It is time to rewrite Karl Marx’s famous introduction to the Communist Manifesto. Marx’s opening line is “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism.” Today we might rewrite that as “A spectre is haunting Europe (and the West) — the spectre of Christianity.
In 1848, when Marx’s Manifesto was published, Communism was simply that – a ghost (or spectre), an untried idea, a mere thought bubble, despite some short-lived uprisings. It would be decades before it unexpectedly became a state power in Russia and began a path of 20-century tragedy.
Christianity in Europe may have already become a spectre (this time as a ghost of a discarded ideal) and is under threat of becoming the same in America, according to Christian writer and social critic Os Guinness, who is the speaker at this month’s National Prayer Breakfast in Canberra and the Sydney Prayer Breakfast.
Comparing the fates of Christianity and Marxism (although the idea of rewriting the manifesto quote comes from this writer) is apposite because it is the victory of Marx’s modern disciples that Guinness argues has led to a crisis in America and the western democracies.
“Everyone agrees that America is deeply divided,” Guinness tells Eternity.
“What is the deepest division? Well, I argue in a book coming out in October that the division is not just Republicans and Democrats. Or coastals (California and Massachusetts) and heart-landers. It is not just the new division, which is nationalists and populists against the globalists.
“I argue that if you look at America that the deepest division is over freedom and some of the ideas of the American Revolution (1776), which are decisively shaped by the Scriptures and above all by the notion of ‘Covenant’ (from Exodus) which became ‘constitution’.
“But the other set of ideas come from the Enlightenment and the French Revolution (1789), which flowed down through the Marquis de Sade, Nietzsche, Marcuse, Foucault and other people like that, to form a whole liberal-left.
“In 1968, fifty years ago, Rudi Deutsche (a revolutionary and student leader and revolutionary) called for ‘a long march through the institutions.’
“That is what is cleaving America. Fifty years after Deutsche, you have three significant spheres – universities, elite media and the world of entertainment – in which the long march has won!”
Donald Trump is not the issue – this huge spilt in western Society is, says Guinness. Like many US Christians he manages to both be a critic of Trump while believing his election was good thing for the nation.
“Trump talks about making America great again, MAGA, but he never asks what made it great in the first place.” – Os Guinness
“I am not a pro-Trumper – he is an extraordinarily flawed character. But many people are so obsessed with him they can’t see anything else.
“At the end of the day you had only two choices. It was Clinton or Trump.
“If they had chosen Clinton it would have been eight more years to set in concrete the direction Obama was leading the country in, which was left-liberal and a disaster for the gospel.”
Guinness sees the sexual revolution as the linchpin of the left liberal agenda. “And you know that left-liberalism takes in the sexual revolution, which is specifically against the church. It will only win if it overcomes the church. It will only win if it puts parents out of business and gets their ideas down to three-year-olds.
“I see Trump not as a Saviour of America – far from it. At best a kind of Nebuchadnezzar/Cyrus figure. He was like a wrecking ball that stopped America in its tracks on the disastrous road it was taking, and gives the country four years to rethink.”
But Trump is no answer from Guinness’ perspective. “Trump talks about making America great again, MAGA, but he never asks what made it great in the first place.
“Sadly, there are no voices doing that – which is a tragedy – including no Christian voices.”
Guinness acknowledges a puzzle in his description of America, the lead nation of Western democracies at least, as being in cultural decline. “In America the scandal of the church is that it is a huge majority, 70 per cent of Americans or something like that, and yet minority groups – good groups like the Jews or the LGBT people we might differ with – they are only 2 per cent of the population and yet have more cultural influence than Christians.
“The church is simply not being salt and light at a crucial moment.”
Eternity asked Guinness to flesh out what those words mean.
“The church is simply not being salt and light at a crucial moment.” – Os Guinness
“Our Lord’s words are obvious metaphors for effective penetration and engagement. They are not in favour of a pietism that is privatised, or the current notions in the English-speaking world of the ‘Benedict Option’, which I read as retreating into communities in order to be prayed for. I think that is wrong.
“The reformation reversed Benedict, great though Benedict was with a notion of calling everyone everywhere living as salt and light in the spheres of life in which Christ has put them – whether doctors or lawyers or teachers or homemakers or engineers or computer scientist or whatever.
“That is what we need today. A powerful vision of calling (one of my favourite themes) that thrusts Christians out to engage society. Only the gospel will give a good outcome for the future.”
Guinness is no pessimist. He is the son of missionaries forced out of China in 1951 – and he recalls them being asked if they regarded their mission endeavours as a failure. At that time the Chinese church numbered possibly one million. Today at 100 times that it is among the fastest growing branches of Christianity.
Os Guinness’ events with links:
1. National Prayer Breakfast Tuesday 29th May
2. Time for Truth City Bible Forum Tuesday 29th May
1. Sydney Prayer Breakfast Wed 30th May 7am
2. Centre for Christian Living Moore college Wed 30th 7:30pm
3. Scots College (For Christian educators) Thurs 31st May 11am and 12.30pm
4. Smith Lecture An outreach event Thurs 31st May
5. Time For Truth City Bible Forum, SU and Crusaders Friday 1st JuneMore