Last Call for Liberty: How America's Genius for Freedom Has Become Its Greatest Threat, by Os Guinness. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2018, 336 pages, $27.00.
For most of his career Os Guinness, who is British, has been a keen observer of the United States. He is convinced that no other country stands at the crossroads as does America. His first major study of the United States. was The American Hour, published in 1993. It was a sweeping, detailed, historical look at the second half of the twentieth century. These succeeding decades illustrate a gradual loss of the genial vision of the Founding Fathers. Then, the hard-hitting question, can the country sustain the freedom of speech established by the Framers? More recently Guinness has written A Free People’s Suicide (2012), in which the warnings become more pressing. Then, convinced of the need to be more constructive, he wrote Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times (2014), followed by Impossible People, subtitled, Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization (2016). While each of these contains significant variations, the theme that unites them is something like this: freedom of speech, the respect for those with deep differences, the need for civil discourse, cannot be sustained without the other two great qualities, virtue and faith.
In this (final?) iteration, he repeats this call, and appeals to the notion of covenant as alone able to support this trilogy of merits. But the book carries a greater sense of urgency than the previous volumes, which is to say quite a lot. Guinness argues that the real and present danger is not from without but from within. Simply put, we Americans need to choose between the values proclaimed by two revolutions, the American and the French. We are rapidly forgetting the original, covenantal idea of freedom of 1776, and trading it in for the French revolutionary idea of 1789. According to the former, true freedom can only be undergirded where there is character, and character is only possible where there is religious faith.
Guinness structures the book with a series of questions, each of which call for a conversation. Among others, he asks how much Americans know about our history, how is freedom defined, how can the world be made safe for diversity, which institutions will carry the weight of the crucial qualities, and the like. As are all his works, this one is learned and original. In my opinion, Guinness has moved ahead from his former style, where names and quotes come at us like water from a fire hydrant, to a more flowing narrative, building an edifice that is logical and cogent.
Guinness writes as a Christian. Readers of this journal might have wished for more resolute appeals to biblical orthodoxy, though. In the chapter titled “Where Do You Ground Your Faith in Human Freedom?” he contrasts, as he has done in previous works, three families of faith, the Eastern, the secularist, and the Judeo-Christian, or, as he calls it, the Abrahamic. After brilliantly critiquing the first two, he then writes a section in defense of what he considers the most important biblical doctrine for our times, the image of God. The chapter stresses the freedom we have to receive or reject God, which, although right in itself, could have benefitted from some warnings against Arminianism, which in the end does not promote freedom, but (paradoxically) hinders it. That said, the book is “prophetic” and needs to be read by all who seriously desire freedom.
William Edgar is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as professor of apologetics and ethics at Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, Pennsylvania. Ordained Servant Online, June–July 2019.