Study Guide

Unspeakable

by Os Guinness

Unspeakable Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Throughout his career as a speaker and writer, Os Guinness has sought to provide a contemporary audience with a foundation for Christian faith marked by an intellectual solidity that is often sorely lacking among popular Christian authors today. Since as far back as the early 1970’s, as a member of Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri community in Switzerland, Guinness’s approach to apologetics has been marked by his attention to the necessity of grounding and legitimizing Christianity in ways that directly confront the diversity of competing worldviews. For example, Guinness rejected the 1960’s youth culture’s turn to the East for spiritual inspiration, arguing that the Eastern path offered escape but no real answers to their longings. However, instead of a predictably Eurocentric appeal for Christianity, he offered an analysis of Eastern-influenced spirituality that revealed the failure of the gurus and their disciples to confront the fullness of the Eastern traditions, an approach that is echoed in Unspeakable. Similarly, in books such as The Call (1998) and Fit Bodies, Fat Minds (1994), Guinness has attacked the anti-intellectual spirit of many American evangelicals and instead has pursued a rearticulation of the basics of the Christian faith sparked with insights drawn from a wide range of sources, both religious and secular.

Guinness’s 2005 Unspeakable provides its readers with an approach to the age-old questions of evil and suffering that are firmly planted in the context of a post-9/11 pastoral theology. From the outset, Guinness insists on a realistic confrontation with the monstrosity of evil in the modern world. This insistence upon a full awareness that evil does, indeed, exist may be the most important contribution of the book. Guinness’s emphasis on the reality of evil and suffering often makes for a difficult reading experience, and many readers may find themselves pressed to abandon the book because of its relentless accounting of atrocities. At the same time, the book’s pressing concern with a wide range of modern horrors—from the Holocaust and the Chinese Cultural Revolution to ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia and the Rwandan genocide—underscores...

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Unspeakable Bibliography (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Cooper, Ilene. Review of Unspeakable. Booklist, February 1, 2005, p. 919. A descriptive review.

Karel, Thomas A. Review of Unspeakable. Library Journal 130, no. 6 (April 1, 2005): 112. Brief review that assesses Guinness’s book as “unpleasant but probably necessary” and a good starting point for discussion of the issues it addresses.

Publishers Weekly. Review of Unspeakable. 251, no. 51 (December 20, 2004): 55. Brief review that concludes that the book “makes a compelling case for faith, and courage, in the face of evil’s dark reality.”

Wachter, Paul. “Confronting a Culture of Fear.” America 192, no. 12 (April 4, 2005): 32-33. Negative review of Unspeakable in which the assistant editor of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s One magazine concludes that “In times of bad fortune, people tend to cling to their beliefs, whatever those may be. Guinness provides no compelling reason to do otherwise.”