Guinness’S New Covenant For America

The American Hour: A Time of Reckoning and the Once and Future Role of Faith,by Os Guinness (The Free Press, 458 pp.; $24.95, hardcover). Reviewed by James W. Sire, senior editor and campus lecturer for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and the author of The Universe Next Door and Chris Chrisman Goes to College (forthcoming from IVP).

What will keep America from degen erating into either chaos or tot alitarianism?

America is undergoing the fourth major crisis in its history, according to sociologist Os Guinness. In the first, the issue was independence; in the second, slavery; in the third, economic depression. Today ours is a “crisis of cultural authority.” America’s traditional cultural center is not holding: “Under the impact of modernity, the beliefs, ideals and traditions that have been central to Americans and to American democracy … are losing their compelling cultural power.”

In this closely reasoned, well-documented cultural analysis, the byroads of Guinness’s discourse keep coming back to his main concern: the crying need for a public philosophy—a common vision for the common good. In a society riven by a hundred contending faiths and nonfaiths, we need some common bond that will allow us to live together amid our deep differences.

In part one, Guinness details the multiple routes American culture has taken from Christian theism and Enlightenment deism to contemporary relativism and “cheerful” nihilism. From traditional American ideals (“openness, dynamism, self-reliance, egalitarianism, toughness, risk-taking, and enterprise”), Guinness shows how we have moved to a postmodern stance, which he defines as a series of rejections of traditional values: “a rejection of … content for ...

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