Os GuinnessDr. Os Guinness is a British author and social critic who focuses on Western civilization and literature, cultural issues, the interrelations of worldviews globally, and the importance of the U.S. Constitution to the global public square. He was interviewed because of his ideas concerning freedom, the public square, and America. This is Os' second interview with us. To watch his first interview, click here.
Who or what has inspired you in the last 20 years?
Well, I try to read very widely including people I disagree with strongly, but I think if there’s any group of people who have made a tremendous difference in my thinking, it would be some of the leading Jewish thinkers. A friend of mine introduced me to Daniel Elazar and he was the man who re-introduced the notion of covenant and his background to the US Constitution. And then, following up from Elazar, people like Michael Walzer at Princeton or Eric Nelson at Harvard who wrote a brilliant book on the Hebrew Republic in the 17th century. And then of course, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and I’ve read everything that Rabbi Sack has read, but that whole Jewish understanding.
So, there are too many Christians who have unhitched their faith from the Old Testament. And of course, it’s in the Torah that we have many of the deepest ideas of our Western society, humans made in the image of God or a high view of truth as the reality of reality or the importance of words. A word created the world. Words can destroy the world and you think say the social media or the former president’s tweets. We need a reformation of words. Now, all of that, including the notion of covenant and it’s underlying of Constitution, I owe that to the Jewish understanding. So, that’s probably the thing I’ve explored more than any other in the last eight years.
What motivated you to leave the Trinity Forum?
I had the privilege of founding the Trinity Forum, but oddly, the gift we had, which was Aspen style, Socratic discussion, didn’t play into the gift of mine that I love above all, which is speaking. It allowed me to write and I produced seven curricula while with the forum, but it didn’t give me much time. So, I wanted to speak more and I wanted to write more books.
What would you like your legacy to be?
Doug, if you know me, I don’t even answer the question because I don’t believe in legacy and it’s in secular business circles. People in their fifties, sixties are challenged to think through what is their legacy they’re leaving to their children and the next generation. And that’s come into the church too. But I don’t even believe it’s the right question because I think we do what we do and legacy is when the Lord says, “Well done good and faithful servant.” In other words, we’re doing it before one audience, the audience of one, and we have no idea what we’ve achieved in this life. And any measurable outcome we can look to and this life is probably wrong.
And you think of someone, the greatest Christian in our generation was Billy Graham, preached to millions, but who knows if some lady in Mississippi, who’s a terrific prayer warrior, hardly anyone knows about it. In the kingdom, she may be more powerful than Billy Graham. So, I personally never think of legacy, always just try and get on with being faithful with my calling. And then, one day when I meet the caller, our Lord, then maybe I’ll know what my legacy is, but I couldn’t care less what people think about it today.
What was it like living in the UK in the crazy 1960’s?
Well, I’m eternally grateful to be a child of the sixties. Everything had to be thought back to square one. This was the decade of the counterculture, drug, sex, rock and roll. So, I’m at the University of London and we had Bergman films, Perlini films, The Beatles in Berkeley, the free speech movement in Germany, the Red Brigades and all these sort of things happening. So, nothing could be taken for granted. Nothing was self-evident. You were pressed back to square one. If you believed, which I did, I came to faith in 1960, you had to know what you believe, why you believed, and able to answer it with the toughest critics. So, I’m eternally grateful.
The seventies was called “The Me Decade” and people shifted to think about themselves and an awful lot of naval gazing. And so, I’m glad to have come to faith and weathered the 1960s. And of course my first trip to the US was in 1968. So, Martin Luther King had been assassinated, Senator Kennedy assassinated, 100 American cities were ablaze and yet the radicals knew they wouldn’t win in the streets. They had to do the long March through the institutions. So, I came back to Europe and I realized something amazing was happening in America, in the counterculture and started to give talks on it. And unbeknownst to me, that became later my first book.
So, the sixties are incredibly decisive for me. And I’m always grateful. For example, in the sixties, crossroads in Europe, six hitchhikers, one would be reading Friedrich Nietzsche. One would be reading Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha.” One might be reading C.S. Lewis and the books would go round, and people were searching, wrestling, questing. It was a fascinating decade. And then, seventies, hitchhiking disappeared. The searching stopped. The wrestling ceased. And people didn’t think like that. So, I’m incredibly grateful to be a child of the crazy sixties.
How would you describe your worldview?
When I was at London University, a book came out by Harry Blamires called “The Christian Mind.” And it began with the opening words, “The chief feature, the Christian mind is that, there’s no Christian mind.” In other words, many of us realized that we had a faith that was personal, real and deep, but there was no biblical worldview. So the full reign is your biblical truths, who God is, compared say with the Indian views of God, or the Buddhist views of God, or atheist views of the worldview. And then, you go down to some of the other central features of a Christian worldview, a high view of human dignity made in the image of God.
So, humanity’s understood upwards, not downwards. We’re not just toolmakers or selfish genes or naked apes as Desmond Morris had us. We can only be understood if we want to be fulfilled upwards, made in the image and likeness of God, or you go down to a biblical view of truth, or freedom, or justice, or peace. All these things are incredibly important and together they form the full orbit of a Christian worldview, which is the filter through which we’re looking at reality and seeing life. So, ever since Harry Blamires, I realized the fundamental importance of developing a Christian worldview. And of course, I now believe it is the deepest richest way to see life because it’s true.
“Carpe Diem Redeemed” and Time: Cyclical, Covenantal, and Chronological
Well I think, the Biblical, and the Christian, and Jewish view of time is one of the great distinctives of the Bible. And, you really have in effect three views of time in the world and in history. The first is cyclical, which is the Hindu and the Buddhist view. Now, obviously, there are cycles in nature, spring, summer, autumn, winter. And there are cycles in our lives, birth growth, maturity, decline, death, nothing wrong with cycles. But what the Hindus have done is project that onto the very universe itself. And, you have a rather meaningless view of history and individual life. For instance, in the cyclical view, freedom is not freedom to be an individual. It’s freedom from individuality. So, that’s the cyclical view.
The biblical view is what’s called covenantal. God has purposes, providence over history. So, it’s going in his direction. But as we come to know Him and trust Him and obey Him and as we discover our gifts and calling, we become junior partners in God’s purpose and history. And that’s why it’s called the covenantal view of time. God’s providence and our partnership in obeying our callings.
The third view is just chronological. And, that’s the secularist view. In other words, tick tock, tick tock, a succession of moments. There’s no meaning because after all everything comes from chance. So there’s no meaning in history. If we want meaning, we have to make it ourselves. So, you have optimistic seculars who believe they can be the masters of history. And then, you have people like Samuel Beckett who much more pessimistic. History is desiccating us. You think of a play like “Krapp’s Last Tape,” reducing us to the meaninglessness of scattered moments.
Covenantal Kairos: Redemption and the Biblical View of Time
The Biblical view, covenantal, is by far the richest. And I love the fact, you look in the Bible, we’re called by our Lord and in the Old Testament to read the signs of the times. Our Lord says, “You’re a good meteorologist, but you don’t read the signs of the times.” And then you have a wonderful idea. You have Acts 13 where Paul says about King David, “He served God’s purpose in his generation and then fell asleep,” which I absolutely loved. And then, you have the most amazingly of all. Paul says to the early Christians that we are called to redeem the times. Now, if you read the versions today, many people view that as time emotion studies. In other words, pack the hour with all you can do productively. That’s not what it means. The word time, redeem the time is kairos, the significance of the moment, the opportunity of the crisis.
