CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

A Faith That Makes a Difference

Sep 9, 2020

Real Christianity has always been about transforming our world – not just individual souls:

Christianity is a very practical faith. It of course offers eternal dividends for those who embrace it, but it also has very real implications for life on this earth. It is not just about pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye, but about positive and lasting significance and change in this world as well.

Although it obviously has a major focus on what lies ahead, Christianity is in many respects the most ‘this-worldly’ of all the major religions. It is not about pulling out of this world, sitting back, watching as things go down the tubes, and simply awaiting the next.

Instead, Christians are to be salt and light right now wherever they find themselves. They are to apply their faith to the whole of life. As such, we seek not just to get individual souls saved and going to heaven, but to have a transformative impact on the world around us.

And that has always been the case. As we read in Acts 17:6 (KJV), the early church “turned the world upside down.” And it has been doing so ever since. Wherever Christians went, social and culture improvements took place. Christians not only evangelised, but they established hospitals, set up schools, engaged in various acts of social reform, helped to raise the status of women and children, and so on.

The whole person in the whole world was ministered to, not just the soul. As the late Christian apologist Norman Geisler once put it:

What sometimes escapes Christians is the fact that the responsibility to love other persons extends to the whole person. That is, man is more than a soul destined for another world; he is also a body living in this world. And as a resident of this time-space continuum man has physical and social needs which cannot be isolated from spiritual needs. Hence, in order to love man as he is – the whole man – one must exercise a concern about his social needs as well as his spiritual needs.

But sadly not all Christians seem to get this. Let me here turn to a humorous episode, then return to the serious. Yesterday on the social media I shared a meme with these words: “I’m a Victorian… Get Me Out of Here!” It is based on an Australian television show, “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!” and it refers to the horrific situation Victorians find themselves in under the most draconian and irrational lockdown in the Western world.

A friend humorously replied: “If it’s deliverance you want…I know a guy…the greatest guy to ever walk the earth.” I then replied, “Yes I already have that deliverance thanks – but I can use some deliverance from an out of control dictatorship that is causing massive damage here.”

While he knew where I was coming from, and I him, sadly there would be many believers who do think like that – and in all seriousness. They are dismissive of any attempts to make things better in this life, and have their eyes only on the next life.

They have an overly-spiritualised Christianity, one that sounds really devout and spiritual, but is far from biblical. These folks really do look down on Christians who take their responsibilities seriously as citizens of two kingdoms. They think that any political and social involvement on our part is a waste of time or is outside of our calling as Christians.

As but one example, there were some Christians who felt that the abolition crusade of English Christian Parliamentarian William Wilberforce was a waste of energy, and that he should not worry about Blacks being in chains, because what they really needed was spiritual freedom. Needless to say, Wilberforce fully rejected such bogus advice.

He dealt with the whole person. Yes, he shared the good news about forgiveness of sins through the work of Christ at Calvary, but he also worked to show practical love for others, not just in his work on slavery, but in so many other areas as well.

Let me close with a few quotes from a recent book on the influence of Christianity written by someone who does not even claim to be an evangelical Christian. As a careful historian, Tom Holland has penned a superb volume looking at how the West would be unrecognisable were it not for Christianity.

Image of Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World
Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World by Array Amazon logo

Indeed, there might be no West if it were not for this one man and his dedicated followers. In his important book Dominion, released last year, he says this early on: “How was it that a cult inspired by the execution of an obscure criminal in a long-vanished empire came to exercise such a transformative and enduring influence on the world?”

He speaks of what he is attempting to do in his 600-page book: “My ambition is hubristic enough as it is: to explore how we in the West came to be what we are, and to think the way that we do. . . . Already, by the time that Anselm died in 1109, Latin Christendom had been set upon a course so distinctive that what today we term ‘the West’ is less its heir than its continuation.”

