compliments. But Os Guinness' book is not just a "good book." It is the best book I have read in a long while. If I had my way, all that this review needs is a simple imperative: READ IT! But since the conventions of a book review require me to say more, here is the verbiage (I mean, summary!).
The book has a subtitle: Finding and fulfilling the central purpose of your life. Essentially it is a book on Christian discipleship. What in the world does it mean to be a Christian? Os Guinness defines it simply as "being called." Why so?
In Os Guinness' own words: "calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is vested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service."
Guinness spells it out in more detail as a move beyond success to significance, not because we seek Him (would a mouse seek out a cat?!), but because He has found us out. And in being found, we know who we are. In Bonhoeffer's terms, "Whoever I am, Thou knowest O God, I am Thine."
This helps us avoid the "Catholic distortion" that only the religious professional is worthy of being "called." It will also help us avoid the "Protestant distortion" that all work is sacred. Work is not sacred in itself (because it can be a drudgery); it is sacred only as we do it as for Christ.
How might we know if what we do we are "called" to do? The secret lies in doing what we are: where our gifts lie, for the service of God and men. An example is the Apostle who is known as a missionary to the Gentiles, never as a tentmaker - though it was the tent-making that freed him to be the Christian he wanted to be!
One of Guinness' contentions is that Christians are not what we ought to be. We no longer turn the world upside down as the first Christians did. Could it be that our religious faith has become part of our comfort zone, with an expectation of God doing our bidding (via praying!) as opposed to our bowing before the awesome majesty of God each day?
One clue to this state of affairs lies in our value system. We do things to look good before the person or persons we serve (be it the boss or the public), but no longer for what Guinness calls "the audience of One" (God Himself). And yet until we are consumed by this passion that we live in imitation of Christ, life's ultimate purpose will always elude us. And the litmus test of this is whether we see all of life, all that we do, as a responsibility lived to God, and God alone.
This does not mean, however, that we live to God alone in disregard of the structures and institutions of society. We are called in community, and no matter how corrupt or inept the institution or the church may be, it is before this community that our witness to the reality of God stands. The irony, of course, is that institutions (including both the church and Christian organizations) often pretend that they alone embody the absoluteness or purity of the Gospel. It is precisely that illusion that often leads to a deadening of life and spirit within that community. Guinness contends that discipleship is an "unfinished journey." In a sense, we should never be too sure of ourselves; the illusion of certainty leads invariably to what he calls "sins of the noble mind." The more sincere we are, the more vicious we can be in the pursuit of our own validation.
Of course, not only does the church stand precarious in the face of the possibility of self-destruction. All of society is heading towards this annihilation in the insatiable quest for greater speed and never-ending acquisitiveness. Along the way, we practise the "revenge of failure" (preventing others from getting what we cannot achieve), and accumulate to ourselves the "corrosive boredom" of not knowing what to do with all the time we have saved with all that speed! While we have more choices than ever before, we are a generation with less gratitude than previous aeons!
What is the Christian response to all this? In Guinness' frame of mind, it is only in being "fools for Christ" that we hope to recover our sanity in a world gone mad, and finish well at the end of life's pilgrimage.
The Call is a book that is at the same time profound and provocative. It makes you think about your Christian faith in a way you've never done before. Together with a breadth of knowledge (Guinness quotes extensively from the works of scientists, historians, sociologists, economists, novelists, poets and dramatists) and an incredible skill at weaving stories into the structure of his argument, Guinness' book is at once edifying and enlightening. Its unique value lies in challenging us to move beyond thinking of faith in terms of individual salvation, to thinking of how we might be God's agents for the transformation of life and society, and the fulfilling of His designs.
If there is only one book you need to read to help you begin living meaningfully as a Christian in the plethora of challenges that the complexity of life in the 21st century presents, this would be it.
(Review by Ng Seng Chuan)