Caring about the global public square

thI am currently reading a new book by Os Guinness, The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity. I’m interested in it only because I’m trying to find out why he is. Why would Os Guinness spend a whole book on making the world a place where anyone can believe what they want without being repressed by those who think they should believe only what some determine as the right thing to believe.

Now I can understand why he might write this book for America, because this kind of religious freedom is what America was founded on, but to take on the world’s stage and say this is worth pursuing … I’m still trying to figure that one out.

First, why bother? He’s talking about the world here, not the kingdom of God. I’m used to thinking that the world is something I can’t do anything about, so why waste my time? The world is going to hell anyway, so our job is to pluck as many souls as possible out of the river of destruction before the whole place burns. That’s what I’m used to believing.

Second, it’s useless. What can one person, even one book by a decorated, respected author do to change the world? I’m sure fundamentalist Muslims will want to read Os’s new book as soon as they find out about it. Should they ever hear of a global public square, their tendency would be to go bomb the place rather than engage in any kind of constructive conversation, especially if it was a western mind that espoused it.

So why am I reading this? I want to find out why he thinks this is so important and how he plans to do it. I know Os, I trust him, and I don’t think he would waste my time. I want to learn how to dialogue with people who are different than me. I want to learn how to be in the world.

Jesus told us we were IN the world but not OF the world, and so far, I, and most Christians I know, have spent most of our time and effort trying to not be OF the world, and not very much of anything on learning how to be IN it. To be sure, most Christian attempts to be in the world historically have been disastrous. Like Woody Allen says in Hannah and Her Sisters, “If Jesus were to come back and see what people have done in his name, he’d throw up.”

I’m proud of Os Guinness. He makes me proud to be a Christian. This is the kind of Christian I want to hold up to the world as being an example of following Christ. He’s thinking way beyond me — I’ve never been able to follow his books very well — but I’m going to try because I need this. Championing the freedom of those who don’t think like I do has been a blind spot in my own Christianity since the Jesus movement, and it hasn’t served me well in the world. I think Os can make us better, kinder carriers of the gospel of welcome. If everyone gets to speak, more will get to hear.

I think that what Os is trying to create on a global stage are the same values and principles that will make me a better neighbor in my community, and I’m guessing they are values and principles that have not been foremost on our list in the last 30 years as Christians. If I can learn how to champion the soul freedom of all people of all beliefs and none, I will be creating more opportunity for the Gospel of Welcome to be carried out in my little place in the world to those who are waiting for it. Maybe that’s my global stage after all.

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13 Responses to Caring about the global public square

  1. Peter Leenheer says:

    The book title “God out of the Box”by Chuck Ripka and James Lund has always fascinated me. You John constantly rock our theological sensibilities by doing just that taking “God out of the Box”. I for one eagerly look forward to you doing that by commenting on this book by Os Guinness you are presently reading.

    For me, God is so totally amazing that words cannot describe Him. It is strangely comforting to totally rely on a God who is humanly incomprehensible and totally unpredictable,yet takes care of me like no other.

  2. Cynthia Cody says:

    You have made me curious also about this book today. Thank you for keeping us informed on many issues. I am glad you crossed your bridge to your office today! It is so easy to settle in our own selfish and comfortable paths. Cynthia Cody

  3. Dan says:

    John – As your worst critic I’ll accept how you are feeling as you read Guiness, but not how you are describing yourself. Surprise – your whole life quest has been to turn the church upside down and spill it onto the street. If any true biblical believers are struggling with and articulating the place between “in the world” and “not of it” on a 24/7 basis, you and Marti are. Typical self-blindness; ya big galoot. I wonder if Os Guiness ever said, “I never would have thought of that if I hadn’t listened to John Fischer’s ‘Cold Cathedral’ back in college…”. Ask him.

  4. Mary Strawsma says:

    John, love you as a realist but I am calling you out on the paragraph that alludes to the Muslim’s bombing the town square. We all have factions within our communities, religious groups, gender and nationalities. However, not all Muslims come to the square for anything except community, shopping and friendship. To lump them into a group doesn’t speak well for any of us. Come to the Marketplace to learn and to share.

    • jwfisch says:

      Absolutely. Two things. 1) That was in a section of my article full of hyperbole (purposely overstating the wrong point of view so as to make its error more visible), and 2) that’s why I said “fundamentalist” Muslims. There are some fundamentalist Christians who would do the same thing.

  5. Randy Schmor says:

    John, first time responder but long-time reader of ‘the Catch’ here (I started back in the ‘Purpose Driven’ days)….your post today prompts me to ask you to consider reading Brian McLaren’s book “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World”. It’s rockin’ my world in a way that is similar to what you are describing here with Guinness’ book.

  6. This blog struck a cord with me. Interestingly, I’m finding that many families who adopt internationally have no concern about the country from which a child is born. How can this be? My Chinese son was born in a Communist country. Does that matter to me? I am free. But those families are far from free. I care.

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