He goes on to say this:

Today, at a time of seismic geopolitical realignment, when our values are proving to be not nearly as universal as some of us had assumed them to be, the need to recognize just how culturally contingent they are is more pressing than ever. To live in a Western country is to live in a society still utterly saturated by Christian concepts and assumptions. This is no less true for Jews or Muslims than it is for Catholics or Protestants. Two thousand years on from the birth of Christ, it does not require a belief that He rose from the dead to be stamped by the formidable – indeed the inescapable – influence of Christianity. Whether it be the conviction that the workings of conscience are the surest determinants of good law, or that Church and state exist as distinct entities, or that polygamy is unacceptable, its trace elements are to be found everywhere in the West. Even to write about it in a Western language is to use words shot through with Christian connotations. “Religion,” “secular,” “atheist”: none of these are neutral. All, though they derive from the classical past, come freighted with the legacy of Christendom. Fail to appreciate this, and the risk is always of anachronism. The West, increasingly empty though the pews may be, remains firmly moored to its Christian past.

“Christianity,” he writes, “may be the most enduring and influential legacy of the ancient world, and its emergence the single most transformative development in Western history” Absolutely. Let me offer one more quote – this time from his closing chapter:

To be a Christian is to believe that God became man, and suffered a death as terrible as any mortal has ever suffered. This is why the cross, that ancient implement of torture, remains what it has always been: the fitting symbol of the Christian revolution. It is the audacity of it—the audacity of finding in a twisted and defeated corpse the glory of the creator of the universe—that serves to explain, more surely than anything else, the sheer strangeness of Christianity, and of the civilisation to which it gave birth. Today, the power of this strangeness remains as alive as it has ever been. 

Yes, the faith remains, 2000 years on. And that for at least two reasons: one, because it happens to be true, and two, because Christians took their faith seriously and applied it to all of life. They saw their faith as something that spoke to the whole person and to all of society. As a result, they really did change the world.

For further reading

There are many books that deal with the Christian basis of the West, the Influence of Christianity, and all the good that the Christian faith has done over the centuries. Here are 15 of the best of them:

Carroll, Vincent and David Shiflett, Christianity on Trial. Encounter Books, 2002.
D’Sousa, Dinesh, What’s So Great About Christianity? Regnery, 2007.
Hill, Jonathan, What Has Christianity Ever Done For Us? IVP, 2005.
Holland, Tom, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind. Little, Brown, 2019.
Johnston, Jeremiah, Unimaginable: What Our World Would Be Like Without Christianity. Bethany House, 2017.
Kennedy, D. James, What if the Bible Had Never Been Written? Thomas Nelson, 1998.
Kennedy, D. James, What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Mangalwadi, Vishal, The Book That Made Your World. Thomas Nelson, 2011.
Mangalwadi, Vishal, This Book Changed Everything. Vol. 1: The Bible’s Amazing Impact on Our World. SoughtAfterMedia, 2019.
Scott, Otto, The Great Christian Revolution: How Christianity Transformed the World. The Reformer Library, 1994.
Schmidt, Alvin, Under the Influence. Zondervan, 2001 (reissued as How Christianity Changed the World. Zondervan, 2004.)
Sheridan, Greg, God is Good For You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times. Allen & Unwin, 2018.
Spencer, Nick, The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values. SPCK, 2016.
Stark, Rodney, For the Glory of God. Princeton University Press, 2003.
Stark, Rodney, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success. Random House, 2005.

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11 Responses to A Faith That Makes a Difference

  • How TRUE !
    Christianity = Life-changing , World-changing !

