The story of the Exodus is a familiar one to Christians. But a profound and moving new book by Os Guinness will help all but the most brilliant Bible scholars look at it in new and fascinating ways.
The book, The Magna Carta of Humanity: Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and the Future of Freedom, arrives with America divided about the best way forward. Does it right its course by returning to its Judeo-Christian roots, or continue down the road to a secular society?
“The deepest roots of the present division lie in the ideas and ideals of a revolution that is flatly opposed to the American Revolution,” Guinness writes. “In one generation America has been bewitched by ideas and ideals that owe nothing to 1776 and the American Revolution, and everything to 1789 and the French Revolution. In short, partly through design and partly through drift, America appears to be abandoning the ideals of the American Revolution for ideas that are disastrous not only to America but to freedom and the future of humanity.”
Os Guinness’ background
Guinness brings a unique set of qualifications to his role as a cultural critic yet an admirer of the American experiment. A descendant of the Guinness brewing family, he was born during World War II in China, where his parents served as medical missionaries. He witnessed the end of the Chinese Communist Revolution and the beginning of Mao Zedong’s Reign of Terror before being expelled from the country with other foreigners in 1951.
Educated in England, where he received his doctorate from Oriel College, Oxford, Guinness moved to the United States in 1984. He has written or edited thirty-five books.
As a witness to so much history, he draws deeply on its lessons in helping chart a path for America’s future.
What is the Sinai Revolution?
“The best way forward for America and the world must be through rediscovery and a fresh examination of what I will call the Sinai Revolution,” he writes. “Historically, it was the Exodus Revolution, and not the French Revolution, that lay behind the genius of America’s ordered freedom or covenantal and constitutional freedom. A rediscovery of the foundational principles of the Exodus Revolution is therefore the once and future secret of true revolutionary faith and a sure path to freedom, justice, equality, and peace. . . .
“Rightly understood, there is no rival to the Exodus Revolution in its realistic and its constructive understanding of freedom. Sinai, and not Paris, represents such a beacon of freedom that it should be recognized as nothing less than the Magna Carta of humanity.”
The Latin words Magna Carta mean “Great Charter” and typically refer to an agreement between King John of England and his nobles in 1215, one of the foundational documents in the evolution of freedom in the West. Its full name was Magna Carta Libertatum or Great Charter of Liberties.
“A perfect template for revolutionary change”
Guinness, one of the leading Christian thinkers, makes it clear freedom and responsibility go hand in hand since God is the source of our freedom and dignity. “Human beings will never be prized more highly than when they are seen as bearers of the image of God,” he writes.
He notes that in the beginning, God gave humans dominion over the earth, but not each other.
“Any oppression of humans by other humans, such as racism, is a supreme abuse of power and a violation of their status created in the image and likeness of God himself,” Guinness writes.
In freeing the Jews from captivity in Egypt and establishing a covenant with them at Mount Sinai, God established a perfect template for revolutionary change.
“No account of any revolution is less romanticized, yet the Exodus Revolution still stands as the most revolutionary revolution in history, as well as the most positive and influential,” Guinness writes. “The liberation at the heart of Exodus is the ultimate revolution, just as its vision remains the deepest and most comprehensive pattern for freedom. The exodus rescue of the Hebrew people from bondage and brutal oppression is a great liberation that teaches more about personal and political freedom than any other event or text in history.”
Guinness makes clear in the introduction his intellectual debt to the late British Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who put it this way: “For nowhere else do we find anything like the politics of Mount Sinai, with its radical vision of a society held together not by power but by the free consent of its citizens to be bound, individually and collectively, by a moral code and a covenant with God.”
The difference of forgiveness
Guinness takes the progressive left to task, and not just for its secular principles but also for its tactics such as cancel culture and propaganda promoting political correctness.
“The left constantly castigates its enemies for their flagrant sins, such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, but it offers no mercy and no forgiveness,” he writes. “There is no way back from any of their sins.”
And there lies a fundamental difference with the biblical worldview. Two thousand years ago, God issued a new covenant, offering forgiveness to all.
As those who have been eternally blessed by that forgiveness, it can harm our witness profoundly if we then withhold forgiveness from others. When we give it as freely as the Lord, however, we demonstrate the power and relevance of our faith in ways that will stand out even more as they become increasingly rare. That, in turn, can lead to the kind of revolutionary change our culture needs so badly.