But more importantly, the word redeem is the same word used of our Lord on the cross, redemption. So in some, I don’t quite know what that means. Only the Lord knows if we are faithful to Him in serving his purposes in our time. We can redeem the time in some way. In other words, the Biblical view of time is the richest, deepest in all of history. And thank God, we can find our own fulfillment in a deep way by understanding that.
Where is humanity headed within the covenantal timeline?
In the chronological view of time, to put meaning, you have to be the masters of history and clearly, we aren’t. And so, there are those, say the Marxists, who promise us certain outcomes and they’ve never happened. But in the Biblical view, it doesn’t only depend on us. And, that’s why you have the very important notion of the Messiah. So in this world, we are called to restore, to redeem, to work as God’s partners, bringing back freedom, justice, human dignity, in a world ruined by sin, but it’s not all up to us. So the gates of hell, as Jesus says, will not prevail against the church, but not only that. We count on the Messiah. And one day, God will do through his servant, the Messiah, what no human beings until that day will do. And that’s where only when the Messiah comes, will we have what we call in this world, utopia and everything short of the Messiah will be utopian, in the Thomas Moore sense, the word no place. In other words, it won’t happen.
So in this world, the worst evils are done by utopians, people who believe you can do it here now. They can’t, Mao Zedong, many others. They kill more people than anyone else. Utopians bring the worst evil, but Jews and Christians believe in the Messiah. What we can’t fully do, He one day will. And that’s our hope.
How should we express a Christian worldview?
My passion has always been, put it in two words, analysis, where are we, and advocacy, what should we say and what should we be doing. And most of my books have one of those two themes in them. So, some are analyzing the problems of the church and some are analyzing the problems of the culture. But at a certain point, you have to speak. You have to address what’s there. Now, as I understand advocacy or the old word apologetics, you don’t start by putting out a Christian answer. You have to start by listening and loving people enough to listen to where they are. And then when you discover where they are, what Jesus called the treasure of their heart, what makes them really tick? Then, a Christian answer’s inappropriate. People only listened to the good news when they’re in a bad situation, but most people don’t know they’re in a bad situation.
So, they have to be pressed out to see the inadequacies and eventually the bankruptcy of their own situation. So for example, the classic Old Testament case is Elijah talking to the prophets of Baal, 850 false prophets. And he has the royal court, the power against him and the people, the ordinary people sitting on the fence. He doesn’t say, “Come back to God, come back to God, or Israel will fall apart” like some preachers would today. He says quite daringly, “If Baal is God follow Baal.” Now, he can only do that because he knows Baal is not God. And how do they try to follow Baal? They hit their heads against the wall. And eventually, when they’re stuck, he says, “Let me show you that the Lord is God and the fire falls.” You remember the story.
Now, we got to do the equivalent of that today. Don’t immediately give a Christian answer, press people to the logic of what they say, they believe, because we know that it’s inadequate because it’s not finally true. And at a certain point, they will see its bankruptcy. And at that point, the Biblical answer, the Jewish and Christian answer will be adequate where theirs is inadequate. We got to have the courage to press them out, whether they’re atheists or whether they say cultural Marxists or whatever it is. So I think, we’ve got to have a much more Biblical view of advocacy or what the old term was, apologetics.
Why should we understand different worldviews?
Well, the understanding of worldview helps enormously because we have a Christian worldview, but an atheist, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or a Marxist, they have a worldview too. And the more clearly you understand their worldview, the more clearly you understand it’s not purely theoretical. It will affect their practical life and their policy. And that’s where we disagree with them. So, we need to really understand the worldviews. And too many conservatives and too many Christians don’t. They don’t think where something leads to.
Okay, this is one you can tee off on and I’m going to have to keep you to a half hour on this answer. Okay. But which worldviews do you think are damaging the west the most? Could be one worldview, it could be two but I mean, just using your best judgemental hat the kindest way you can, what would you say?
The West as a Cut Flower Civilization
Our Western world is the child of the Greeks. We owe a lot to the Greeks, philosophy, science, drama, art, democracy. It’s a child of Rome above all governance and odd little things like central heating, but it’s principally a trial of the gospel and Europe in particular. But the West today is a cut flower civilization. Quite systematically and deliberately, it has cut the roots of what made it, the greatness that the west has been. But the odd thing is that, as we are at the end of 500 years of Western dominance, not that long, the principle challenges to the West are Western.
A Post-Christian West? Which worldviews damage the West most?
Clearly, we’re in a post-Christian Western age, but what’s interesting is that the challenges don’t come from total outsiders, in other words, alien civilizations. Principle challenges are Western ideas that have gone elsewhere. So, you take the greatest challenge today, which is China, authoritarian, totalitarian China, and the two principle ideas that are shaping China right now are obviously Marxism behind the Chinese revolution, but more distinctively now under Xi Jinping, the thinking of Carl Schmitt who was one of Hitler’s greatest admirers. And he’s behind the Chinese view of authoritarian nationalism, for example, the awful treatment of the Uyghurs or the house churches comes from the thinking of Carl Schmitt who was anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic in the 1930s. So, you’re looking at China and you can see Karl Marx and Karl Schmitt, two very European ideas that are our principal enemies today. And that’s the irony of where the west is in its crisis.
What is the state of America? Reality Absent, Elites Disconnected
You know, Max De Pree, in his thinking leadership, used to say the first duty of a leader is to define reality. And I think, that’s missing today. And one of the key difference is, America’s deeply divided. I would argue as divided as any moment since just before the Civil War. But the difference is, no Lincoln, who the evils of his day in the light of what he called the better angel of the American nature. In other words, to define reality in America, we’ve got to say, what is America? Is it a republic? Is it a democracy? Or is it just a big modern nation? I would argue, the genius of America is its notion of ordered freedom, which comes through the reformation from the Hebrew Torah. So, covenant becomes constitution and so on and so on. So, you analyze America that way. Clearly, all the modern trends are undermining that notion of the republic.
So, the first crisis is the republic. Now, I would go on from there to say, America is also democratic that secondary to being a republic, but even democracy is failing now. And we’re seeing an emergent oligarchy, the gap between the elites, managerial, technocratic, and the people is huge. And you’re closer now to an oligarchy than to a democracy. I would say many people would disagree with me here. President Trump’s ironic contribution was that in the disdain and the disgust and the hatred of President Trump, you see very clearly the emerging gap between the elites and all people. And that’s what’s the key thing. He didn’t cause it, but he’s thrown light on it. So, America now is already post-republic and increasingly post-democratic.
Now, it doesn’t mean America will fall. America could be just a wealthy, corporatist, technologically brilliant, modern, superpower, but no longer the republic of the founders with its key notion of ordered freedom or even a democratic republic in the older sense of a liberal state. So, we’re at a very, very interesting stage.
