The current issue of WORLD includes an interview with Os Guinness, noted speaker and author or editor of more than 30 books, including A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future (IVP, 2012). Here are some of his comments we didn’t have room for in the magazine.
You write in A Free People’s Suicide, “It is possible to be free at the constitutional level in terms of the structures of liberty, but to lose freedom and become servile or anarchic at the citizens’ level in terms of the spirit of liberty.” Do you see that happening in the United States? It is happening. Freedom is the greatest enemy of freedom. We’ve got a permissiveness in almost every area, and Americans have lost the capacity to say “no” to things that are wrong. A general ungluing, unraveling, permissive license leads to chaos. Freedom requires and assumes you know who you are and who you’re to be. It’s not just a formlessness; it’s the power to do what you ought, as Lord Acton used to put it.
Now, this in some ways sounds like what members of the Christian right would be saying, but you’ve been critical of those folks. Usually on the issues, say, against abortion or in favor of traditional marriage, I was 100 percent with them. I attacked their tactics, and above all the politicization: trusting politics to do more than politics can do. To put it in the language of William Wilberforce, they did the Lord’s work, but in the world’s way. Wilberforce had an incredible love for the people who hated him, mugged him, and attacked him physically twice—but he prevailed through love, and he wasn’t gushy in any sentimental way. The Christian right often shamelessly demonized and stereotyped, and we’re paying for the bad ways they fought it. But on the issues, I’m with them.
Is there a specific example of that wrongful behavior that you would point to for our instruction? From almost any decade of the Christian right, take some of the direct mail letters, spread 10 copies out, and just analyze every word underlined in red or green.
Only red or green … They almost all appeal to fear, and our Lord said, “Have no fear.” Or sometimes, almost hatred. The whatever-it-takes tactics were the going concern of the day, but they weren’t Christ-centered tactics, and we’re paying for it. The defection from the faith by the younger generation is almost unprecedented in American history, and it’s partially, mostly, connected with a revulsion against the Christian faith in public life as represented by the Christian right. It’s disastrous.
The younger generation is revolting more against the methods than the principles? Absolutely.
When students move from this intellectual environment into local churches, how practically should they help themselves and fellow congregation members to keep thinking and learning? Keep it biblical, so you don’t come across as eggheads, and never make statements—raise questions such as, “What’s Jesus talking about here, and how does that apply there? When Paul says this, what does—?” Get used to being the question-raisers, pushing people to see for themselves.
Socratic dialogue? Our Lord was a gadfly long before Socrates came on the scene.