Long Journey Home: A New Book by Os Guinness

Maybe you saw the Newsweek article this summer (the one with Christian
rock on the cover) that also had a feature on the gargantuan Christian
Bookseller’s Association trade exhibition. It is a true bookseller’s nightmare:
miles of aisles of schlocky books, hawked at fever-pitch amidst “Christian”
breath mints, pocket combs and all sorts of inspirational whirligigs.
There are trendy “Christianized” gift-ware companies and Bible-based toys,
games and what some refer to as “Jesus junk.” Serious book-buyers
are left to wonder: can tacky neckties with religious emblems really advance
the cause of Christ? Do cheesy broaches–like the cheap blood-red
(get it?) ruby slippers which can “take you home again”–really attract
meaningful evangelistic conversations? And don’t get me started on how
many may be turned off by the substandard end-times novels and videos
that show up everywhere these days.

In a newly published book, Preaching to Skeptics and Seekers
(Abingdon, $15.00), Frank Honeycutt convinced two separate groups of unchurched
folk to attend the Lutheran congregation he serves and to sit in on the
worship services. Afterward, he conducted in-depth interviews to determine
how both “seekers” and “skeptics” heard his messages. It is a fascinating
bit of research pursued without an interest in dumbing down content or
Christ’s radical call to discipleship. (The first line of Will Willimon’s
great forward is that one of his problems with so-called “seeker-sensitive”
churches is that “whatever most people are seeking, it isn’t Jesus.”)
Still, Honeycutt comes to realize just how a watching world perceives
the church and the gospel entrusted to us. He learns that we must work
hard to creatively translate our faith to those who are religiously clueless,
and that means thinking hard about recasting our language and lives to
become truly winsome and contagious. It is a good resource (complete with
a bibliography, even of novels and poets!) to get us once again thinking
about such things.

The body of such literature guiding churches towards a more contextualized
rendering of ministry in the new millennium is immense and contested.
(Call us for good books from various perspectives in this debate.) Important
to me for this review, however, is that, despite the volumes of programmatic
outreach plans and the nearly ubiquitiousness of the language of “seeker-sensitivity,”
few of us seem driven to be apostles to the nations, truly passionate
and thoughtful about reaching those lost in a postmodern, fragmented world
of incoherence, materialism and religious pluralism. Just how do we help
people reflect seriously on the meaning of life and God’s call to them?
What resources are most helpful in guiding true seekers towards God? Especially
for those reading this who work in higher education, how best to present
the gospel to professors or administrators who may be schooled in skepticism
and who have experienced–too often–less than thoughtful believers
who bungled their way through their witnessing?

Part of the answer comes from a premier author and the best apologist
of our time, especially gifted at communicating well to the intelligensia
and well-read: Dr. Os Guinness. Senior Fellow of the low-key and profoundly
respected Trinity Forum, Guinness’ powerful and very accessible invitation
to whole-life discipleship, The Call, has been garnering
rave reviews since its publication in 1999. We at Hearts & Minds confidently
named it the “Book of the Decade,” and it remains one of our constant
sellers. Os’s significant body of work (which seems regularly to be mentioned
in this monthly column) have proven him to be eloquent, compelling, classy
and–always within a rigorously solid Christian frame–truly seeker-sensitive.

As his new book shows as nicely as anything he’s written, Guinness himself
has walked alongside and through some of the biggest questions of our
time. He knows the mindset of many of the best-educated and can, as the
saying goes, “meet “Ëœem where they’re at.” Perhaps over a fine Chablis,
or a discussion over current affairs, or a good film, Os has befriended
and encouraged and challenged seekers, searchers and skeptics alike. From
decades of work with hippy drop-outs and Fortune 500 CEOs, he knows what
he, and they, are talking about. This book is the result of that sort
of real-world experience in being a kind but serious defender of the faith.

And so, the brand new Long Journey Home: A Guide To Your Search
for the Meaning in Life
(Doubleday, $17.99) is Os Guinness’ best
effort yet to speak gospel truth to those seriously seeking. Line by line,
story by story, chapter by chapter, he builds the case–this stuff
makes sense! These truths help us to make sense! Beliefs and convictions
matter! We are not alone on life’s journey! There are answers to the big

As always, Guinness cites great literary and political figures and their
anecdotes–Bertrand Russell, G.K. Chesterton, Albert Camus and many
more–and weaves together fiction and nonfiction in a masterly, no-nonsense
way. Long Journey Home is a brilliant collection of pieces woven
together so finely that it is very hard to put down. (And believe me,
I put books down quite easily!) Even as he walks us through large philosophical
claims and daring intellectual proposals, his human concern for the flesh
and blood lives of his readers is never far from the page. This embodiment
of the journey is, actually, one of the strongest arguments from the book–he
cares and insists that we should too.