The state of Europe? Authoritarian Unity and 3 Great Movements
Europe, as I said is a cut flower civilization. So, the Christian roots say, freedom, human dignity, gone. But, Europe out of its reaction to nationalism and World War II has put all its eggs in the basket of the common market and now the European Union. So, Europe has grown bureaucratic in its unity. And I think Europe is growing increasingly authoritarian. S,o it desperately needs an undergoing for human dignity, human rights and for freedom and things like that
But what you can see is ironically, as you know, president Macron, France warns the French about American ideas, but American ideas are French ideas which have gone further in America than they went in France. In other words, the French Revolution is the great event of the modern world, but it only lasted 10 years in France and then came Napoleon, who said, “The revolution is over.” But while the revolution is over in its original revolutionary form, it was like, as historians say, a huge volcanic explosion and the lava flow is still flowing out.
And there are three forms of the lava flow. The first one, in the 19th century, is what’s called revolutionary nationalism. Napoleon himself, the unification of Italy, even a contribution to the rise of secular Zionism and importantly national socialism, Carl Schmitt, whom I mentioned.
The second great lava flow designed in the 19th, bursting out in the Russian Revolution, 1917 and the Chinese in 1949, I was there, communism, revolutionary socialism. But what we’re wrestling with here in America is the third lava flow, revolutionary liberalism or Cultural Marxism or Neo-Marxism. And that’s what we need to understand here.
America’s Choices Today? Revolution, Oligarchy, or Homecoming
I think to understand where we are, we need to put in place what Reinhold Niebuhr would call the bookends of history. On the one end, authoritarianism, all order, no freedom. And on the other hand, anarchy, all freedom, no order. Now, anarchy is unlivable, rather like Thomas Hobbes says, “The war of all, against all,” where life is nasty, brutish and short. It’s unlivable. So people are prepared to give up some of their rights for order, control. And you put your eggs in the basket of Leviathan, which Thomas Hobbes calls the mortal God of the state.
In other words, anarchy leads to authoritarianism in a rebound. Now take where America is today, 2021, 2022. I put it in three words: revolution, oligarchy, homecoming. Revolution is the radical left. And I would say, “Please, God, no.” Oligarchy is what I mentioned earlier, this growing gap between the elites and the people, Hilary Clinton’s “deplorables.” President Obama’s people are clinging to their God and their guns and so on. So the elite despises the populists for things like QAnon conspiracy. But the populist despises the elite for their fake news, things like RussiaGate.
Now, both of those come from the crisis of truth, which is the product of the elite and postmodernism. So the intelligentsia in America hadn’t… Let me put it carefully, think of George Floyd, the intelligentsia have knelt on the neck of truth and killed it through postmodernism. And the result is where we are today. A culture of hype lies and spin.
The third option, and I would say to oligarchy, “Please, God, no.” The third option is homecoming. I never heard the word till I came to America. The way people go back to their alma maters in the autumn. That’s not what I mean. The Hebrew word for repentance that about turn of heart and mind goes beyond the Greek. The Greek means an about turn, metanoia. The Hebrew [foreign language] means homecoming. Because when we go wrong through lies or whatever it is, we’re alienated, we’re an exile. And when we return to God from repentance, we come home.
America needs to come home to the best of its first principles. And that to me is the choice revolution, oligarchy or homecoming.
Thoughts on Brexit
No, I’m English and I personally supported Brexit because I thought the European Union was becoming a big bureaucratic one party type of government, which is very dangerous. And I believe in… George Washington had the wonderful notion of each person, going back to microcosm in the Old Testament, each person living freely under their own violent victory.
In other words, in our day the more crises we have, the more people think collectively, centrally, globally. But they reject the local and that’s very dangerous. So as an Englishman, I’m proud of the fact we’re independent and I don’t believe in bowing to Brussels. And I think the European Union will eventually break up because Europeans will not be satisfied with it. Now, you’ve got to find a good, solid position for the post-Brexit position. You can’t just break away. You have to have constructive views of what Britain is today, post EU and that’s what’s lacking.
VA’s Election and the Undermining of Families, Schools, & Places of Worship
I was very pleased that Glenn Youngkin is the governor-elect of Virginia and he will restore Virginia to many of the first principles of the American experiment. And you can see how people were reacting, say to the critical race theory in Loudoun County and the way the previous administration had sidelined parents.
Because as you know, take the sexual revolution. If you go back to its architects like Wilhelm Reich in the 1920s who gave us the term Sexual Revolution. He was quite clear. They would not win and remember they were out and the book says very clearly, they were out to undermine 3000 years of Western civilization. In other words, the Jewish roots, as well as the 2000 years of the Christian roots. So he says, “We have two enemies and we won’t win until we’ve overcome both.” One, the church. But the other, less obviously, parents. And the reason the LGBT and others have called for, say, sexual education at three and four and transgender movement wants to have that sort of thing very early is your sidelining parents and parental responsibility for children.
Now, in contrast to that, in the Old Testament you can see in the early history of America, a free society needs three bedrock institutions, families, schools and places of worship, churches and synagogues. And there’s a deliberate attempt to undermine all three of them. And if they are undermined, freedom is undermined. Because when you have the proper ordering of families and schools and churches and synagogues, you can have the proper ordering and freedom and without them you’ve got a crisis.
The Problem with Globalism
Well, I think there’s a lot of confusion now about elites and populists. And I think it’s partly come out of the challenge of globalism. Globalization is a process. Globalism is a philosophy. Globalism favors the global at the expense of the local and that’s the trouble. And you can see going back to people like H.G. Wells, who says, “We’ve got a problem with war, problem with nationalism. The only answer: a world republic.” Global, the new world order authoritarian.
Freedom demands we have a balance between the local and the global. And that balance is very hard to keep. And the trouble is that the populist, we’ve forgotten in the Biblical view, Jewish and Christian, leaders should have a great faith in their people and love their people as they lead them. Whereas today with our elites, they have a disdain for the people and that is extremely dangerous. So, Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables,” or even George W. Bush, a Bush talking about the foul stench of extremism. The elite disdain for the American people is a disaster.
Patriotism vs. Nationalism
So, we need a leader who believes in the people who heals the gap between the leaders and the people so you can really have something like a republic and a genuine democracy. So one example of this is, if you’re a patriot today, you’re called a nationalist. Now, as you know, George Orwell made a difference. Patriots are people with a love for their country, a love for their own place. Say Wendell Berry style or whatever, patriotism is wonderful. God has made us all diverse. Humans are the most diverse life form on the Earth. We all live in different places and we have love for different places. We should be patriots.
Nationalism is when you make an idol or a God of your nation. And that of course, is very dangerous. But to dismiss all patriots as nationalists is crazy. I mean, some smart-alecky historians who call me an American nationalist. I’m not even American, but I’m a believer in the best things of the ordered freedom of the American Republic.
I’m not a patriot because I’m not American, but I do believe in Americanism at its best. And I’m certainly not a nationalist, but it’s the globalist critique of patriotism that is called nationalism. So whether it’s the elite disdain for ordinary people or the globalist disdain for patriots. There’s a lot of confusion and we need to answer it partly by clearing up the terms, but also by healing the gap between leaders and the people they lead.
You have a wonderful verse in the Old Testament, “For the leaders who lead and the followers who follow.” There should be a natural element of leaders and followers together.
What’s causing America’s division? How to fix it? (Truth about History)
Well, I would argue the central clash is between ideas from the American Revolution, 1776, and ideas from the French Revolution, 1789. Because if we look at postmodernism, tribal politics, identity politics, the LGBT, Sexual Revolution, the cancel culture, all these things come from the ideas that have flowed down from the French Revolution. That’s the division, but there’s nobody saying it.
