Saturday, July 17, 2010

Os Guinness (July/August 2000)

The last time the Door interviewed Os Guinness, we were still Wittenburg and he was still dark haired. The year was 1985, and, with the Moral Majority in its ascendancy, the time seemed right to play up any connections between England’s most famous and prolific Francis Schaeffer disciple and his stout-brewing relatives. Hence the now legendary Guinness-stout-bottle image on the front, perhaps the only Christian-magazine cover ever blamed by its readers for driving them to drink. Well, times have changed. The Door now appears in color, Os Guinness has gray hair, and Guinness stout has its own web page-- Or something like that--we were a little soused when we logged on.

Some things, on the other hand, remain the same. Os Guinness, for instance, still writes more books in a year than the
Door has subscribers, books with titles such as Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It (Baker), Dining with the Devil: The Megachurch Movement Flirts with Modernity (Baker), and Good Morning, Hangover: Drinking the Devil Under the Table (Thomas Nelson) (actually we’re not sure about that last one, Os Guinness would never publish with Thomas Nelson)--titles that on their own say more than the contents of Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye’s collected gift boxes put together.

His latest book--Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, and Spin (Baker)--has just come out, and in it, as in his other books, Guinness speaks with prophetic clarity and concision on a topic of crucial importance, its 125 pages serving to expose the hidden links uniting such disparate postmodern phenomena as the presidency of Bill Clinton, the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, and the autobiography of Jay Leno. He also continues his practice of examining two unsatisfactory approaches to a problem (this time modernism and postmodernism) then proposing a satisfactory Third Way (i.e., the Christian faith).

Only this time the Third Way is not just the Christian faith but (from page fifteen) the “‘faith community/tradition view of truth’--which the Jewish and Christian faiths represent” (emphasis added). Toto, we have a feeling that we’re not just in Evangelicaldom anymore (Wizard of Os reference added). We also have a feeling that you’ll find what Guinness had to say to the Door’s Arsenio Orteza goes way beyond the clicking of one’s heels. And that’s the truth.

THE DOOR MAGAZINE: In the spirit of the title of your latest book, Time for Truth, let’s clear the air right off and establish what your current relationship with the Guinness brewing company is.
GUINNESS: I’m descended from the youngest son of Arthur Guinness, the original brewer, my great-great grandfather.

DOOR: Do you still--how shall we put it--benefit from the relationship?
GUINNESS: No, I don’t benefit. I partake (laughs). People often say that there are three branches of the Guinness family: the Brewing Guinnesses, the Banking Guinnesses, and the Poor Guinnesses--or the Guinnesses for God.

DOOR: People often refer to us as “the Poor Door.” Are the Poor Guinnesses and the Guinnesses for God the same branch?

DOOR: So your branch is itself a “Third Way.”
GUINNESS: Except in this case we’re not the middle line between the brewers and the bankers, who are both exceedingly wealthy. Our part is distinguished for other things.

DOOR: Time for Truth is distinguished in part by its many references to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Was it the impetus for the book?
GUINNESS: No. In fact, I didn’t put Clinton in the first draft.

DOOR: Why did you add the Clinton chapter?
GUINNESS: Partly because the manuscript was too short, and partly because people wanted to see the relevance of the scandal.

DOOR: What is the relevance of the scandal?
GUINNESS: I think that the significance of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was that you had the president--the gatekeeper--showing the influence of postmodernism breaking out at the very highest levels, in the Oval Office.

DOOR: Some have said, in Clinton’s defense, that his is hardly the first administration within which postmodernist thinking has broken out.
GUINNESS: Well, you’ve had many examples of presidential lying, including Richard Nixon.

DOOR: We’ve heard of him.
GUINNESS: But you’ve never had such systematic lying rooted in such explicitly postmodern conditions.

DOOR: What conditions, exactly?
GUINNESS: The psychology of his background as an adult child of an alcoholic, the philosophy of the way he conducted his defense in the impeachment, his saying to Dick Morris, “We shall just have to win then.” It was a very clear example of the will to power.

DOOR: The “will to power”?
GUINNESS: He who has the most dream-team lawyers, the best attack dogs, the most ingenious spin-meisters wins the day. In other words, both his psychology and his tactics were more explicitly postmodern and of a very different order of seriousness from, say, previous presidential lies.

DOOR: Do you think that his scandal has stigmatized explicit postmodernism or legitimized it?
GUINNESS: I think that the future will lie somewhere between those two.

DOOR: Another Third Way?
GUINNESS: There was no clear moral response during the impeachment, and what you see in the polls now is a kind of uneasiness over what happened but far from a clear conviction. I’m no more persuaded by the uneasiness of the public now than I was with the uneasiness of its acceptance of what he was doing a year ago.

