The following is a transcription of Dr. Os Guinness’ talk, “What Is This Cultural Moment?” given in March 2022 at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church as part of the Kingdom Come Conference. The content has been selectively edited for ease of reading.
This is a very important topic because, having lived in the United States for several years, one of the things that is almost always missing in the Christian worldview is a sense of time. This starkly contrasts the biblical worldview, which is filled with numerous references to time, history, and generations.
For example, we are reminded of King David’s men, who were skilled in reading the signs of the times, or of that extraordinary throwaway verse in the middle of Paul’s sermon in Acts 13, where he refers to David serving God’s purpose in his generation, and then falling asleep (Acts 13:36). Or you have Paul’s challenge to all of us to redeem the time.
Now many English readers of the Bible translate time as if it were a matter of packing every hour of the day by doing all that we can do. But that’s not the sense of the original Greek. The Greek word is Kairos, which understands the meaning of time in qualitative terms (e.g., the right or opportune time), not in a chronological sense. It is time in the qualitative importance of the word that the Christian is to redeem amid this present evil age (Eph. 5:16).
And, of course, the word redeem is even more amazing. It’s the same word used of our Lord redeeming us on the cross (Gal. 3:13)! And even though I’m not quite sure what Paul means, I think the general sense is that as we trust and obey the Lord by living faithfully in our time, we are somehow redeeming back the time for him. So, it’s a challenge because we live in a very solemn moment in many ways.
The World Turned Upside Down
In addressing the question, What is this cultural moment? we begin with the subjects of freedom and public life within the context of the American experiment. This requires that we go back in time to the climax of the revolution at Yorktown. As the British and the Hessian troops marched out to surrender to General George Washington, they were ordered to play the ballad, The World Turned Upside Down.
Now that ballad came from the English Revolution and it was a distinctively Christian idea, which people of the Jewish faith also shared. It’s the idea that God creates order, and we sinners create disorder. So, the Lord works into a disordered world and turns it upside down to turn it right side up.
For example, take Acts 17:6. Some of the Jewish community became jealous of Christians because many of their own people and even the pious Gentiles responded positively to the apostle Paul’s ministry. Notably, the Christians were accused of ‘turning the world upside down.’ From the Jewish vantage point, they were revolutionaries. Now, of course, words like revolution were relative. The Romans accused the Jews of turning the world upside down, and the Jews accused the Christians of turning the world upside down. And so, it goes. But you can see in the English Revolution, that there was a definite theological understanding of revolution. It was turning the world the right way up again after experiencing injustice.
Five Significant Revolutions that Shaped the Modern World
Five great revolutions have shaped the modern world. The English Eevolution (1642), the American (1776), the French (1789), the Russian (1917), and the Chinese (1949). I was a young boy living in China when the revolution came. And when you look at these five revolutions, many people say that the first two were very different from the latter three.
Although the English Revolution failed and the American Revolution succeeded, the two had much in common; not only were they English-speaking, but they were born out of the Reformation. The Reformation had a biblical understanding of the world, whereas the French, Russian, and Chinese were anti-Christian, anti-biblical, and anti-religious.
You may be wondering how this applies to our present cultural context. Many Americans say that the nation is more deeply divided now than at any moment in history just before the Civil War. But why? Some blame social media. Some blame a certain former president. Some say it’s the coastals against the heartlands. Some say it’s the populists against globalists like George Soros. But I would argue, along with others, that the deepest division is between those who understand the republic and freedom from the American Revolution’s perspective versus those that don’t.
The Crux of the Problem
The American Revolution of 1776, as heirs of the Reformation, understood America and freedom from a biblical perspective as over against the perspective of the heirs of the French Revolution. Think about it for a moment. Postmodernism, radical multiculturalism, tribal politics, identity politics, the sexual revolution, cancel culture, and so forth—are all ideologies that derive from the French Revolution, not the American Revolution. And yet, these ideas have deeply penetrated American society.
I am reminded of the apostle Paul again, when writing to the Galatian Christians, asked, ‘Who has bewitched you? You came to faith through one gospel, and now you are following another gospel.’ In a similar fashion, I would like to ask America, ‘Who has bewitched you?’ You came to freedom through one revolution and now you are following another revolution, the results of which will be disastrous if you continue on this path.
Some may think that I am talking about the France of today. No. I am not. As many are probably aware, the French Revolution only lasted ten years (1789 to 1799), and then came Napoleon. The revolution ended under his dictatorship. I’m not talking about France as we know it today. But I am talking about the anti-Christian, anti-biblical, and anti-religious ideologies of the French Revolution that burst forth like a volcanic explosion and have been pouring out its lava flows ever since.
