I didn’t live through the 1960s, but I know what I missed: a massive cultural shift with the accompanying turmoil, including political unrest and a questioning of social norms.
According to Os Guinness, the sixties were one of the most consequential eras of modern history, “a deep and savage sword thrust through American history and culture.” It was a decade marked by advances in science and civil rights, but also with “utopianism, the violence and the humiliations of the Vietnam War, and of course the excesses of the sexual revolution, the stupidities of the new entitlement era, the rise of the culture wars, and the nihilism of postmodernism, all of which are producing such a dark harvest today.”
“The sixties sowed the dragon’s seeds that are producing the bitter harvest being reaped today,” Guinness writes in the re-release of his book The Dust of Death. “In one way or another, we are all children of the sixties today.”
It’s too soon to understand all the forces that made 2020 what it is. A pandemic, racial tensions, and polarizing election have all contributed to make this year especially challenging. But according to Guinness, the cultural trends affecting us today began a long time ago with the erosion of the Christian base for Western culture, and the failure of secular humanism or the counterculture to provide a viable alternative.
The rumblings we feel today are unsurprising. Our culture has moved away from a Christian worldview with nothing to replace it. The pandemic has accelerated the unrest that was already stirring.
The turmoil we’re experiencing this year is a sign that the modern experiment of life without God is doomed to fail. Humanism and secularism promise more than they deliver, and our unrest is a sign of their failure to provide the answers we need.
The Church’s Response
According to Guinness, the solution to our culture’s problems is another alternative, a Third Way: “the promise of realism without despair, involvement without frustration, hope without romanticism. It combines a concern for humanness with intellectual integrity, a love of truth with a love of beauty, conviction with compassion and deep spirituality.” This Third Way can be found only in the rediscovery and revival of the historic Christian faith.
“What is needed is nothing short of reformation and revival in the church,” Guinness writes, “a rediscovery of the truth of God by his people and a renewal of the life of God within his people.”
In case this sounds daunting, Guinness reminds us, “Each man is significant. Each man’s actions can cause ripples that never cease.” We don’t need extraordinary people. We need “ordinary men [and women] who do great things because they reckon on God’s being with them.”
It’s easy to look at the world and throw up our hands. But the church — the ordinary, humble church — has been entrusted with the good news that this world needs, and our current turmoil reminds us of how much the world needs it. The church’s task is as urgent as ever, and it’s going to be ordinary Christians and churches who play important roles.
Don’t give up. Don’t settle for lesser solutions. Pray and work for the church to be the church, for God’s people to rediscover the truth, and to live out that truth for the good of the world when all other options are collapsing around us.