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The Book that Made the World: review

By Bill Muehlenberg - posted Friday, 7 October 2011


The broad-brush thesis of this book is this: without the Judeo-Christian worldview, there would be no Western civilisation as we know it. The Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament have contributed more to the development of the West than any other single factor.

In over 400 information-rich pages the Indian-born scholar documents how the Bible directly and profoundly contributed to the rise of the West. And not only has the West benefited immeasurably – so too has the rest of the world. Indeed, he argues that the "Bible was the force that created modern India" as well.

Of course this thesis is not new. One thinks of the recent works by Rodney Stark, Jonathan Hill, or Alvin Schmidt. Also recall the two volumes by D. James Kennedy: What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? (1994) and What if the Bible Had Never Been Written? (1998).

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But here we have a masterful presentation of the data in a finely written and cogently argued volume. As Mangalwadi reminds us, the Bible first of all transforms individual human beings, who in turn transform entire nations. In every area of life we see this remarkable record of personal and social transformation.

In whatever area we examine, we see the hand of Scripture all over it. Be it science, or health care, or literature, or learning, or liberty, the biblical worldview touched and transformed entire societies. Mangalwadi very capably discusses the big picture as well as the many individual cases.

Consider the area of technology for example. A quote from Marburg historian Ernst Benz sets the stage: "Christian beliefs provided the rationale, and faith the motive energy for western technology." Says Mangalwadi, "Benz had studied and experienced Buddhism in Japan. The antitechnological impulses in Zen led him to explore whether Europe's technological advances were somehow rooted in Christian beliefs and attitudes. His research led him to the conclusion that the biblical worldview was indeed the key to understanding Western technology."

While Indian sages presented God as a dancer or dreamer, the biblical God was a Creator God, the architect of the cosmos. And the incarnation of Jesus reminded Christian philosophers that matter had a spiritual purpose in its creation. Thus Biblical cosmology had a direct bearing on the rise of Western science and technology.

But as Mangalwadi notes, Christian compassion was an equally important factor: "Christian spirituality has emphasized compassion, service, and liberation far more than the need to establish human dominion over creation." That is indeed a vital element here.

He reminds us that India and Africa did not lack in ingenious minds; but how they were deployed matters greatly. "The Egyptians living along the Nile built the pyramids while barbarians inhabited Western Europe. The problem was that the engineers who made pyramids to honor the bones of kings and queens did not bother making wheelbarrows for their slaves."

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Speaking of slavery, he reminds us of how early on anti-slavery sentiment arose in Christian communities. Christians were the main ones responsible for ending slavery in the West. He cites Professor Stark: "A virtual Who's Who of 'Enlightenment' figures fully accepted slavery. . . . It was not philosophers or secular intellectuals who assembled the moral indictment of slavery, but the very people they held in such contempt: men and women having intense Christian faith, who opposed slavery because it was sin."

Or consider the rise of the modern university and education. Mangalwadi asks why his university in Allahabad had a church, but no Hindu temple or Muslim mosque: "Because the university was invented and established by Christians." We are reminded that while there were brilliant Greeks and Romans, they "established no permanent institutions, no libraries, and no scholarly guilds."

All that basically came from Christians. The medieval monasteries were the seed bed of the European universities. Indeed, many of these monasteries and cathedral schools developed into these great universities. And almost all education back then was in fact Church education, something which atheist H.G. Wells even had to admit.

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About the Author

Bill Muehlenberg is Secretary of the Family Council of Victoria, and lectures in ethics and philosophy at various Melbourne theological colleges.

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