One of the lava flows is called revolutionary nationalism. Perhaps not so obvious in America, but certainly noticeable in Europe. For example, you have Napoleon himself, as well as Hitler, who was a great admirer of the French Revolution and national socialism. And some of you may be aware that Carl Schmidt was one of the key thinkers during Nazi Germany. Well, Schmidt is a primary source for China’s Xi Jinping’s current revolutionary movement. But that form of revolutionary nationalism is not our major concern in this cultural moment. Nor is the second lava flow; namely, the obvious one that was planned in the 19th century and burst forth in the 20th century, known as communism or classical Marxism.
Our major concern is that many Americans don’t really know and haven’t properly traced back to its roots what is now being promoted as cultural Marxism, or neo-Marxism, or user-friendly Marxism, or Western Marxism (various words are used). But one thing is certain. This new form of Marxism that has infiltrated America is not the classical form. The reason for the need of a new form of Marxism, carrying with it the same anti-God agenda, was because the classical form failed miserably.
The Long March Through the Institutions
The rise of this new form of Marxism can be traced back to the 1920s to an Italian Marxist by the name of Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci was put in prison by Mussolini, where he later died. But before dying, he was able to smuggle out of prison his journals expressing his ideas on why he believed Karl Marx was wrong.
According to Gramsci, the revolution didn’t happen as Marx had hoped because his message was geared towards the working-class people (the proletariat) and industrial strikes rather than elsewhere. Thus, Gramsci turned away from the proletariat to focus on what he called the cultural gatekeepers. He reasoned that the best way to incite a revolution was to win the hearts and minds of the cultural gatekeepers. If you can win their hearts and minds, you win the culture.
Gramsci’s ideas were picked up by the so-called “Frankfurt School” and developed throughout the thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties. Most of the leaders of this school were in Europe, but the leader of the Frankfurt School in America was Herbert Marcuse, the godfather of the radicals and the new left.
For example, the cancel culture movement comes directly from one of Marcuse’s essays on what he called “repressive tolerance.” But more importantly, in the late 1960s, he and another German radical, the leader of the Red Brigades called for a long march through the institutions. What did that mean?
In 1934, when Communist forces had been encircled by the Nationalist army, they broke out of the encirclement, did a 6,000-mile-long march through China, and won the whole game. The radical left of the 1960s knew they needed to do a long march, but not like Mao did physically. They needed to win the colleges and universities slowly and steadily. They needed to win the press and the media, to win what they call the “culture industry,” Hollywood, and entertainment. And if they won those, they could sweep down and win the whole culture.
Now here we are more than 50 years later. The radicals have made incredible inroads, many of them startlingly stunning Europeans. We would say that the last area in America that would fall to any type of Marxism would be business. But now we have woke finance and woke business with HR departments spreading cultural Marxism. They’ve certainly made their inroads.
Now, if you trace cultural Marxism from Gramsci to Marcuse (1980s), this is where postmodernism comes in. And importantly, early in this century, people like George Soros and the super funders realized they could put billions behind movements like Black Lives Matter, Antifa, Occupy Wall Street, and others. In so doing, they could create an ever-morphing group of popup protest movements with all sorts of names. And they would use crossover words that sounded good, like, “no justice no peace” or “no peace without justice” and so on. And you could create this radical movement of cultural Marxism.
Thankfully, many Christians are now aware of this movement, but at the time, they were mostly unaware of critical race theory, which traces its roots back to the Frankfurt School. And you can read the architects of things like the sexual revolution, writing openly nearly a hundred years ago saying what they wanted to do.
For example, Wilhelm Reich, one of the architects of the sexual revolution, was quite clear that he wanted to beat the church and overcome parents. The way to do it was to sideline both by teaching sex education to children at ages three and four and so on. We should have been aware of these things long ago, but most of us weren’t paying attention. This is why we need to study history and be mindful of the history of ideas.
Worldviews in Conflict
So, on the one hand, we had the American Revolution with its biblical roots, and on the other, the French Revolution with its anti-biblical roots, each deriving from an entirely different worldview; one, the Bible, the other, the Enlightenment.
Take human nature, for example. The biblical worldview assumes a fallen nature, and because of the awareness of sin and the potential for the abuse of power, the American experiment created a separation of powers, checks, and balances. These ideas come from the Bible, and we see them in the Old Testament where there were three forms of government: the monarchy, the priesthood, and importantly the prophet. The prophet had the authority to challenge the priest and the king when they strayed from the covenant, as Elijah confronted Ahab in his day.