DOOR: Speaking of critical-legal studies and dream-team lawyers, where does the O.J. Simpson trial fit into this discussion?
GUINNESS: Johnny Cochran’s brilliance was that he turned the O.J. trial into a national referendum on racism and clearly won the power battle over Marcia Clark and the others in the process. In the same way, David Kendall and the president’s lawyers turned the impeachment into a national referendum on America’s broadmindedness about sex and got it off the substantive points and left the House managers flailing around about details.

DOOR: Speaking of sex, have you noticed Joe Bob Briggs on our masthead?

DOOR: Never mind. You were talking about Johnny Cochran and David Kendall.
GUINNESS: They were both brilliant tactically but incredibly dangerous substantively in terms of the outcome.

DOOR: What’s to be done?
GUINNESS: I think that there are two grounds of hope. One is that when you get that pragmatic and that super-realistic, you become counter productive.

DOOR: -----
GUINNESS: In other words, when everything is manipulation and image and deception, what happens is, no one trusts anything, and, far from being realistic, it becomes self-defeating. These people defeat themselves. They get tripped up in their own machinations.

DOOR: What if they don’t?
GUINNESS: Well, you can see in history that you don’t counter postmodern bits of power with counter bits of power. You counter it with character and integrity and moral conscience.

DOOR: Um, we’ve heard of those too.
GUINNESS: You can see this, say, the story of William Wilberforce.

DOOR: The eighteenth-century British Evangelical Christian statesman and reformer best known for fighting to abolish slavery?
GUINNESS: Yes. He and his fellow members of Parliament never numbered more than thirty at the outside. But slowly, because they broke ranks with partisanship, voted against their party when the party was wrong, and refused to be corrupted, their characters were seen to be what they were. And over thirty, forty, fifty years, they became the moral conscience of Britain and then of Europe.

DOOR: Is there now, or has there ever been, an American Wilberforce?
GUINNESS: Not exactly. In fact, you need one today.

DOOR: Is there no one, say, in the Christian Right who could fill his shoes?
GUINNESS: I would argue that the Christian Right has served us badly for twenty-five years.

DOOR: In what ways?
GUINNESS: Well, you could itemize about ten fundamental flaws, but for me one of the earliest and deepest is their lack of a public philosophy--of a common vision for the common good--without which their every thrust into the public square is perceived as threatening and subversive. For instance, one journalist said to me in the ’80s, “Evangelicals talk of ‘justice,’ but they sound like ‘just us.’” That’s the problem with much of the Christian Right.

DOOR: Is that why in Time for Truth you identify the Third Way as “that which the Jewish and Christian faiths represent,” instead of merely that which the Christian faith represents?
GUINNESS: Yes. I was very aware when I wrote Time for Truth that when you come to truth, Jews and Christians are absolutely one. We as Christians often say--from the New Testament--that “God is love”; the Jews, from the Old Testament--the Hebrew scriptures--would say “God is truth.” And, of course, Christians would include the Old Testament as well as the New and likewise have this high stress on truth. Because Jews and Christians have an incredible stake in truth and truthfulness and the trustworthiness of God, truth’s an issue where, beyond any question, Jews and Christians stand against modernists on the one hand and postmodernists on the other.

DOOR: On what other issues could Christians and Jews stand shoulder-to-shoulder?
GUINNESS: One of the current ones is forgiveness and the current discussion of it surrounding the Pope’s efforts in Jerusalem. Many Jews call Christians “forgivers,” as if forgiveness is a matter of cheap grace, and some Christians have turned it into that. But forgiveness is actually a very precious and deeply important thing.

DOOR: So you’re not overlooking the crucial issues over which Christians and Jews disagree.
GUINNESS: No, but I think on many fronts our co-belligerence is incredibly important and that we need to stress the unity where we can.

DOOR: Are Christians and Jews the only two faith groups who can stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the issue of truth?
GUINNESS: Well, certainly the Muslims can too. The three great monotheistic religions--Judaism, the Christian faith, and Islam--all have a high view of truth.

DOOR: The Eastern religions don’t?
GUINNESS: No, because to them the world in which we’re living is the world of illusion. Oddly enough, truth doesn’t have a high place among the Western secularists either.

DOOR: What makes you say that?
GUINNESS: Simply look at, say, the humanist and naturalist understanding of truth in evolution. As they see it, we’re products of time plus matter plus chance. Truth is a handicap because many of the species that have flourished have actually flourished by being deceptive. Evolutionary theory puts a great stress on deceptiveness. And if you look at the philosophical implications of that, it means that evolutionists don’t have a framework for saying why human beings are truth-seekers and why the universe as it is reinforces truth-seeking. That’s an incredibly important philosophical and apologetic point.