So in the 1850s, Abraham Lincoln address the evils, slavery, house divided, but he believed passionately in the Declaration and he believed in what he called “the better angel of the American nature.” There isn’t a single national leader today who addresses the current situation in that light. I’m absolutely appalled. So, you take the presidents, the former president talked about “make America great again.” The current president talks about restoring the soul of America, but neither of them say what made America great in the first place.
Rabbi Sacks points out something wonderful. If you go to Washington D.C. and look at the monuments, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, World War II, you are reading screens of text, the full Gettysburg Address and so on. Now compare that if you go to London, to Parliament, to Westminster Square, you have three statues. The longest has three words, David Lloyd George. The second statue has two words, Nelson Mandela. And the third statue, the big one has one word, Churchill.
Now the point being that America is a nation by intention and by ideas. Britain isn’t. France isn’t. That’s the distinctive thing about America. And yet you don’t have presidents defending it today. That’s the missing element. So it could be turned around in five years. If you had a president who understood what the republic is, where it’s gone astray and where it needs to be called back.
The Importance of Civic Education to Freedom: A Truthful Version
As our Jewish friends say, if any project takes more than a single generation, you need history and you need schools. So as the rabbis point out, what does Moses talk about night of the Passover? They’re going free after 430 years of slavery, does he mention freedom? No. They’re going to the promised land of milk and honey, he never mentions it. Three times Moses talks about children because the story we tell to our children is the key to the renewal of identity and continuity.
Now, transfer that to America. You used to have the wonderful motto, “E Pluribus Unum.” Out of many, one. Out of diversity, unity. That was what the melting pot was. People were taught what citizenship was, it was called civic education. And that was thrown out at the end of the 1960s. And then of course it was replaced by a Howard Zinn view of an alternative history and more recently by The 1619 Project. But let’s put it bluntly. The Howard Zinn view and the 1619 Project are dead against all that the republic was built to be. So to teach those, is literally suicidal. If we continue teaching those in American public schools, America is finished. The republic’s finished.
How do you incorporate so many fantastic quotes in your work?
No, I just have an eye for quotes. I don’t have a collection of them, but when I’m writing any books, I just collect all the particular quotes that are relevant that I come across while I’m writing that book. Now, with the “Carpe Diem Redeemed,” which is on time, as you know, I found so many of the quotes were so deep and reflective that I said to myself, “They’re worth the price of the book.” And many people in that book, just read the quotations and just to read 12 pages or whatever it is of quotations, you have a whole historical reflection on time. For many people that’s better than the book itself, which is fair enough. And I meant it to be like that.
James Hunter’s “To Change the World”: Active vs. Passive Christianity
… James Hunter’s a good friend of mine. And of course he’s a brilliant scholar. So he went as far as he probably could as a Christian scholar in that book and he called for what he termed faithful presence. But many of us thought while we understood what he was saying, that doesn’t go nearly far enough. Because our Lord himself was not just present, he was active. Speaking, healing, delivering, driving the money changes out of the temple and so on. And we need more than presence today. And presence gives people the excuse of just being faithful Christians and keeping their heads down.
I meet a lot of people in this country who say to me, “Well, my model is the early church. They were faithful, shared their faith with their neighbors, but what could they do?” And I said, “That isn’t the model.” The early church was under the imperial dictatorship of Rome. Whereas the American Republic based on the Hebrew Republic, the essence of a covenantal system is the reciprocal responsibility of all, for all. Love your neighbors yourself and so on. In other words, every Jew responsible for every Jew.
So we, the people in America, every American should be responsible for the whole of the American system. So no citizen can just keep their heads down. Every citizen should be caring for the whole Republic, whether they’re Christian or atheist or whatever. So a lot of Christians are faithless in the way they’re not engaging a salt and light today and the scandal of the American church. And I use that word advisedly.
This is the one church in the Western world where Christians are a huge majority. They’re not in England. They’re not in France. They’re not in Germany. Here they are. And yet we have, take our friends the Jews and I mean our friends, 2% of America, but they punch well above their weight intellectually, financially, culturally. And they always have, whereas Christians who are huge majority and they’re called by Jesus to be salt and light are ineffectual. It’s a scandal and too many Christians lack a Christian worldview in terms of engagement. And that’s part of the American problem.
Comments on “Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel in the Dark Times”
“Renaissance” is one of my favorite books, but it’s not been picked up widely except by the few. Because I think we got to see that a salt and light as a creative community, Christians should be culture-forming. And when we’re not retreating from the world, nor are we surrendering and accommodating to the world, we’re in a cultural tension with the world, which makes us a creative minority. And that’s the idea of “Renaissance.” We should be the salt and light today, renewing Western civilization.
That’s one of my favorite books, but sadly not picked up by some of the others. And I wish more people would read that one. It’s a more constructive book.
Should Christians engage or withdraw from the world?
My own view is that both us followers of Jesus we’re engaged in the whole of our lives, but also the American Republic requires a citizenship that’s engaged. So every Christian who’s American, I’m an admirer of America, the non-American citizen should be profoundly engaged. There’s something worth fighting for here, which I don’t have home in England, for example.
So I had a slight disagreement with Rod Dreher. I like what he says about the “Benedict Option,” but too many people have taken that as an excuse to retreat and that’s wrong. I don’t think monkishness and monasteries are anything to do with the gospel. We’re called by our Lord to engagement.
Now, our Lord has a pattern of engagement and withdrawal. He’s speaking, healing, delivering. And then he goes to the other side of the lake or up the mountain as a time of prayer or whatever. But it’s that balance of the rhythm of engagement and withdrawal. So I’m not in favor of the monastic movement at all. And I like the reformation idea that calling was the equivalent of the monastic movement, but it was engaged with the real world. And that’s why calling through such constructive engagement gave rise to democracy, gave rise to capitalism and so on.
So I’m passionately in favor, through calling as salt and light, we should all be engaged.
Modernity Explained (With Bonus Feature on Postmodernism)
Modernity is confusing. The second Lausanne Congress in Manila, I was asked to speak on mission and modernity and given 17 minutes, not very long. And I went out into the foyer, an elderly missionary, a woman missionary came up to me. I was much younger then. And she said, “I have one question. I didn’t understand all you said, and I didn’t agree with all you said, but I have one question. Why did they ask a man to speak on maternity?” People don’t even understand modernity. It’s a very simple word. All that our modern world means, satellites and cars and television and computers, this is our world of modernity.
Now, I think the point though, for a follower of Jesus, we’re called to be in the world, but not of the world. So we got to know the world in which we’re in and our world is the world of modernity. Now, it has enormous benefits as well as costs. I’m not against it. It has benefit. You take healthcare or plumbing, which of us would go back to anything before the 18th century and so on. So I’m not against modernity, but we’ve got to recognize it to resist it where it’s dangerous.
So the problem with many Christians is they think all the dangers come from ideas. Communism, relativism, secularism. These are ism ideas, but modernity is far more than ideas. And we need to understand modernity, to understand some of the real challenges to our faith. And I use the simple illustration of time. We’re living in a world of fast life, where did it come from? Didn’t come from any philosopher. It came from watches and clocks. That’s part of modernity, our fast life. So I’m not against modernity.