And many of the things in the American experiment, such as, covenant as constitution and notions like the consent of the governed, come from the Book of Exodus. You see this with the Mosaic covenant. When God set forth the terms of the covenant, the people had the opportunity to agree or disagree. Their response was, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exod. 24:7; NASB). That is the biblical origin of the consent to be governed.
Now if you continue down the line, looking at the differences between worldviews, they are all strikingly different. And when you compare views about freedom, the differences are night and day. Many people think, well, you know the ancients, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, they didn’t have a high view of freedom, but we do, when, the situation is much more complicated than that.
None of the modern secular atheists, like Bertrand Russell, J.B. Watson, B.F. Skinner, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or Yuval Harari have a high view of freedom because their determinants are based on the scientific method itself. There are no grounds for freedom in secularism. You may have read Yuval Harari, the author of Homo Deus. Even recently, he was arguing that human beings are hackable animals. And when all our biometric details are stored in computers, and the government knows everything, we will have a digital dictatorship. There are no grounds for freedom in a secular worldview.
But of course, when you come to justice, it’s different. Almost everyone recognizes the worst injustice. You think of a child of three who immediately recognizes when something seems unfair. And no doubt we’ve seen egregious injustice over the years of slavery and even some of the more recent things like the killing of George Floyd. The difference comes not in recognizing injustice or the outrage against what’s clearly wrong. The difference comes in how you address it.
The Social Justice of the Radical Left
How does the radical left address it? The first thing social justice scholars do is analyze discourse. They’re looking for who’s the majority, who’s the minority, who’s the oppressor, who’s the victim. And when they find a victim, whoever it is, George Floyd or many others, they’re not interested in the individual. Their interest lies in the group (e.g., black, gay, woman, overweight, and so on). Then they weaponize the group to subvert and overthrow the status quo.
Following Nietzsche and the ‘God is dead’ movement, postmodernism also did away with the truth. Because if God is dead (which he is not), then there is no absolute truth. All that’s left is power, power, and more power. So, the radical left is all about setting up a conflict of powers. But how can there ever be peace with such a worldview?
Well, the Romans understood this a long time ago, and they said that the only peace possible is the peace of despotism. In other words, the only way to have peace is to have an unrivaled power that can put all the other powers down. Then you have peace. But it’s a tyrannical peace; it’s an authoritarian peace. China is very peaceful compared to America, but it’s totalitarian, and that’s the logic of the radical left. As conservative atheist Douglas Murray has pointed out, the pursuit of power by the radical left is merciless. The French Revolution was merciless, and the American radical left is merciless. So, what should be our response?
The Christian Response in this Cultural Moment
First, we address power by speaking the truth. We have the reality of truth on our side and the truth of human dignity on our side. We can point out the things that are wrong, and abusive, and unjust – truth addressed to power.
Secondly, we can call for the admission and confession of wrongs, which reminds me of a statement made by Michael Foucault. Foucault was a postmodern thinker and author of the deconstruction movement, an atheist, also gay, who sadly died of AIDS. He hated the gospel. But I heard an interview with Foucault in which he said that ‘There’s one thing I admire about the Christian faith, and that is confession.’ He said, ‘When someone voluntarily confesses wrong, they’re doing something extremely rare morally; they’re going on record against themselves, saying, I screwed up, I lied, I committed adultery, I stole, whatever it is.’
In other words, sin normally excuses, rationalizes, or blames someone else. And then of course, the injury of wrong goes round and round and is unresolved. Whereas confession is to admit the wrong, and thirdly, to ask for forgiveness if you are the offending party and to grant forgiveness if you are offended.
Forgiveness is radical in biblical history. The story of Joseph offers a model of the kind of forgiveness I am talking about. It’s not cheap grace, appeasement, or anything like that. It’s genuine, heartfelt forgiveness that makes it possible for reconciliation.
The most powerful demonstration of this is the Day of Atonement for Jews and the cross of Calvary for Christians. But think of that for a minute. Many Christians have made the cross a purely personal and spiritual matter. Of course, it’s personal and spiritual, but it’s not only that. We’ve got to recover this sense of repentance and forgiveness on a national level.
One of the problems in England has been class prejudices, whereas in America, it has been race. And to the degree that these things go unaddressed, they invariably go unresolved, which leaves an opening for the radical left, who only want to make things worse.
But where are the Christians speaking into this issue from a biblical standpoint, showing how the cross can be the source of atonement for America? Because what we’re seeing today is America’s greatest sin (slavery and racism), confronting the establishment’s greatest blind spot and the radical left’s most significant fraud and disaster attempting to bring America down. What if, instead, these were confronted by the gospel’s greatest glory? But we’ve got to bring the gospel forward so that repentance and forgiveness can be applied collectively and individually. We need courageous leaders, for this is an extraordinary moment.