DOOR: The focus of the coverage of the Pope’s visit to Israel has been on whether he’ll ask forgiveness for the Church’s posture during World War II and whether or not the Jews will grant it. Isn’t his visit simply the sort of empty gesture that world leaders feel obligated to indulge in from time to time as a matter of international good manners?
GUINNESS: No, no. I think his visit is of world-historic significance. And I’m not Catholic, I’m Anglican. John Paul II has been praised for his extraordinary stand, over many decades, that helped bring down the Soviet Union. But I think his contribution there will pale by comparison with what he’s doing now. In other words, whether it’s our treatment of the Muslims during the Crusades or the Jews during the horror of the Holocaust or whatever, his saying, “Forgive us and we pass on the forgiveness” opens up the possibility of a springtime of evangelism.

DOOR: Are you sure you’re not Catholic?
GUINNESS: In my church--the Episcopal church--we have leadership that is heretical and that couldn’t with any integrity step up to the plate. If they were to, it would be a very hollow exercise in political correctness. But the pope is doing it with extraordinary integrity.

DOOR: There was when Evangelicals would have felt threatened by the notion of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Jews and Muslims and of giving the Pope credit for a springtime of evangelism.
GUINNESS: Some Evangelicals. And it still sounds threatening to some.

DOOR: What could you say to convince them that this co-belligerence to which you refer is not a recipe for compromise?
GUINNESS: There are two biblical principles that the Church has been clear on from time to time. One is, all truth is God’s truth. That means we affirm truth wherever it is although we argue that it’s only finally fulfilled and properly grounded in God, who is the Father of Jesus Christ.

DOOR: What’s the other?
GUINNESS: The other is the principle of co-belligerence. Wilberforce--or, more recently, Francis Schaeffer--used to stress that we are always willing to work with anyone who is strongly opposed to what we’re strongly opposed to. So, if you have feminists who truly oppose pornography, we work with them--as co-belligerents, not as allies. If there’s a group of atheists who are against abortion, we work with them. Wilberforce did that stunningly. He worked with real rogues and rascals to help his reformation of manners, and he succeeded. Now, back to the book--

DOOR: The book?
GUINNESS: Time for Truth. The book’s more than Clinton.

DOOR: Of course. It’s also, um, let’s see--oh, yes, on page nineteen you refer to “the lies of Western society--particularly as they are compounded by the ‘culture cartel’ of postmodern academia, advertising, entertainment, and youth culture.” Do you think that academia has become so postmodern that concerned parents should consider not sending their children to college at all?
GUINNESS: No. I’ve always thought that when you look at Christian colleges and the secular universities, the answer is “both and,” not one or the other. I love Christian colleges like, say, Gordon College in Massachusetts, which is totally faithful yet totally engaged and which has a very stimulating yet Christian climate. On the other hand, it’s when we take on the toughest discussions and the strongest objections from the wildest theorists that we brace up and see freshly the new wonders of the Gospel because, you know, we’d been in a rut. I love the statement of old George Whitfield, the evangelist: “I’m never better than when I’m on the full stretch for God.”

DOOR: Have you ever felt as if you were “on the full stretch for God”?
GUINNESS: Twice. Once was when I went out to India and studied under a guru.

DOOR: That must’ve hurt.

DOOR: Um, you studied under a guru--
GUINNESS: I was really challenged right to the core. My faith grew immeasurably in answering the challenge of Hinduism.

DOOR: What was the other time?
GUINNESS: The other time was when I did my doctorate in the social sciences. I was in the sociology of knowledge, which is one of the most mind-spinning areas of relativism there is. But it was in plunging into it, exploring it, answering it, and countering it, that my faith grew. I’m grateful to the Lord, and will be forever, that I had the privilege of going to Oxford, the very best in Europe. When you survive and prevail in that, well, you know--

DOOR: Actually, we don’t.
GUINNESS: I’m also glad I came to Christ in the sixties.

DOOR: What was so special about the ’60s?
GUINNESS: Because it was a decade in which everything went back to square one, tore up the roots, and challenged the fundamental presuppositions. If you could know what you believed and why you believed and how to answer others in that decade, you could take on anything.

DOOR: Another component of your “culture cartel” is advertising. Isn’t the inherent distortion of truth involved in advertising so obvious that its destructive effects are practically nil?
GUINNESS: Advertising is dangerous for all sorts of reasons. For instance, in America, you have such an omnipresent sell, sell, sell, sell that you’ve erased the line between “for sale” and “not for sale.” Remember the horror of the fact that the Prince of Peace was sold for pieces of silver or Martin Luther’s outrage that grace was being sold for money in the form of indulgences. In America, everything is up for sale, including God.

