[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]
45. Os Guinness. Modern de Tocqueville b.1941
As a European visitor to the United States and a great admirer but somewhat detached observer of American culture today, Os Guinness stands in the long tradition of outside voices who have contributed so much to America’s ongoing discussion about the state of the union.
Great-great grandson of Arthur Guinness, the Dublin brewer, Os was born in China in World War II where his parents were medical missionaries (and where his siblings died of illness). He was named Oswald after Oswald Chambers, a friend of his parents. A witness to the climax of the Chinese revolution in 1949, he was expelled with his family and many other foreigners in 1951 and returned to Europe–where he was educated in England. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of London and his D.Phil in the social sciences from Oriel College, Oxford.
Guinness is a Christian cultural critic with deep theological awareness and penetrating insights into character, social interaction, historic lessons, and unyielding devotion to God. He has written or edited more than twenty-five books, including The American Hour, Time for Truth, The Call, Invitation to the Classics, Long Journey Home, and Unspeakable: Facing up to the Challenge of Evil. His latest book, The Case for Civility was published by HarperOne in January 2008.
“Civility,” Guinness says, “ is how we must live with our deep differences. It’s the American way as described by James Madison, with no state church and no religious monopoly. The framers [of the U.S. Constitution] got religious liberty right with the First Amendment in 1791, long before they got race or women right. However, the way the founders set the country up has been breaking down since the 1960s, or really since the Everson case in 1947. We have incessant cultural warring with, as Richard Neuhaus put it, the sacred public square on one side and the naked public square on the other. Both of the sides are well funded, both employ batteries of lawyers, both are nationally led and it’s a disaster for America. What Neuhaus and others call the “civil public square” is a key to the American future; Christians should be champions of that civil public square.”
Guinness is perhaps best known for his writings, as a co-laborer with Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri, for his work on the Williamsburg Charter—which attempted to establish decorum in political discourse; and for his founding and leadership of the unique outreach of The Trinity Forum to leaders often untouched by traditional means.
“a leadership academy that works to cultivate networks of leaders whose integrity and vision will help renew culture and promote human freedom and flourishing. Our programs and publications offer contexts for leaders to consider together the big ideas that have shaped Western civilization and the faith that has animated its highest achievements.”
I had the good fortune of working with Os during the start-up years of The Trinity Forum. He is probably the most gracious and gentle intellectual I have worked with (and I have worked with many, in case I needed additional reasons for humility), while at the same time Guinness also maintained intellectual rigor and British propriety. It is a blend that allows you to establish a warm friendship with him, appreciate his everyday brilliance, and yet never become overly chummy. To have it any other way would negate his unique character.
Years after I worked with Os, when I was going through a difficult personal time, he was one of the few friends and certainly the only Christian leader who called me to offer encouragement to my spirit and solace to my soul. He was self depreciating and assured me that I was not alone in any wrongdoing. It is the kind of kindness one never forgets.
Guinness lives with his wife Jenny in McLean, Virginia.