A Leader for God’s Glory in this Cultural Moment
America was facing a deep division in the 1850s over the issue of slavery. And God raised Lincoln to address its evils. He was motivated by an incredible conviction about the Declaration of Independence and what he called ‘the better angel’ of the American nature. Lincoln was an incredible leader. But sadly, there’s no one like him at the highest levels in our day.
We have one president talking about restoring the soul of America and another talking about making America great again. But neither of them says what made America great in the first place. Frederick Douglass appealed to the Declaration. Booker T. Washington appealed to the gospel and the Declaration. The radical left appeals to neither. You’ve got a very different revolution going on with them.
We need leadership. But at the same time, the biblical view of leadership is not just about people at the top or out in front. The biblical idea of leadership is everyone in their sphere of influence using their gifts and opportunities to do what needs to be done with initiative and responsibility. I think of Moses and the people he was called to lead. When Moses held out his rod, and the Lord sent the wind to roll back the Red Sea, everyone thought, ‘Hmm, up to you sir.’ But it only took one person to step forward. And then everyone else followed. According to Jewish tradition, Nahshon took responsibility and initiative, and he did it. And that’s a biblical view of leadership. Everyone in their sphere of influence at their level stands up, speaks up, and does what needs to be done.
In other words, that’s every one of us. I was addressing a group of pastors the other day and have many opportunities to travel around the country. What I often hear Christians say is, ‘Well you know, I’m faithful but am keeping my head down. What a time we’re in.’ And many others say, ‘Well you know, my model is the early church. They couldn’t do anything. I can’t do anything so I’m just faithfully keeping my head down and witnessing and so on.’ That’s an entire misapplication of the early church.
The early Christians lived under an imperial dictatorship. They had no room to move politically. The American experiment is based on the Old Testament, and one of the things at the heart of a covenantal community is the reciprocal responsibility of everyone. Every Jew was responsible for every other Jew. They were to love their neighbors as themselves. So, every American is responsible for the American Republic and its people. Those who don’t do what they should in their sphere of influence, including the responsibility to vote and other things, show a deficiency of discipleship and citizenship. And shame on Christians who’ve opted out at this extraordinary moment.
I would say profoundly from my heart that this is a solemn moment and we must seize this moment for the Lord in faithful obedience and courage, including prayer and all sorts of other things, because this is a critical turning point that may never come back. So, by God’s grace, don’t be missing.
Let me finish with a story. It’s a story that means a lot to my wife and me. And every morning we pray a prayer like the one I’m going to describe in this story.
You may have heard of Derek Prince. He was a philosophy student at Cambridge University in England and became a professor when he graduated. When war broke out, Derek was sent to North Africa, but he was determined to bring the classic books with him, to be prepared to teach classics when he returned from the war.
So, he took a whole number of Greek and Roman classics and the Bible, and Derek came to faith in Jesus reading the Bible. Then he found himself in a North African army with no fellowship, no teaching, no church – nothing. He had the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and no one else.
The British army was in chaos with the longest retreat in British history – seven or eight hundred miles. The class divisions between officers and men were appalling. Morale was low. The general was a disaster. And Derek Prince said, ‘Lord, how do I pray as a new Christian in this mess?’ And the Lord said, ‘Pray this prayer to me: Lord, give us a leader such that it will be for your glory to give the victory through him.’ And Derek prayed. Month after month and year after year went by until Churchill fired the general and sent out another man who died en route in an accident.
So, Churchill had to send out a third man, a young, relatively untested, unknown general who happened to be the son of a great Christian leader. Anyway, by this stage, they’d been pressed back from Libya by Nazi General Rommel all the way to Alexandria. And they were defending the Suez Canal, the gateway to the East. And they were, of course, defending Jerusalem. The general got the army together and said, ‘Men let us pray to the Lord of the armies, the Lord of hosts.’ And when Derek Prince heard this on his transistor radio (he wasn’t there personally), the Lord said to him, ‘This man is the man you’ve been praying for for two years.’
The following week was the battle of El-Alamein. And as Churchill said, ‘Until El-Alamein, it was all defeat. After El-Alamein, it was all victory.’ That’s how the Lord led Derrick Prince to pray.
And so, my wife and I have turned that prayer into the plural, ‘Lord, give us leaders such that it will be for your glory to give the victory through them.’ And I thank the Lord for the great men and women in this country and their leadership in this cultural moment. Indeed, this is an extraordinary moment.