Monday, April 03, 2006

Counter Culture and The Dust of Death

In the early 70's, Christian Os Guinness published a tome entitled "the Dust of Death". On the back cover it says "With the dust of death slowly settling over all of Western culture, Os Guinness charts the journey of of a generation--out from the technological wasteland and into the Promised Land of radical politics, Eastern religion, psychedelic drugs and the occult. Rejecting both the technological society and the counter culture, he calls clearly for a Third Way".

To be properly digested, this nearly 400 page volume needs to be read from cover to cover.

In commenting on how Christians are to understand supernaturalism and mysticism, Guiness states: "..there are for the Christian two supernatural areas. The first is a genuine experience of God and the second is an experience of the occult powers, the devil and evil spirits. While both are real and supernatural, only the former is legitimate; the latter is real but wrong. Understanding this, we can see that for the Christian there are still two legitimate mystical experiences. The first is natural mysticism including nature mysticism and aesthetic mysticism; the second is supernatural mysticism, a genuine experience of God. Both are legitimate forms of mysticism, but it is common error to mistake the natural mysticism for the supernatural and give it connotations that are spiritual...It can not be stressed too strongly, especially in the climate of a growing and dangerous vogue for contentless religious experience, that the mystical experience is only a part of the Christians total experience."

Then, continuing, Os Guinness responds to Timothy Leary's charge that "Every religion in world history was founded on the basis of some flipped-out visionary trip". Guinness responds by saying that "the Christian's supernatural experience of God is always in terms of truth. This judgement runs counter to much current theology let alone mysticism..There was a content to [Apostle Paul's] experience. Paul did an about-face and headed in a direction totally antithetical to that in which he had been traveling before. Clearly his was no undefined experience...Paul mentions with fascinating attention to detail that Jesus had spoken to him 'in the Jewish language'...the biblical account clearly indicates an experience that was mystical; much of it was beyond words. But it was also personal and propositional."

The Christian worldview embraces the reality of the supernatural, but at the same time the Christian message is not centered around a "trip". Christianity, as Guinness clearly expounds, is not contentless mysticism, but embraces mystical elements in a proper perspective grounded in truth and reality, with personal and propositional revelation. This, when rightly understood, provides a robust answers to the dillemas faced by the rise (and fall) of the 60's counterculture and psychedelic movement. The "trip" did not provide answers, it only raised more questions and left its adherents without a solid base to stand on. Unfortunately, many times modernist Christians have done no better, only offering yet another 'trip' (ie. religion bathed in mysticism without any sort of concept of personal and propositional revelation). Humanity does not hunger for another "trip" bathed in religious language (contentless religion), but it needs to be presented the gospel, and a gospel with propositional content.

Guinness ends the book in a powerfuly way, saying:

"The present erosion of Christian culture means the removal of the last restraining influence of the Reformation. The striptease of humanism is simply the logic of the Renaissance held in check by the Reformation for four centures but now exposed in all the extremes of its consquences. If the last twenty-five years presuppose the tensions and questions of preceding centuries, it is little wonder that the counter culture [of the 60's] is not equal to its task. Christianity has proved itself a genuine counter culture once before. It is the hour for the Third Race once again.

The second reaction will be from thoes who will say, How come? All this is very well in theory, but how can it be translated into action? As Bertrant Russell remarked in one of his more tolerant moods, 'The Christian principle, _Love your enemies_ is good...There is nothing to be said against it except that it is too difficult for most of us to practice sincerely.' His emphasis was not strong enough. The Christian life is not juts difficult for man; it is impossible. But it is exactly here that humanism leaves off and Christianity begins.

That is also why this uniquely 'impossible' faith--with a God who is, with an Incarnation that is earthy and historical, with a salvation that is at cross-purposes with human nature, with a Resurrection that blasts apart the finality of death--is able to provide an alternative to the sifting, settling dust of death and through a new birth open the way to life."

This book (and the citations I give here) are definately not interesting to everyone. However, to anyone who, from a Christian perspective, wants to analyize where we (as a civillization) are right now, we need to understand some of these concepts. The 60's counter culture has had a large impact on where our society is at right now. When correctly understood, the counter culture should be seen to have been responding to REAL problems (injustice, violence, unchecked rationalism, materialism, 'plastic' culture, ossified traditionalism, etc.), however the response was launched from a WRONG basis (they provided no, or at least very few satisfactory answers to the problems they saw). We are left with the shadows of that turbulent era. Do we understand it? Are we seeking to respond to the dilemas that are facing our society in 2006? Are we prepared to communicate the gospel faithfully AND understandibly to those we rub shoulders with?

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Blogger Paul said...

So from a supernatural perspective,
Do you think God talks to us through specific:
"Being led by the spirit"
"Having a peace about it"
"Open doors"
or any way similiar to it, in our day-to-day life?

Email me if you want to.

5:47 PM  
Blogger The Celloist said...

Dust to dust...

1:26 PM  
Blogger Douglas Groothuis said...

This book is extremely significant for understanding the massive sea changes of the 1960s and how Christians need to understand and respond to them.

It was pivotal for my own intellectual development as a philosopher and apologist. I read it for the first time in 1977. See my Amazon review. Thanks for reviewing this book. It is a modern classic, and that is no hyperbole.

11:07 AM  

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