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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Book Review

Prophetic Untimeliness by Os Guinness

Having read Long Journey Home and having heard some lectures by Guinness on line, I was pumped to receive "Prophetic Untimeliness" for my birthday.

Guinness lives up to the theme of the brewery company ("Brilliant!"). The son of medical missonaries, and a decendant of the Dublin brewers, Guinness works you through the practical issues of life by examining the world views that motivate action.

A couple of observations from the book:

Thick. "Long Journey" was intended as a book you could give to an unsaved person who is wondering about the different faith systems in the world (and for one truly curious, it is a great book to give to an unsaved person). Therefore, he kept his thought and work at a much easier to digest level. "Prophetic Untimeliness" is definitely material that works through some more difficult themes. It's not a book you can nibble your way through, but should probably leave it sit unless you can at least work through a section at a time (about 40 pages/section). Technically, I've probably read the book twice already (due to rereads) since I kept trying to read small sections, and had to review them.

Surprising. With a subtitle: "A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance," I expected it to cover more of the modern church trends. However, the word "Emerging" only shows up once and Guinness spends very little of his time dealing with specific issues. Not surprisingly, in a book that challenges the way you view time, Guinness seems to have written this book in a way that keeps itself from becoming outdated.

Important. Despite the lack of specifics (which I grew to appreciate by the end of the book), it is probably an important read if you are in a position where public opinion can sway your work. I found it quite interesting that many of his projections have come to pass statistically in the next couple years after publication.

Guinness has us take a look at what happens when we focus too much on relevance. He is quick to acknowledge that relevance is necessary, and it makes sense to speak a person's language. However, he wants us to examine what happens when it becomes too much of a focus and things get distorted. (An example he states is the 1966 World Council of Churches dictum: "The world must set the agenda for the Church.") He poses that an unbalanced pursuit of relevance will lead down four paths:

1. Assumption. We will take something from the world (capitalism, democracy, etc) that looks good and assume it must be good for the Church as well.
2. Abandonment. The emphasis of what we have assumed will cause us to neglect (either deliberate, or incidently) other issues (like ignoring the doctrine of hell to create a less offensive environment).
3. Adaptation. After what has been assumed and what has been neglected, the rest is modified to fit under the emphasis created by that which is assumed. (I think this is observable in the way many churches in the 90's began to operate like corporations, blending their leadership and purpose to look more like successful companies.)
4. Assimilation. You lose your initial identity and become just like that which you assumed. (ie. Do you call your Sr Pastor the CEO of your church?)

Guinness calls us instead to review the way we view time in our culture. We are obsessed with the future and pay little attention to the past. Guinness urges us to look again to the past and hold true to those things that truly make us relevant.

For the church, that is the gospel, as presented in the Holy Scriptures.

Guinness calls us to appear odd to some. We would find our relevance when we stand out, or rather, stand against the crowd. Our society is basing greatness and popularity by who they see fitting in now. However, history has proved over and over again, that it is those who have stood out, who have not conformed to society that have made the greatest impact.

It's not an easy road. Guinness doesn't say it is. But neither did Jesus.

Overall, I'd rate it 7.5 (out of 10).


  • At 8:11 AM, Blogger RevPharoah said…

    One of the few Bill Gothard quotes I use is, "We impact our world only to the extent that we are different from it." The statement has a sort of logic to it. To the extent that we adopt the prevailing culture we cease to have impact on it.


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