceness but respectful interaction especially over our differences both small and large). Third, the book ends with a Global Charter of Conscience, a map of conviction with its roots not only in Scripture but in the best thought that produced independence in the West.
Guinness also has the gift of simplifying the complex. While very well read in both philosophical and political thought, he know that most Christian reading groups don’t dip into John Stuart Mill or Alexis de Tocqueville. He distills the essence of thought down into what the reader needs to grasp and makes us feel smarter in the process. The man also knows how to use a bullet point. He hits his points with the precision of a diamond cutter so that they break down neatly into isolatable and comprehensible segments. These summaries that surface are immensely helpful to the reader. Guinness is also a biography lover – not Christian feel good stuff but the lives of the movers and shakers of faith, philosophy, science, politics, etc. Their quotes and stories pepper his prose in ways that let in both warmth and light.
I have some concerns about this book that have nothing to do with Os Guinness. In America, we live with a privatized faith concerned almost exclusively with our own concerns. People in churches everywhere feel overwhelmed with “busyness” having no real grid to help sort out priorities. Our dumbing down intellectually not only makes wrestling with big issues and ideas difficult to do; it dulls any desire to do so in the first place. So while any sharp Christian will benefit from The Global Public Square, I encourage leaders in every church/ministry to chew this thoroughly and put it like ketchup on everything they preach, teach or speak.
Then I encourage the reader to go to Os Guinness’ Amazon page and help themselves to anything else he‘s written. (I personally recommend The Call.) Agree or disagree, a read of his stands guaranteed to shake the neurological cobwebs loose and release some fresh oxygen in our walks with God.
For more conversation on The Global Public Square, visit the Patheos Book Club here.
David Swartz pastors Bethel Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan. He thinks that jazz is sacred music, that books are better company than most people, and that university towns rock. He blogs at geezeronthequad.com.