As he points out, Guinness has lived in three great cultures: China,
Europe and the United States. He has studied under and with famous atheists
and Eastern mystics alike. He knows world religions and various philosophies,
and he knows them from true believers (not just abstractly from books).
Indeed, his assortment of acquaintances, teachers and mentors is unbelievably
impressive. He gives these various representatives of different worldviews
their due, truly honoring their insights but showing how, finally, their
beliefs do not adequately hold up. He is properly humble here, and honest:

“This brief survey of the leading families
of faith…is only illustrative. I’ve endeavored to portray them straightforwardly
and accurately, although I stress again that there’s no substitute for
hearing about each one from its own advocates, and I don’t pretend to
be completely impartial. Which faith throws the most light on the human
dilemma of suffering? That’s for each of us to ask and each of us to answer…”

As he illustrates and contrasts how each “family of faith” (Eastern,
secular humanist, biblical) answers the question of evil and suffering,
he explains:

“Why that issue? For one thing, we’re within
living memory of the most evil and murderous years in history, years that
saw two savage world wars, monstrous totalitarianism of the right and
the left, and the genocides of Auschwitz and Cambodia.

“For another, there’s a huge gulf in modern
society between the visibility of evil and the deficiency of intellectual
and moral tools to deal with it.

“For yet another, this topic raises the deepest
and most agonizing questions for many of us. Our answers here are the
very closest we come as human beings to unriddling life.

“Finally, each of the great philosophies
of life is at its crux an answer to evil and suffering. In fact, the difference
in how the three families of faith address this topic are striking. Clearly
these differences make a great difference–not only for individuals
but for whole societies.”

Those of us who desire to effectively share the gospel of Christ with
others will want to own extra copies of this exceptional book. Pastors
and church librarians should make it available. Handsomely produced, with
clarifying, meditative reflection questions at the end of each brief chapter,
Long Journey Home could be given to nearly anyone willing to read
it. Truly, few books of this sort have impressed me so, and I am sure
it will bear much fruit as it is shared and discussed. It should be a
standard resource for those laboring in campus ministry, amongst professionals
or in settings–from high schools to church basements–where significant
ideas are significantly considered.

In a fascinating opening argument for the benefits of embracing “journey”
as an operative motif, Os shares details from his own story to illustrate
his journey to seek and discover meaning. There are some tender and important
moments here, making this perhaps his most personal book yet. He then
artfully asks readers:

“Have you awakened to the journey of life?
Or are you among those drifting down the years? Are you among those so
caught up in the project of themselves that they choose not to hear the
flow of time? Are you open to care, to think, to seek? Let your mind and
your heart run deep. Come, join the seeker’s path on the long journey

Who knows how some of the silly stuff found in most Christian gift shops
helps people? We sell some gifts of dubious aesthetic taste and know well
that a happy Bible verse on a cheap mug can mean the world to a shut-in
or a hurting neighbor. Even a goofy poster can touch the heart of a moody
adolescent and many of those little angel-on-my-shoulder pins have reassuringly
accompanied dear ones through their walk into the valley of the shadow.
Who really opposes all light-weight devotionals or the somewhat ordinary
fare of what some call “Christian living” titles? After all, the folks
at the vanity fair of CBA Expo really do mean well and many of the easy-to-read
books are actually a good place to start for those who do not read often.

But please know–cynic, seeker, skeptic, friend or foe of the evangelical
book subculture–there are better books being published and there
are excellent authors who think deeply and write well. They may not be
found pressing the flesh at CBA, but please, please know that there are
many great contemporary nonfiction writers: the spirituality of Dallas
Willard or Henri Nouwen, the serious Scriptural scholarship of Walter
Brueggemann or N.T. Wright, the extraordinary wordsmithing of insightful
funeral director Patrick Lynch (a favorite, we’re told, of the poetic
preacher Barbara Brown Taylor) and the important and impeccable pastoral
theology of good friends Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson. There are rigorous
and passionate theological writers like John Piper or Alister McGrath
and those who have earned the right to be heard on anything they write,
like John Stott or Ron Sider or Becky Pippert. There are authors who play
with (post)modern culture like Len Sweet and those who Christianly interact
with it, like Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton. My, my– we are blessed
to have good writers, serious people of faith who go beyond the silliness
and dig deep, creating books which can make a world of difference for
thoughtful seekers.

And, among these favorite authors of ours, Os Guinness stands out as
the finest apologist to the serious contemporary seeker, the prophet of
“the examined life in an unexamined age.” He stands unequaled in today’s
publishing world and I thank God for the privilege of selling his work.
His breadth of knowledge, his elegant British civility, his broad concerns,
ranging from the most personal to the most political and public, his rich
vocabulary and renown delight in making the complex clear–all commend
him as an author you should read, an author you should tell others about,
an author whose books you should own and treasure. In Long Journey
, Guinness wants readers to “engage with every fiber of your being.”
I know there are such readers out there; let us pray this book gets into
their hands!