Now, I also quarrel with the word postmodern because if you understand modernity, institutionally, structurally, all the things I mentioned, we’re not going to be postmodern. In other words, postmodern is a word that follows thinking only. You can have postmodernism following modernism. Modernism stressing reason and postmodernism stressing irrationality and relativism. So you can be postmodern in ideas. You can’t be post modernity.
Shorter, say a nuclear disaster where the whole thing is blown up and where we’re used to being primitives in caves and so on. Then we might be post modernity. But short of that, we can’t be.
Dangers we face with modernity? “Isms” and Technology Everywhere
Obviously the heart of modernity, you have the democratic state, the free market economy and science and technology. The danger is that in a secular civilization, you start to trust these things and in World War II, it’s very interesting. I love the Christian thinkers, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Simone Weil, T.S. Eliot, they began to talk about what Simone Weil called “the beast” or Tolkien called the “machine” or Lewis Mumford later called the “mega machine.”
You think of what, Mark Zuckerberg’s now referring to as the Metaverse. In other words, a totally all-wrapping where you have scientism, technicism, rationalism, progressivism, and that was all these things relying on these things together, creating our simulated artificial world. That becomes the mega machine, which could be incredibly dangerous. And we believe in human nature, we are ourselves face-to-face with each other and so on. So to create a Metaverse as Zuckerberg wants to do, will be disastrous for humanity. And then people want to move us into transhumanism. So say with transgenderism today, you have people talk about dysphoria. Someone says, “I’m feeling bad as a man in a woman’s body or a woman in a man’s body.” But when we get to transhumanism, they’re saying, “I’m feeling bad to have any sort of body.” And we want a technological replacement of the body. This is a world we’re going to, and we bring a great contribution. We believe in humanity, incarnate humanity. Jesus to reach us human beings, became a human being and there’s nothing higher than humanness face to face. So, we got to think carefully about all these things coming and resist them.
Consumerism and the Need for Theological Frameworks
Now I said earlier, we’ve got the liberal state, the free market economy and science and technology. All these things are gifts, but they need to have a framework around them. They answer, the “what” question, the “how” question. They never answer, the “why” question. It takes faith and ethics as a framework in which to have a liberal state. Without faith and the framework, it will become an authoritarian state. And the same is true of the market, and the same is true of science. Science is incredibly important, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of knowledge. Science can’t explain freedom. Science can’t explain love. We need more than these things.
So, you mentioned consumerism. The trouble with consumerism, it’s great benefits gives us incredible choices. Go to a supermarket, I’ve got a hundred cereals and granolas I can choose from. But that attitude then enters into everything. Into relationships. And I’m married to this woman. She’s married to me. She might find a better husband, wealthier, more handsome, stronger, whatever, well pick and choose comes in. And that comes into theology. We unhitched the Old Testament, who wants to… Leviticus, all those funny laws, throw it out.
One man said to me, “I put a big dollop of love on my plate.” But then he said, “Hell, hell no.” In other words, consumerism’s not wrong, but it gives a pick and choose mentality. The church of your preference, the preaching’s too long, the preaching’s too short. The music’s too classical. The music’s too contemporary. You’ve got megachurches. You want a jazz service, a classical service contemporary service, pick and choose. Well, then you throw out what you don’t like. Now that undermines authority. So there’s nothing wrong with consumerism, except when it enters into areas it shouldn’t enter into. And that’s the problem. So, yes to the market, but within a moral, theological, spiritual framework.
How to sustain American freedom? The Golden Triangle’s Renewal
I would say, it’s not legislative, but it’s not individual alone, it has to be national too. Put it this way. Renewal is the very hardest thing for a free society. So yes, one of my books I call it, “The Golden Triangle of Freedom,” how you sustain freedom and not just win it and order it. You need to sustain it, the Golden Triangle. But if we look back to the Old Testament where you have it strongly, the main types of renewal are both national. The Jews’ Moses says every seven years, the king must read the covenant and call the people back to it, every seven years. Now, the nearest you have in America to that, are the inaugural addresses. They’re not doing it explicitly, but some of the best of the presidents, you take Ronald Reagan talking about renewing the American covenant with freedom.
He wasn’t doing that explicitly, but he probably should have been. You need to have a national renewal. But equally, as I said earlier, you need the schools and the families and the places of worship to keep it alive. And for leaders in the old Testament, you have the national renewal. Then the king is ordered to write a personal copy of the Torah himself.
Be very good, I mean, people in America swear on the Bible to uphold the Constitution. But many of them, I think, don’t know what the Constitution is. And so it’d be very important for every American president to read a bit of it every day and realize what it is they’re upholding and why they’re doing so. So the challenge of renewal is the challenge of a free society. And America’s doing badly on almost every front that it takes to renew it.
You know, I often say you take the Beijing Olympics. They were unique in a lot of ways in China, but there was one thing that was unique. There was no American relay runner on the podium. Now one reason was you had Usain Bolt, lightning bolt, he’s rather fast. The real reason was though, the American relay runners dropped the battle. And again and again, you heard the hollow, tinny sound of the battle hitting the track. What’s happening in America is that from generation to generation, they’re dropping the battle. If it’s not passed down, say currently to Generation Z, freedom will die. Both faith and freedom require transmission. And if you stop handing it down, it dies.
“Fool’s Talk” and the Key to Christian Persuasion: Ask Questions!
One of the simplest approaches to persuasion is the ability to ask questions. Too often, Christians make statements. They make proclamations, they preach, and to make a straightforward statement to someone who disagrees is water off a duck’s back, but to make people think and to get them to see the problems of what they believe now, which we believe on either true nor adequate, you have to raise questions. And you can see that our Lord was brilliant at raising questions again and again. He’s asked tricky questions. What does he do? He asks even trickier questions back, forcing people to see what it is they believe and the holes in what they believe. And we should do that today.
So we’ve got to get out of giving instant Christian statements or conservative statements and get used to listening to people and raising questions to people, to drive them out, to see the logic of their crazy ideas and where they lead to. And you take something like the transgender movement. Some day after tomorrow, the despair and the confusion and the loneliness of what we are creating through some of these things, is going to be so extreme that people are going to turn around. They’re literally defying reality to the point of insanity. And there’s a madness in America, which will lead to chaos unless people return. But for the moment, we’ve just got to raise the questions and push them out to see where the ideas are leading to.
Doug Commentary on Raising Questions
All right. Let’s assume we’ve done that. We’ve listened, we’ve raised the questions, we’ve gotten to know the other person and the other person wants a response. I would say, I would argue there are three typical responses that are given that are evangelical. The first is the academic response, which is some sort of theodicy or theology that you would offer.
The second would be, this is very much the purview of ministers. People have personal problems. They have personal needs, they have difficult things going on in their life where you bring the gospel to that person in an effort to help that way. And it’s very effective. That’s probably the most effective, but we don’t want to wish problems on people. So we prefer, Hindus are fine but when we can do that, we do it. The third, and this is one you really emphasize in “Fool’s Talk” where you tell people to speak from personal experience, your own personal experience, rather than the “trump brilliant” arguments. Do you have any comment on that?
