Where Is This Going?

“At least five times…the Faith has to all appearances gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases, it was the dog that died.” G. K. Chesterton, 20th Century.

“The task of redeeming Western society rests in a peculiar sense upon Christianity.” Reinhold Niebuhr, 20th Century.

With gift card in hand, I went to Starbucks to drink something refreshing and to read, then pray. The quotes above pleased me and then rattled me. This morning the unease remains. What if Niebuhr is right? What is my task in the challenge? And yours?

The Pope has warned the world about “Prosperity Preachers.” I don’t know who chose the photos accompanying the article.

In recent days, events, testimonies and scripture have pushed me to think through “prosperity,” and prosperity versus poverty. If we do not limit “prosperity” to money and connected benefits, I’m thinking (at least at the moment) that the basic prosperity message is an important piece of the “…redeeming of Western society.” Miracles, signs, wonders are agents.

Os Guinness is one of my favorite thinkers and writers. His parentage is the third branch of the Guinness empire. There were/are beer brewers, politicians/bankers and third, there were evangelists/missionaries. I cannot think of one institution that has affected me that does not track back to the Guinness vision and teaching. Os is a theologian, author and culture observer.

I’ve been wondering, as I read and watch the news and feel deep disgust at the incivility and anarchy in America, what is really going on? Where did this come from? Where is this taking us? Guinness’ 2014 book, Renaissance speaks to my question with the basic commission:

The task of redeeming Western society rests in a peculiar sense upon Christianity.

A five-story building burned recently. It is one of the downtown anchor buildings. It was 60-days from being finished repairing and updating. Firemen dumped 4 million gallons of water on it. It appears to me that only one corner of the building still stands. The rest is rubble. The sight has upset me—not just sadness over such a loss. Twelve million dollars had been invested in the remodeling and rehab. The rubble heap became, for me, an image of Western Culture making Niebuhr’s challenge feel totally impossible.

Guinness explains what is going on behind the nastiness on the streets, hatred between the “classes”, those in power and those who are building barricades to bring down the “ruling class.”

“…all civilizations, whatever their momentary grandeur, have an ultimate flimsiness that is paper thin and cannot hold back the barbarism.” (Guinness—page 17)

“The West has beaten back the totalitarian pretensions of both Hitler’s would-be master race in Germany and Stalin’s would-be master class in the Soviet Union. But it now stands weak and unsure of itself before its three current menaces: first, the equally totalitarian would-be master faith of Islamism from the Middle East; second, the increasingly totalitarian philosophy and zero-sum strategies of illiberal liberalism; and third, the self-destructive cultural chaos of the West’s own chosen ideas and lifestyles that are destroying its identity and sapping its former strength.” Page 19—Guinness)

I like Guinness’ take on all this. He wrote in 2013; it was published in 2014 so the Trump era has no possibility of cause and effect. It may shed light on why Trump was elected. The impending rubble motivated citizens to look for someone—a builder?

“What does our moment of transition to a post-Christian West mean for us? …only God knows. In terms of the past, we can see that the world that our parents and grandparents knew has gone forever—in terms of both the dominance of the West and the unrivaled status of the Christian faith in the West.”—page 24 Guinness.

Gone forever? How much of what makes it “The West”? We’re never going to use hymnbooks? It’s way beyond that. What if our institutions—as we know them—are going away? And the church is going to have a different task—forced to do evangelism differently and what we have trusted and treasured will have the opposite effect on others?

Paul writes to the Corinthians that the gospel is not just words, but power
A new book on Harry Truman. He never dreamed as a boy or young man of being a politician or a leader. There were several life defining events. One was when he realized he didn’t know what his purpose was, nor his philosophy including his grasp of a political purpose. He checked into a hotel in Kansas City to sort out, think through and establish core values and what he was to do.

That has increasingly spoken heavy to me. If the Church is a key player in “redeeming Western Society,” where do we fit in the mix? How important is it that we carve out time to do what Truman did?

Heavy on my heart.
©2018 D. Dean Benton dean@deanbenton.org

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