“The grandest and most magnificent human endeavors are only sandcastles washed away by time and tide”Carpe Diem Redeemed, 13.
Title: Carpe Diem Redeemed: Seizing the Day, Discerning the Times
Author: Os Guinness
Publisher: IVP Books
Length: 176 pages
Date: September 24, 2019
One of the first books I finished this year was Carpe Diem Redeemed by Os Guinness. Part history, part philosophy, and part Christian living—I wasn’t sure what to make of this book at first. But by the time I had finished it, I was glad to have read it.
Here are five key takeaways from the book.
1 – The Christian Perspective on Time Is Unique
How we think about time affects how we spend it. So how should Christians view time? Guinness suggests that there are four dominant views of time and history which have arisen out of three the three major faith families. These are cyclical, covenantal, and chronological. Christianity espouses the covenantal view of time. This unique view has wide-sweeping implications.
Christians do not share the ultimate meaninglessness of the Eastern religions, who believe that time is cyclical and ultimately headed nowhere. We understand that God is sovereignly guiding time toward a meaningful culmination. And that makes all the difference in how we live now. In the first chapter Guinness writes, “There is no surer foundation, no stronger propulsion, and no more soaring vision of carpe diem than within the biblical or covenantal view of time.”
2 – The Invention of the Clock Changed Our View of Time
The invention of the mechanical clock around AD 1400 has had far-reaching consequences for how mankind now views the world. Called, “the mother of machines” the mechanical clock allowed man, for the first time, to measure time with precision. Hourglasses and sundials gave us an approximation of time, but nothing came close to the clock. The mechanical clock brought with it precision, coordination, pressure, and ultimately the Industrial Revolution.
Time has chased man since the Fall in Genesis 3, but the mechanical clock transformed time from a shadowy specter to an ever-present ticking tyrant. And it was a distinctly Western despot. Guinness noted some humorous sayings that have come from non-Western people who witnessed the obedience Westerners exhibit toward time. Filipinos have a saying, “Westerners are people with gods on their wrists” and Kenyans, “All Westerners have watches. Africans have time” (51). When you pause to reflect on it, much of what differentiates Western culture from other cultures is our view of time.
I found this striking since so much of how I approach productivity is in slavish obedience to specific time. This insight alone has put me on a path of thinking about how the way we believers in the West view productivity has been shaped by the assumptions that clock-time has created. Should we be living less by the clock and more by priorities? If we are really to redeem productivity from worldly views, we will need to first redeem our view of time.
3 – Bad Philosophies Are Rooted in Wrong Views of Time
In chapter 3, Guinness talks about the hidden tyranny of time and how that affects not just the individual but society. He shows that the faulty philosophy of progressivism is erected upon the unstable equation that change plus time is always a positive thing.
We see this in our world today, most evidently in politics and faith, “progress is taken as automatically and self-evidently positive—regardless of the content of what is being proposed under its banner. For modern people, the sheer claim to progress is argument enough” (62).
There is a philosophical belief about time that stands behind major societal and religious changes. “… progressive is the alias and the alibi for postmodernism, political correctness, socialism, social constructionism, cultural Marxism, the sexual revolution and the like. If they are progressive, who needs to think about them?” (64).
Insights like these are worthwhile in how we think about our own philosophy of personal productivity. Have Enlightenment assumptions about time and progress been mixed in with the batter? How can we learn to identify these appealing yet faulty ideas when we encounter them in secular material on success and productivity?
4 – God Reveals Himself in Time
I remember as I was studying systematic theology asking the question, “why didn’t God give us an inspired systematic theology book instead of the Bible?” I mean, wouldn’t it be more convenient if you could just look up the word faith and have an authoritative, infallible, and inerrant definition of what faith is? Shouldn’t he have just given us a list of doctrines organized by category? Instead, however, God has chosen to reveal Himself mostly through a variety of genres but predominantly historical narrative. Why?
Guinness notes that perhaps one of the reasons God reveals Himself through history instead of philosophy is because faithfulness is the central notion of faith. “Faith in God is not the conclusion of a syllogism or the last link that completes an intellectual chain of logic. God is known in the Bible through the story of encounters, in experience, in history. The Jews knew God unmistakably because he rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and they saw and experience his majesty at Mt. Sinai.” (78). Our view of time matters because God revealed Himself in time.
5 – Time Has a Destination
Ultimately, time is headed somewhere. Some Christians like to mock interest in eschatology (the theology of last things) as needless speculation. But how time ends changes everything about how time should be spent right now. Believers are informed in the Scriptures about the final destination of time. We know the King returns, the enemy loses, and we will rule and reign with Christ on a New Earth. We know that judgment awaits those who refuse to bow the knee now to Christ now, and we know that there is a reward for faithful service unto Him. That changes how one lives right now. The reason I care as much as I do about productivity is because of my eschatology. How a person lives is a result of what they believe about time.
A hedonist, then, is a person with a wrong eschatology. They seek present pleasure as their highest-end because they don’t truly believe the Bible about what it says is coming. It is our knowledge of what God is bringing that should compel us to redeem the time and to seize the day. We seek to be productive believers because we really believe. But the ultimate seizing of the day belongs to Christ. And it’s for that day that we long.
“But the grand, final, ultimate carpe diem is in God’s hands, not ours. One day, the day that is the end of all days, God will seize the day as only God can. He will seize time and history in an ultimate way and reveal his meaning for humanity, for the eath, and for the universe.” (133).
Conclusion and Caveat
I did enjoy and benefit from this book. But let me sketch a few caveats before I send you on your way. This is not a book on productivity. It’s more of a philosophy and history of time from a Christian perspective. Taken as such I think it can be very helpful.
This is the first book I’ve read by Os Guinness. I am, therefore, not very familiar with his theological viewpoint. And there were a few times when I wasn’t sure exactly what he was getting at or if I agreed with him. This was especially true with regard to the topic of human freedom and Guinness’s view on the future salvation of the Jewish people. These subjects concern soteriology (the theology of salvation), so I would be remiss if I suggested this book to you without registering my few concerns.
We may very well agree theologically, but I found that the way Guinness talked about these topics left me unclear as to his position on them. Whether intentional or not, that obfuscation could lead readers to draw unbiblical conclusions about the nature of salvation and God’s sovereignty. My position (and I believe the Bible’s position) is that Jews and Gentiles are saved by faith alone in Christ alone and that this is wholly the sovereign work of God. I also believe that there will be a future ingathering of national Israel in which the Jewish people will look on Christ and be saved. But this salvation will not happen apart from faith in Jesus Christ.
Again, I’m not saying Guinness doesn’t believe these same things, but I found him to be unclear enough that I felt this caveat was necessary. So, I would just encourage you to always be reading with discernment, even with respected authors. I still do recommend Carpe Diem Redeemed, there is a lot of insight to be gained from it. But if you do pick up a copy, read it like you would any book, with your mind turned on and Bible open.
Disclaimer: IVP provided me with a review copy of this book free of charge.