Philosophical vs. Personal Arguments (or Stories) About God
I’m a great believer that the church went wrong when the Christian faith was made official, back in the Roman empire, under Theodosius and the church made a mistake. First of all, in copying Roman structures. And secondly, in copying Greek ideas. Well, take the Greek ideas. You can see the importance of Aristotle affecting Aquinas, affecting Christian arguments down the centuries, which gave us the proofs for God, cosmological, ontological, and so on. I don’t think they work. You can’t prove God and people can just sit in an armchair and decide whether or not they believe. That is not the Biblical way.
And I think the church went wrong in those sort of arguments. If we look in the Bible, the Greeks put a stress on systems, systems of reason. The Bible puts its stress on stories. The Bible is a single story, made up of a thousand stories in all the 66 books.
There’s a lot of talk today about narrative following Alistair McIntyre, but that’s Biblical, the Bible’s all about stories. So we’ve got to engage with people, my story, and the people we’re talking to, your story, his story, her story. And so on. Now that’s not relativistic.
So, I mentioned the Sexual Revolution. That’s a big philosophical problem, but it boils down to the person and with the person it’s a pastoral problem. They’ve become a gay or a lesbian or whatever it is for specific reasons in their family story. And so I don’t just talk philosophically. I want to talk pastorally and so on. So we’ve always got to have that balance in the personal, the philosophical, the political, the pastoral, altogether. So we’re really talking to people in terms of truth, but also love and compassion.
Is America Post-Christian?
That’s a tricky one, because it’s not always clear what people mean. So in sociology, secularization is a process by which religion becomes more marginal and less meaningful. But does that mean that people follow secularism? No. Or you take the religious nuns who are none of the above? Well, some of them are no longer clearly Christian, but they’re not atheists.
And so a lot of the polls are very confusing and they’re used in false ways, I think. And so we’ve always got to talk to individual people to discover where they really are. But what is beyond question in terms of post-Christian America, is that the intelligentsia, the intellectual world, the world of the universities, has turned against traditional American beliefs, which are broadly Jewish and Christian. And in that sense, since the universities are so important and much of culture is downstream from them, America is post-Christian.
“Impossible People”: Christianity, Secularism, and Modernity
Let me go back to the beginning. As our Jewish friends say, the first word to Abraham is negative, leave. He had to leave his country, his culture, his kin. So God’s new way, not the Tower of Babel, not the pre-flood conditions. God’s new way. His project, starting with Abraham, then the family and then Moses, and then the people of Israel moving down to our Lord himself. God’s new way begins negatively with a break.
We are a counterculture. We are a creative minority in the world. We are not Egypt. We are not Babylon. We are not Rome. We are not Greece. So our Lord says we are to be in the world, but not of the world. So that’s the creative tension. Now that means there are two extremes that are wrong. As Peter Berger puts it. One extreme is defiance and resistance, not in the world at all.
The other extreme is accommodation and surrender. Now you look at the church, say since the 18th century. Liberal theology, liberal revisionism made the great mistake of following the ideas of the world. And you can see that Schumacher in the 18th century, Fredrick Schumacher, called to follow the culture despisers of the gospel. The trouble is he reached them and joined them.
And liberal theology right down to the extremes of the Episcopal church today, has sold out the faith at point after point. But some fundamentalists have gone to the other extreme. So the challenge is to keep them to it. So, in “Impossible People,” I was challenging faithful people to realize that modernity is a challenge, not just false ideas like relativism. And many Christians, I said earlier, they’re aware of the danger of ideas, but they’re not aware of the dangers of modernity. So I’m not against modernity, but to resist it, you have to recognize it.
“Last Call for Liberty”: How to measure progress in a “progressive” age?
One of the most powerful ideas in our world today is the notion of being progressive or being relevant and not being on the wrong side of history. Now, as G.K.Chesterton pointed out long time ago, “Progress is wonderful so long as you give a standard by which people can judge that you’re really going forward and not backward.” If you just say progressive and don’t give a standard, you might be regressive and reactionary. And I would say many of today’s progressives are that. They don’t give you a standard. Whereas the Bible, you always have notions of human dignity or of truth or of the importance of words. They’re just standards by which you can judge, are we going forwards or backwards? So we should challenge this notion of relevance and being progressive and so on. Or you take the notion that President Obama hopped on a lot, that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Now, he quotes Martin Luther King Jr. But Martin Luther King Jr. was quoting Theodore Parker in the 19th century. And Theodore Parker is reflecting a Biblical worldview, but without the Biblical worldview, how do we know we’re going forward? And you can see that many of our progresses are actually going backwards. Because the only way they can go forward is by authoritarian state, which is a denial of freedom and eventually a denial of justice. So we should make people think, the insult that you’re on the wrong side of history, all right. What are the standards by which you’re judging? And a lot of this is quite wrong and hypocritical.
“The Magna Carta of Humanity” and Cultural Marxism
Well, in “The Magna Carta of Humanity,” I’m trying to get to the root of the American crisis, but also to be constructive, to have a positive answer at the same time and to do both at once. Because as I see it, I may have said this earlier, the deepest crisis is between 1776, which came out through the Reformation from the Hebrew Torah, the first five books of the Bible above all Exodus and Deuteronomy, covenant becoming constitution, the consent of the governed, the separation of powers and so on. And then the ideas just come down from the French Revolution, 1789.
Now a lot of people say, “I’m not a Marxist. What do you mean?” And I say, “This is not classical Marxism. This is cultural Marxism.” And they don’t understand that. Cultural Marxism goes back to our friend and not our friend, our opponent, Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci was an Italian Marxist who sat in jail under Mussolini and he wrote what became prison notebooks, figuring out why Marx was wrong. There wasn’t a revolution as Marx predicted. And he shifted the discussion from economics and politics to culture. From the proletariat in industrial strikes to what he called the gatekeepers who have the cultural dominance or his word, hegemony over our societies.
And his ideas were picked up by the Frankfurt School and in the sixties, the important person in the Frankfurt School in California was Herbert Marcuse, who was the godfather of the New Left, and he was the man. And another key moment at the end of the sixties, he and Rudi Dutschke in Germany called for a long march through the institutions. They wouldn’t win in the streets for all the protest movements. They had to do a long march round a detour and win the colleges and universities, the press and the media, the world they called culture industry, Hollywood entertainment, and then sweep around and win the whole culture.
And 50 years later, we can see they’ve done it. Now, there are other things contributed, you think of the influence of George Soros early in the century, who realized that with his billions, he could superfund these movements. So what you have on the radical left today is a swarming popup protest movement ever morphing, Antifa, Black Lives Matter, no justice, no peace, Occupy Wall Street, you name it. A hundred of these things a week, all with the same thing of revolution as the final goal. And so we’ve got to have people understanding cultural Marxism.
American Christian Revolution (1776) vs. French Atheist Revolution (1789)
There are huge differences between 1776 and 1789 and specifically cultural Marxism. One is their source. One comes from the Bible, the other from the French Enlightenment. Another is their attitude to humanity. The Biblical revolution is realistic. That’s why you have checks and balances to limit the abuse of power. Whereas the French Revolution is utopian, but you move down to the big differences. When it comes to freedom, the Bible has strong views for human freedom, not only cultural Marxism, but atheists at large don’t, determinism and so on. But currently the big difference is justice. Take, say the killing of George Floyd, but here the differences are very important. They both agree there is injustice, the differences come on how you address it. So on the radical left, you only have power, God is dead, truth is dead, postmodernism. All that’s left is power, force, coercion.