DOOR: Some people are offended that we charge money for our magazine.
GUINNESS: I’m personally disturbed by how many Christian ministries today have turned things that in other centuries, in other parts of the world, would’ve been seen as pure ministry into money-making operations. I think that’s incredibly dangerous. And I wish someone had done an analysis exposing our false prophets of the Y2K conspiracy.

DOOR: The Christian-speaking circuit seems to have become rather lucrative.
GUINNESS: Absolutely. The money being earned by Christian speakers on these circuits is absolutely phenomenal, in the hundreds of thousands.

DOOR: What do you charge to speak?
GUINNESS: I don’t charge anything.

DOOR: -----
GUINNESS: I just take whatever is appropriate to the group that I’m with.

DOOR: -----
GUINNESS: Sometimes I get three hundred dollars. Sometimes I get one thousand. I just say to them, “My speaking is my ministry. It’s not a money-making thing.”

DOOR: Um, would you mind our sending you the bill for this call?
GUINNESS: I couldn’t make $300,000 a year by speaking to fellow Christians. That, I think, is close to fraud. When people are taking the message from scriptures, the Word of God, and start making fortunes out of it, that, I think, stinks.

DOOR: Has Christian book-selling similarly over-inflated the worth of some authors?
GUINNESS: Absolutely. One publishing house--which I will not name--

DOOR: May we guess?
GUINNESS: --sold what I believe is still the best-selling book in Christian publishing in the last fifteen years even though they knew that the book had heresy in it.

DOOR: May we ask which book?
GUINNESS: Benny Hinn’s Good Morning, Holy Spirit. Yet they published it.

DOOR: That would be Thomas Nelson Publishers.
GUINNESS: And sure enough the book made enormous profits. I thought that was utterly scandalous.

DOOR: Our favorite Benny Hinn book is The Anointing.

DOOR: Um, but you think the Hinn-Nelson entanglement is an exception within Christian publishing?
GUINNESS: Well, the problem with Christian publishing is much wider and deeper than that. One of the simplest problems is the massive dumbing down. Here we are living in a country which has a biblical view of sin that’s very radical--enshrined in its constitution, the separation of powers--yet, if you look at the Christian bookstores, what has happened to the biblical view of sin?

DOOR: What has happened to the biblical view of sin?
GUINNESS: In many cases we’re down to the “hole in the soul” and “low self-esteem.” Christian bookselling often has appalling theology. It’s not just at the level of pablum; it’s heretical pablum and a disgrace before God.

DOOR: Please don’t mince words.
GUINNESS: And most of it must’ve passed through because it’s market driven, not message driven.

DOOR: Some people might say that your criticism is grounded in a particular theological tradition and not in a sensitivity to the fact that other Christians--Charismatics in Benny Hinn’s case--have a different perspective.
GUINNESS: When it comes to truth, I don’t know any tradition in the church of Christ--Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical--which historically doesn’t take truth as fundamentally serious. Not a single one.

DOOR: But a great deal of what you’re referring to as heretical in contemporary-Christian publishing might be perfectly normal theology in one church or another somewhere today.
GUINNESS: I think you’d say that the opening editions of Benny Hinn’s were heretical by any church of Christ. If they’ve gotten to the place where they can’t see that sort of thing as heretical, we’re deeply in trouble. To put it another way, Winston Churchill used to quote Alexander the Great, who said, “The reason the Persians would never be free was they didn’t know how to say the word no.” The church’s strength is not just in its capacity to say “yes” to Jesus but to say to “no” to the world, the flesh, the devil, heresy, and worldliness. And the American church today has virtually lost the capacity to say “no.” So America is awash with “possibility thinking” and “affirmation” and “positive thinking.” If ever the evangelical church cannot say, “This is false, this is heretical, this is worldly”--if we just say, “Well, that’s your tradition”--we’re very deeply in trouble.”

DOOR: You cite in Time for Truth Karl Menninger’s work in tracing the decline of the American view of evil. What was once “sin” eventually became “crime,” what was “crime” eventually became “sickness.”
GUINNESS: Mmm-hmm.

DOOR: Some would say that we, both secular society and the church, have slipped even further, that we’ve redefined “sickness” as “mistakes.”
GUINNESS: Yes. One of the bad moral responses to the Clinton impeachment was this notion, “Mistakes were made.” Another one I notice very commonly now is “Time to move on.”

DOOR: What’s wrong with that one?
GUINNESS: It’s a pseudo-moral answer, an example of just one of the many ways in which Americans have lost the capacity to confront and genuinely resolve moral problems.