  • Australia’s Christian Heritage by Col Stringer (another book worth reading)
    Bill I would like you to tackle another issue in regards to Christianity because this one has me stumped, and that is Church’s divided against each other. When the Lord said that “A house divided against itself will fall” who would have thought that it could also include his own house. There is so many Christian denominations who believe in the same Savior yet they keep fighting among each other over doctrinal differences. I find this to be the hardest stumbling block to overcome. Here’s is just one example. I was sitting in are plane with my husband one day, and I was so pleased to hear are young man witnessing to are another young couple sitting at the back of us. He had their complete attention and clearly they received everything he was saying, and asked him multiple questions. However to my dismay as we were getting up to leave the plane another Christian lady sitting behind them who had also heard the conversation grabbed the young couple as they were leaving and proceeded to tell them that the gentleman in question had made some doctrinal errors and then continued to give her version of the truth. Needless to say the couple who should have been walking away feeling blessed was now walking away very confused. There is so many more examples I can give you, however this is your platform Bill, and clearly you have years of wisdom and knowledge behind you that I just don’t have, so I would really like to hear what you can say on this subject, because I tend to believe this has a lot to do with where we are today. Oh and another thing that I find very interesting is when I ask someone if they are a Christian and they turn around an say “no I am are Catholic”. (which tends to make me giggle a little) I then have to remind them then that means you are a Christian which stuns them are little at first, but then they realize yes I am are Christian. Interesting don’t you think? I don’t think we can really make any head way in trying to change the prospective of how worldly people see us, until the church can pull itself together in love and forgiveness first. What do you think?

  • Hi Bill,
    I read both Part 1 & Part 2. Loved Part 1 it showed a lot of clarity, mentioned love a lot and that spoke to me. However Part 2 seems very complicated and seems to take us back to the core problem within the churches. However I intend reading it again and again so that I have to get the full understanding of what is being said here. Hope you don’t mind if I get back to you on that and talk some more on this subject because it is are powerful one. I came across a book many years ago called “Australia the most Godless Place under Heaven” written by a historian. It appears the Christian Leaders were doing very well, even though they fought over doctrine here and there, they did manage to put their differences aside to get this nation up and running on the right path. Unfortunately many years later they started debating each other over political issues and that is when secularism found its opening and Christianity was found wanting and here we are today. So I guess what I am trying to say is we blew it, and the arguing still goes on today.

  • Dear Bill, Thank you for the article. Obviously Christianity is not practical enough for some Christian leaders. I would have thought at least one or two Christian leaders would have spoken up about the arrest of the pregnant woman in Victoria and the older woman at the protest but unless I have missed it there has been a deathly silence. Also the way the admittedly foul mouthed young woman was handled by police. I am not really surprised because we don’t hear any of them speaking up against abortion anymore although our priest did refer to it in a Gospel reflection he wrote.Also three Christian Church leaders have wrote to the PM about a vaccine for Covid 19 which uses tissue from aborted foetuses so that is something but Christian leaders are certainly not as vocal as they should be.

    Our Lord was certainly not afraid to speak out against the injustices of His day when he turned over the tables in the Temple. It is the duty of all Christians to speak out against injustice and there is certainly plenty of that going on in Victoria right now.

  • Ingrid,
    You should visit http://www.chr.org.au and http://www.nchs.net.au to understand our Christian heritage.

  • Hi Graham, Thank you, I appreciate that. I have looked at the sight and actually don’t know where to start, there is a lot there. However, I do know quite are bit about our heritage and often speak to others about it. I have read two books so far, one from are Christian prospective and one from are secular prospective. I think it is good to see it from both sides, because I would really like to know where the church went wrong. We for some reason can’t get our act together and get back to that place where we could put our differences aside and work together for the good of this nation, but I guess only our Lord can do that. I will be looking into that site that you sent me again, because you can never learn enough can you? I believe knowing everything there is to know about our heritage is a good witnessing tool, don’t you think. Thanks again Graham.

  • Ingrid,
    Look up the page on Revivals especially Robert Evans book on early evangelical revivals.
    Also in the book page there is a book called Southland of the Holy Spirit. It outlines many of the early saints in our colonial history.
    Bless you,
    Graham