So you analyze discourse. How do people talk? And you’re looking for the majority, the minority, the oppressor, the victim. When you’ve found your victim, whether it’s a woman or a race or whatever it is, you weaponize the victim as a group and use them to subvert the status quo with the end game being revolution. But, it is only a conflict of power, nothing else. So the end result is what the Romans call the Peace of Despotism. In other words, you have a power that’s unrivaled, can put down all other powers and it’s authoritarianism. So let’s say bluntly, the revolutions of the radical left, never succeed. And the oppression of the radical left, never ends. Now you compare that with a Jewish and Christian answer, the Biblical answer. I’ll just mention single words. You use truth to address power, that’s the prophets. You call for repentance in confession, that about-turn of heart and mind.
Even Michael Foucault, the postmodernist who hates the Christian faith argues that confession is admirable. It’s a very rare, moral act why someone is going on record against themselves. I screwed up. I cheated. I lied. I committed adultery. I murdered. Someone confesses is going on record against themselves, not blame someone else. And then you have forgiveness. Forgiveness is all about freedom. The left is ruthless, merciless.
Even Douglas Murray, “The Madness of Crowds” points out, there’s no mercy in the left. There’s a rush to the guillotine, pull down the statue, cancel their being here. Total lack of mercy in the gospel forgiveness. The past is forgiven, you’re freed from the burden. The future is forgiven, the future of a second chance. And of course at the end of line, reconciliation, repentance and restoration.
A total difference between the way they address the two. And of course that difference is now America’s challenge. Let me put it simply. In the issue of slavery and racism from the past, America’s greatest evil, meets the establishment’s greatest blind spot. Meets the radical left’s greatest fraud. Meets the Bible, the Jewish and Christians’ faith, greatest glory. But will America face up to its past in the light of the atonement or not? That’s America’s choice today.
America 20 years from now?
If you look at America today, many Americans think we’ll muddle through. Those who’re really thinking, you have on the one hand, what I call the masters of history. We’re in control. We can put a man in the moon. We can solve the problems here. And you have this clash between the masters of history, we can do it. And what I call the monitors of the cycles.
Now if you go back to Ibn Khaldun or Arnold Toynbee and people like that, there are those who say, for example, no nation lasts more than 250 years in terms of real power, which runs out on 2026 in July the fourth. And you have people saying, this is the science of the cycles. Well, the first group, the masters of history are the optimists, self-reliant optimists. The second group tend to be the pessimist all over.
I speak as a follower of Jesus and along with the Jews, we say, no. The one thing we know nothing about is tomorrow. All the pundits in the world, they know nothing about tomorrow. In other words, humans are free. We are not fated. We are not deterministic. So where America will be in 20 years’ time depends on how Americans, leaders and ordinary citizen choose tomorrow. Will Americans choose renewal or will they choose further decline? It’s a choice. I have no idea. Only the Lord knows which way they will go, but it’s up to Americans to choose and they are free to choose.
The Old Testament’s Importance to Christianity: All One Book
I think those of us who’re followers of Jesus, need to make sure that we are as fully Biblical as we should be. For example, the great truths of the Western civilization come from the Old Testament. Human dignity, truth, words, freedom, justice. Jesus didn’t introduce those. Paul says for freedom, Christ set us free, but that freedom begins in Exodus and in human beings made in the image and likeness of God. So we got to make sure that we are as fully Biblical as we should be.
And many Christians are disgracefully centered on Jesus alone. Jesus above all, yes, but not Jesus alone. So here in Washington, there are people who say Jesus plus nothing. And that’s heresy. I put it bluntly that’s heresy and leads to a pietism, which is totally ineffective. But there’s a second challenge, as our Jewish friends point out. There are a lot of slanders that Christians use about the Jews, sometimes unconsciously, which we need to change. For example, that Judaism is all about the law and the Christian faith is all about love. That’s rubbish. At the heart of the Torah, Jews are called to love the Lord, their God. Not just serve him or follow him, love him. And to love their neighbors as themselves and to love the stranger. The strangers, not in my image, he’s a stranger, but the strangers in God’s image. And you can see that triple call to love is at the heart of the Old Testament.
Anti-Semitism and the Church
And so Christians have got to be very careful the way they describe the differences, because we’re often not true to the Bible and not fair to our dear friends, the Jews. And we’re at a time of rising antisemitism. You know that antisemitism is the worst stain on the Christian church in history, that we did that to the Lord’s people.
Now I thank the Lord that as an evangelical, evangelicals have no blood on their hands. And you can see from the 17th century onwards and then William Wilberforce in the 19th century, Lord Shaftesbury. Evangelicalism, my own great-grandfather, were in the forefront of restoring the Jews to their own homeland. But antisemitism is a terrible stain on the Catholic church, and a terrible on the Russian Orthodox church, the pogroms. So we got to repent of that and stand courageously against the vicious antisemitism rising in Europe, rising in the Middle East and saddest of all, rising even in America.
What is Evangelical Christianity? Going Too Political in 70’s and 80’s
Just take evangelicalism. The time of the Revolution, more than 90% of Americans were out of the Reformation background. And so the Catholic church was not that strong in terms of either ideas or people. It was the Reformation which put its stamp on America. But you can see, take evangelicalism at large. Up till the 50s, most evangelicals had a faith that was privatized. A warmhearted pietism, privately engaging, publicly relevant. And most evangelicals slept through the 60s amazingly, but many of them swung in 1970s from overly privatized faith to an overly politicized faith. And that was a mistake too, because you know the old maxim, the first thing to say about politics is that politics is not the first thing. It’s downstream from important things in culture.
So we should never be politicized. The left introduced politics as the be all and end all in the 1920s and tried to politicize the whole of life, which eventually leads to state control and authoritarianism. So evangelicals are confused, and now we’ve got the tarnishing of evangelical as a term, and it’s now considered only politically, and people talk about the Trumpification of evangelicals and you can see being turning against evangelicalism because of the way it’s been privatized. For myself, I am an unashamed evangelical. It is not defined politically. If you take the three great terms in the Christian Church, evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox.
Catholicism, very important principle, universality. Orthodoxy, a very important principle. I would argue that the evangelicals are those who define them faith and their lives by the good news of Jesus. You see it in Isaiah 61 with the prediction of the Messiah. You see it in Luke 4 when our Lord says, “Today in your hearing, this scripture has been fulfilled in front of you.” Evangelicals are those who define themselves by the good news, and our Lord came to bring good news to the poor and so on. That’s the evangelical.
And I would argue that’s even deeper and earlier than the other two terms. And while there are followers of Jesus in the earth, there will always be evangelicals. Mr. Trump, bless his heart, whether you like him or not, he has nothing to do with the making what it’s an evangelical. So the Trumpification or the politicization of evangelicals is wrong. Jesus is Lord and no American president on either side, Trump’s Jesus. Now the early church should prepare to die for that. And the problem with some Americans today is they put their politics above their faith, and that’s disastrous.
What will happen to Christianity in China?
