According to Os Guinness, we are living in an Augustinian moment.
Saint Augustine of Hippo had the privilege and responsibility of living during the end of Rome’s 800 years of dominance. During his life, while Rome was sacked, he laid down a vision in books like The City of God and Confessions which became a bridge that went into and across the Dark Ages until the rise of Christendom, twelve hundred years later. That’s a long bridge, but it’s true that all the great thinkers of the Reformation trace the beginnings of their new understanding back to Augustine.
We have the same privilege and responsibility of living at the end of 500 years of Western dominance. The world that our grandfathers knew is gone. We’ve got to live with such faith in the Lord and such vision and courage that we lay down a roadway in which the next generation can go into whatever lies ahead with courage and hope.
There has to be a new way.
In the brief history of our own lifetime, thirty years of the Christian right have failed to bring the good news of the gospel to the world. We are living in an ABC world now: Anything But Christianity. This is a golden opportunity — a teachable moment — when one way fails, and people are suddenly ready to rethink what they believe. If picketing, protesting, pronouncing, and politicking failed, what will we use now? There must be a better way. There is: it’s called persuasion. It’s a different kind of power. Not the power of numbers — there is no moral majority — not the power of politics — there is no more Christian right — but the power of persuasion. Persuasion is a power, but it’s a gentle power. We have to use persuasion because we have lost our dominance. We can’t tell people what to think anymore; we can only make suggestions, but we are also working with the Holy Spirit who can work a truth into someone’s heart and understanding. The Holy Spirit is always working from the inside out.
To use terms laid out in Gregory A. Boyd’s book, The Myth of a Christian Nation, persuasion is not “power over,” it’s “power under.” Persuasion doesn’t stand over someone and tell them what to think. It finds out what are thinking already and offers suggestions as to new ways and new things to think about. It comes under and lifts up. It serves.
Persuasion listens first. It understands and cares about where a person is before trying to get them to consider anything else. And when you do present a persuasive argument, you are not trying to dominate someone. You are not trying to show yourself right and everyone else wrong. You are trying to get someone to consider something new — maybe a way they haven’t thought of before. It is respectful. Like love, persuasion “does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:5-7).
It is no longer enough to know what we believe; we need to know what they believe. You can’t persuade anyone to consider your point of view if you haven’t spent the time and effort to get to know theirs.
How would you like to build a bridge with me — a bridge of hope to this generation and the next? Who knows but that we might be laying down a bridge across another dark age?
One thing’s for sure: we’re not just playing around here. This is no small matter. We are not isolated beings free-floating in space. We are on this earth, imbedded in time and history, and what we do is significant not only to our generation, but to the next, and the next, and only God knows how many after that.
How about it? What will you do with your Augustinian moment?
For more information on our Augustinian moment, listen in to an important 15-minute portion of our interview with Os Guinness which airs tonight at 6pm Pacific Daylight Time. Access it by clicking on the picture at 6pm or after On Demand.