The Magna Carta of Humanity by Os Guinness

The Magna Carta of Humanity

The Magna Carta of Humanity: Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and The Future of Freedom by Os Guinness is published by InterVarsity Press.

Some books we acquire because of who the author is. Such is the case with Os Guinness. For many years, he has been writing books that are combinations of cultural commentaries with Christian critiques and answers.

It all began with The Dust of Death: The Sixties Counter-culture and How It Changed America Forever. The 1960s were a redefining period of American history. I find it amazing that America survived during that period and the decade that followed. Guinness wrote this account, which is still in print, to examine that time period.

The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purposes for Your Life was first published in 1997. I did not pick it up and read it until many years later. There is a 20th anniversary edition of the book that came out in 2018. In my experience, this is my favorite Guinness book. Each chapter is a great meditation on finding purpose and direction for the Christian. And, Guinness, in all his writings, amply quotes from a wide variety of sources, both Christian and other.

This book is a great one for teens and younger believers to read. I think it would be great for a group study.

Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion is a book about Christian apologetics. I remember loving it the summer that I read it. I need to read it again…and again! Often, my experience has been in reading books where an advocate of one school of apologetics makes the case for his approach and critiques the other school. I reckon that all of that is needful. But I have often found myself discouraged by the rancor that exists between presuppositionalists and evidentialists, between Van Tillians and Clarkians, and between advocates of various church positions. Then there is the snobbery that is found among some, including, sadly Dooyeweerdians and Neo-Orthodox, and the dismissals that attend those who profess Christianity, but see no need to convert anyone.

While good and great men and women of God have written and argued in ways that reflect my concern, I often did not find enough basic stuff to instruct believers on how to live and speak persuasively on the faith. This book does not, to the best of my recollection, deal with the intramural debates.

Other Guinness book titles include Time for Truth, Unspeakable, A Free People’s Suicide, The Global Public Square, Last Call for Liberty, and Carpe Diem Redeemed. I have most, but not all, and have read many, but not all, of his books.

The Magna Carta of Humanity is Guinness’s most recent book. It is a classic and predictable work. He surveys the social, political, and theological landscape and finds much that is wanting in our day. He calls again and again for spiritual and theological renewal. The focus is not on the church or family primarily, although both are seen as central. This is not a rewrite of the Republican party platform with a few Bible verses, nor is it an acceptance of the social justice, or “Woke” concerns, or current mantras of the religious left.

As such, I reckon every school of thought will want to mentally add a chapter on to this book either prescribing particular Bible teachings, conservative or liberal applications, and endorsements for other ministries. (I don’t mean to imply that liberals–whether theologically so or politically so–will find much of comfort in the book.)

In large part, Guinness has written a book that is highlighting the writings of the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. I was not familiar with either Rabbi Sacks or his writings. He is described as a “British Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, theologian, author, peer and public figure. He died in 2020.

This book is dedicated to Rabbi Sacks. Much of it is a commentary on Sacks’s book Covenant and Conversation: Exodus: The Book of Redemption.

Perhaps many of us have not read Exodus with enough political focus. After all, we are often subtly instructed not the read any of the Bible with a political lens. But Exodus is a story that is inescapably political from beginning–with an oppressive baby killing government–to the end–with a law for God’s people that reflects God’s moral order for the nations.

I read some of Gary North’s fine books on Exodus years ago. It was part of his economic commentary on the Bible. And politics and economics are overlapping topics. Just today, I finished reading an outstanding essay on how preachers and writers in colonial America used the Exodus narrative to describe the plight that the colonies were in during the American War for Independence. That essay can be found in another IVP book, titled Every LIne, Leaf, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present.

Every Leaf, Line, and Letter

Sacks and Guinness contend that the Exodus story should be the defining model for a revolution. To bring about a real, good, and positive change, eschew French, Russian, and Chinese models, and anything advocated by Marxists pat and present, and look to Exodus.

God is at war continually with tyrants. Wimpy pastors who tremble at the political winds are not at all in good standing. Every state and social order adheres to a law code. And all law codes are founded on religious presuppositions. We are always seeing Egypt warring against the Hebrews. Change the names as needed to fit the era, and yet the battles remain the same.

Much of this book is, as expected, standard and recurring Guinness talk and advocacy. He didn’t abandon what 20 other books promoted and repeats his best themes and working bullet points. What preacher or teacher doesn’t do the same?

This leads to part of what is a bit confusing or cluttering about this book. Guinness repeatedly contrasts the American War for Independence (okay, for this occasion, let’s call it the American Revolution) with the French Revolution. That is a great theme. That is a good reason why we all need to study history. Read the historical accounts of the Frenchies and read the fiction as well. Concerning fiction, I am thinking of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities (which I have written about previously and compared to Augustine’s two cities) and Baron Orczy’s Scarlet Pimperness. Concerning history, read Otto Scott’s Robespierre or Simon Schama’s Citizens. And there is an older work titled The Origin and Principles of the American Revolution Compared with the Origin and Principles of the French Revolution written by Friedrich Gentz with a preface by John Quincy Adams. And I simply must mention Unbelief and Revolution by Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer.

The dust jacket on the book reflects this conflict: At the top is seen a portion of the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. At the bottom is seen (upside down), Lady Liberty in the French Revolution. At the end of almost every chapter, Guinness repeats the words: “America cannot permanently endure half 1776 and half 1789.”

This recurring message, the history lessons in the book, the warnings of our forefathers, are all useful reminders of the need for vigilance and reawakening.

But alongside this theme is the workings of Sacks’s ideas. So, the dust jacket also includes the image of Moses with the Ten Commandments off to the side. The calling attention to Sacks’s ideas and books is useful. I was not aware of him or his writings. But the clutter I mentioned earlier comes from Guinness hopping from a discussion of the Exodus Revolution to the American or French events and/or to current events.

Maybe he should have written a shorter book in praise of and commenting on Rabbi Sacks. Whether another shorter book on the American and French historical experiences should have been written is another story. If Guinness had written both, I would have been interested.

We are used to older people talking on and on. In many cases, when the older person is wise and learned, he or she is worth listening to even if there are repetitions or ramblings. I have heard and read the thoughts of people who may have passed their high bars of succinctness.

I reckon I can imply that Os Guinness is old, because I am old and he is older. But old Guinness, like wine, not the beer his family created, ages well.

This is a needed book. It is worth the few confusing portions to read. It is yet another call for our day and time.

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One thought on “The Magna Carta of Humanity by Os Guinness

  1. I happily discovered Os Guinness in 2017, and have been on a journey through his works since then. Hoping to read his entire corpus over the course of five years, I then proceeded to stumble on my mission. Still, there is forgiveness and mercy to be found in our God! Thank you for reminding me why diligent study is still worth the effort — after all these years.

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