I left China as a boy in 1951 and my parents a couple of years after that. But after 150 odd years of Protestant missions, there were only three quarters of one million Christians. And now there are upwards of 80, maybe 100, maybe more than that. There are more Christians in China than there are Communist party members. So the growth of the church where I happened to be born was the epicenter of the fastest growth of the church in 2000 years. But many years ago, 15 years or so ago, I was at a university in China at the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences, and the discussion of the day was this, which ideology would replace Marxism?
And as they put it, the parties in power, the ideology is hollow and the word vacuum came up all day. And as they put it then, this is 15 or so years ago, would China grow nationalist, or would China go Confucian, or would China go Buddhist, or in a number of decades, would the Christian faith be the majority faith in China?
Well, that discussion was before Xi Jinping. Clearly Xi Jinping has gone nationalist with the powerful help of the thinking as I said earlier of Carl Schmitt, the pro-Nazi philosopher, and that’s where we are today. And he’s giving us a window dressing to it, through all the stress on Confucianism throughout Western universities, but it’s basically nationalist. And so they’re coming down very hard on the Uyghurs and on Falun Gong and above all on the house churches.
In other words, any organization or institution that is an alternative authority is arrival and must be squelched. I think that’s where we are today. But the great challenge is the difference between the authoritarian control and the amount of freedom which technology brings, take the internet. Will that eventually bring down totalitarianism? I don’t know, only the Lord knows. And if that is so, will the Christian faith, which has remained courageous and faithful despite intense persecution emerge to play a key part?
Now the trouble with that and many Western Christians look forward rather fondly to that, but remember the house churches have no seminaries. So there’s no deep theology and not much freedom to develop a Christian worldview. So many of the house church people are very faithful. I put it in a good way, pietists.
Well that’s not enough to take on the challenges and modernity. So I don’t know, the future is open, but it’ll be fascinating for the world. And obviously very important for China and very important for the whole world because if Xi Jinping’s nationalistic China prevails, the world’s in trouble. America declines, authoritarianism flourishes, the world’s in trouble.
Your critique of the conservative movement?
Well, I think the conservative movement is playing a very, very important part. But two comments, one, it cannot be the market alone. And there is a difference between the social values conservatives and the economic conservatives. It cannot be the market alone. And the other thing is those social conservatives got to remember what are their roots? What are the roots of this outside of Judaism and the Christian faith. In other words, outside the Bible. And those are the two weaknesses I think are much of the conservative movement. Those who make it only economics and those who pretend you can have conservatism, but you don’t want to bother about the roots, because that’s embarrassing.
Which is sovereign: family or government? Family, Church, and School
I don’t think that’s the alternative. In other words, the federal government should be balanced by the state and the local community. The word federal comes from the Latin word foedus, which means covenant. In other words, the agreement between the center and the periphery, between the global and the national, and the national and the local, whereas the family is different. The family is local, but you’ve got this matrix. The bedrock trio, the family, the school and the church or the synagogue. Those are the trio which are local. And they are the ones after all the family is the place where love generates the next generation. And that shapes identity, that builds character, that forms virtue.
So the family is the deepest of all, but of course the family lives by the faith that comes from the church. And the school is the one that should pick up the picture and carry on the story of really shaping people and shaping their worldview. So it’s not federal against the family. It’s the federal or the government against the local, both of which should be federal. I dislike in America the word feds means the people who come from Washington, that’s wrong. The feds should be the covenanters, the constitutionalists who are both government in Washington and believe in the local, the Town Hall and so on, the Town Hall meeting. But the family should be the real local along with the church and the school.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America? A hopeful Christian Realist
I’m often asked in churches and universities, am I an optimist or pessimist? And I always say neither, because in America often that’s a matter of the circumstances or of personality. Is the glass half full or half empty? I try and be a realist, always looking in the white of the eye of reality. And yet I think as a follower of Jesus with hope, so I’m always hopeful.
Now, when it comes to America, at the moment, we’re in a bad situation. There’s a madness and a perversity in many of the ideas that are being explored. So I’m a realist and morning by morning, you weep or you get angry over the things you see around the country that are being pressed forward. There’s a madness. And as an admirer of this country, I can’t stand how Americans are squandering, many of them, or suppressing their own Republican freedom. I don’t mean Republican as a party, but as an American Republic.
But as I said earlier, human life is not faded. We’re not determined. We can choose tomorrow to go a different way. So as I see it, one of America’s biggest problems is leadership. There’s no Lincoln today. Max De Pree. Where is the leader who defines reality? There’s not a single leader at the highest level defining the problem as it really is and pointing out the way we should go.
America needs reality defined in first principles. A British Tale of Heroism.
So the crisis of leadership is itself one of the deepest problems America’s facing. I say this again and again to Congressman and senators here in Washington. Am I hopeful? Yes. There could be a person. Let me tell you a story, Doug, that I love and finish with this. When World War II broke out, there was a young Cambridge philosopher, Adon, who was an atheist and he was succumbed to the Middle East. He took with him some of the Western classics to read so that after the war, if he survived, he could teach them at Cambridge. One of them he took was the Bible. And in reading the Bible, he became a follower of Jesus, but found himself in North Africa. The British army was in the middle of the longest retreat in British history. 800 miles from Tarbrook to Alexandria.
There was terrible class divisions and the British problem, you have a problem of race, we have a problem of class. The difference between the officers and the men was appalling, the morale was terrible. And so here was this young man, now a Christian, no church, no teaching except the Bible. And so he prays and says, “Lord, how do you want me to pray?” And the Lord said, “Pray this prayer.” Lord set over us a leader, such that it will be for your glory to give the victory through him. He prayed that every day as they retreated.
Churchill fired the General, he was a disaster. Sent out a second General, he died on route. He had to send out a third General, a young, relatively untested General, but he happened to be the son of a great Christian leader back in Britain. By this time they’re defending Alexandria, the Suez Canal, and Jerusalem. Imagine if the Nazis had captured Jerusalem. So the young General got the troops together, and remember this young Cambridge man had prayed every day, Lord send over us a leader. And the young General said, “Men, let us pray to the Lord of the armies.” What the Bible calls the Lord of hosts. And as this young man heard this on a transistor radio, God said to him, “This is the answer to your prayer.” The battle the next week was the Battle of El Alamein.
And as Churchill said, until El Alamein, all defeat. After El Alamein, all victory. And this young man listening to the generals, Alexander Montgomery, who became a great hero after that, but as this young man, Derek Prince heard this, God said to him, “This man is the answer to your prayer.” My wife and I pray every day, we turn into the plural. Lord set over us leaders such that it will be to your glory to give the victory through them today. And of course, they’re all women as well as men who might be such a leader. But that’s one thing America deeply needs, a leader to define reality and call the nation forward by going back to the best of the first principles of the American experiment.
Mike Gonzalez is a Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, where he specializes in immigration and foreign policy issues. With a career spanning journalism and public policy, Gonzalez has made significant contributions to the conservative movement and American public discourse. He is author of "The Plot to Change America: How Identity Politics is Dividing the Land of the Free" (2020) and "BLM: The Making of a New Marxist Revolution" (2021).
Praxis Circle Contributor George Weigel is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, New York Times bestselling author, and world-leading Catholic theologian. Mr. Weigel because he is among the most influential spokespersons for Christian orthodoxy and Western freedom in the world.
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