In his book The Great Quest, Os Guinness challenges readers to answer the call of Socrates and live an examined life. However, when all is said is done there remains some question as to how sincere Guinness in his aim, and if he himself might have more examining to do.
By Its Cover
David Fasset’s cover design is elegant in its simplicity. Slightly debossed gold foil set against a royal blue cover, with two of Fasset’s delicate mandala-esque symbols providing the only artwork. The entire cover is beautiful in its minimalist design.
As for the quality of materials, InterVarsity Press has produced a slim paperback that can stand up to multiple readings and aggressive annotations. With their ongoing commitment to ecological stewardship and conservation of resources, this book was printed on sustainably resourced materials, which adds to the quality.
By Its Merits
This book will be most valuable to Christians who already believe as Guinness does that faith in Christ is the only way to live a fully examined life. However, there are reasons to assume that other audiences will not be as convinced by Guinness’s work in The Great Quest.
By Its Faults
As mentioned above, there is some question as to Guinness’s sincerity in calling his readers to an examined life. For starters, he seems to write with an us-vs-them mentality for those who hold different worldviews. As an example, Guinness names those who express a lack of faith as ‘the nones,’ and writes disparagingly of them as individuals rather than of their specific worldview. “Many of the nones sound if they are as knowledgeable as Plato even when they spout nonsense (2).” Guinness writes this way of the elites (2), intellectuals (11, 36), Marxists (60-61), relativists (73), atheists, materialists, naturalists, and secularists (75-76), celebrities (80), Darwinians (92), and Richard Dawkins (106). It is no surprise that Guinness disagrees with these individuals. However, he seems to aim his disagreement towards the individuals themselves rather than towards their systems of belief. Had Guinness presented an overview of the shortcomings of those various worldviews, he might have been able to convince those who hold such views to consider his position. By writing disparagingly of those who embrace different worldviews rather than making much of an effort to show why those worldviews are flawed, however, Guinness undermines himself, turning away members of his audience who might benefit from what he has to say.
Guinness also seems to hold little respect for religions other than Christianity. This is perhaps no surprise, but the levels of disrespect he displays will surely close the ears of those who, again, might benefit from what he has to say.Brother Dan
Guinness also seems to hold little respect for religions other than Christianity. This is perhaps no surprise, but the levels of disrespect he displays will surely close the ears of those who, again, might benefit from what he has to say. For example, Guinness presents himself as being familiar with a spectrum of worldviews, especially Eastern religions, asserting “I knew them well from my boyhood in Asia.” Yet when quoting from the Tao Te Ching, a central religious text in Taoism, Guinness offers attribution only to ‘the Chinese.’ “A journey of a thousand miles, as the Chinese say, begins with a single step (42).” By not recognizing the Taoist roots of this simple verse, especially in a book about examining various religions, Guinness calls into question his own assertion that he is someone familiar enough with the world religions that he can be trusted as a guide.
Perhaps most alarming is Guinness’s insistence on combining Judaism and Christianity (26-28, et al), which is a sure way of losing Jewish readers. The moment that most clearly demonstrates Guinness’s carelessness in this regard comes when he makes a perniciously false claim about the Jewish understanding of the name of God. “God, whom Jews and Christians address as YAHWEH (83).” Yahweh is an anglicized pronunciation of a word that those in the Jewish faith make no attempt to pronounce. Instead, the word is referred to by Jewish people simply as ‘haShem’ or ‘the Name.’ Guinness’s oversight here would be treated by Jewish readers as another example of a Christian attempting to appropriate the Jewish God, and would therefore lose Guinness his entire Jewish audience.
With all this in mind, there is some question as to exactly who Guinness is trying to reach with this text. He claims at the beginning that his approach “will be to show you a path, with signposts, which you will have to follow for yourself – and then find what you find as you search (29).” This makes it sound as if the reader will be left alone to draw their own conclusions, but this ultimately is not the case. Guinness writes later, “every seeker should be encouraged to investigate the claims of Jesus and the gospel for themselves, and to be convinced of the final reason to believe the Christian faith is true (91).” However, Guinness makes almost no effort to demonstrate that the Christian faith is true. For example, Guinness writes, “the charge that secularism is rational whereas the Christian faith is irrational is a slander, and not even rational for anyone who checks the evidence for himself (107).” Unfortunately, Guinness offers no evidence, other than his own say-so. Along with what has already been said above, the best audience for The Great Quest will be Christians who are already convinced of Christianity, but who might want to be reassured. Other than that, while his invitation to an examined life is an important one, there are few readers who will find Guinness’s work convincing enough to be helpful.
By Its Rating
For the reasons outlined above, Os Guinness’s The Great Quest left me half-skeptical.
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