  • Thank you so much for that Mark, I know that there is many more like us out there,including who has relentlessly tried to get out the message for years which is why he has my upmost respect and love. He is truly one of those good and faithful servants which I have no doubt about. I looked in those sights you showed me, and what saddens me is that we here in Australia who still live in are free democracy and (supposedly) have rights, can’t even help ourselves, let alone help other countries out there. At least Trump has got it right, he wants to get America back and build it up and strong again, and even he is struggling with all the churches over there, a lot of them don’t even want to vote. The church is meant to be Christ’s body on this earth, he works through us and that has been proven time and time again. Before we can even change what is happening here in our nation, the church needs to get it act together and repent ( 2 Tim 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sounds mind”) before we can start operating in the Lord’s power.
    We are the church, Mark and we all need to start talking to our church leaders, and get them to do what they are suppose to be doing, and that is leading us into what our Lord has called us to do, because if they don’t our Lord will raise up new leaders to lead his church.
    My words may sound strong, but at the moment I believe our Lord is angry and he wants us to start throwing up some tables.
    I wish to share this with you, it was something I posted to are friend, perhaps you can share it with others if you feel led, but I think it is time to roar like an angry lion, because there is another lion out there ready to take what is not his. This is our territory!

    Sorry Suzanne and Michelle, I have to totally disagree with you, as I will be trying to hold onto what little ground we have left until his return. Rev: 3 1:3 These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, BUT YOU ARE DEAD. WAKE UP! STRENGTHEN WHAT REMAINS AND IS ABOUT TO DIE, for I have not found your DEEDS COMPLETE in the sight of my God. REMEMBER WHAT YOU HAVE RECEIVED and heard, obey it, and REPENT. Because if you do not WAKEUP, I will come like a thief and you will not know at what time I will come to you”………………….. The Lord is not talking to the world here, he is talking to his church.
    Australia is our heritage from our God above, it belongs to us, his people and the devil has come to take it away from us because we have been asleep at the wheel. We should have been steering this God given nation of ours in the right direction, instead we let others take over the wheel.
    We need to have the same heart as Abram had when the Lord told him he was going to destroy Sodom & Gomorrah. Abram pleaded to the Lord to save it if there were any righteous people left in it. Look around you, do you really believe that there are people around us who are not deserving of our Lord’s love too. That there is no hope for them. Do you really believe that we are that special? He gave his life for them too, or have you forgotten?
    It is our fault that our nation has come to the state that it is now, not theirs. We are meant to be the salt and light of this nation, and yet most of the people in this nation don’t even respect us anymore let alone believe anything we have to say. Maybe we all need to be asking ourselves why that is? There are people out their right now, especially in Victoria who are crying out “where are the Christian Churches” where is their voice? But that’s okay, we are all going up in the rapture. Right?
    Our forefathers are the ones who built up this nation of ours, but not without sacrifice, boldness and hard work. It was not all about churches back then. They had to set the framework in place first before the churches could prosper and grow fruit within this nation and then later into the rest of the world, and guess what, that also included Government. How many of us actually know that both the Liberal and Labor Parties were actually started by Christians? Not to mention some of our well-known newspapers like the Western Australian. Now look at them. Do you think the Lord is pleased with us about that? Do you really think he is going to take us up in are rapture where we all believe we will be addressed as “Good and Faithful Servant” when in fact we failed to water and fertilize the very ground he gave us to watch over, because I certainly don’t.
    Even Jesus himself pleaded with our Father for our lives, which is why he gave his life for us. The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree refers to us. Where is our fruit to day? We live in are free country (at the moment) where we can still preach the gospel. The Lord gave it to us, don’t you think he can also take it away from us if we are no longer producing fruit? Look what Jesus did to the fig tree when it had no fruit. Where’s the fruit now, today?
    When our Lord Jesus was asked when the end would be. He said he did not know, and that only our Father in heaven knows. Why do you think that is? I believe it is because our God is a Gracious God who wants none to perish. Like the Israelite’s of old who lost all because they failed to obey our Lord and worshiped other Gods instead (which in many ways many of us are doing now) they were forced to fall on their knees and ask for forgiveness. This happened time and time again and I believe it is now our time.
    The churches of old were never comfortable, but we are far to comfortable. We sit in lovely big churches surrounded with beautiful music and receive these lovely inspiring words. Then we get in our little groups, having coffee, tea and biscuits sharing our lives and our Christians stories, whilst all the while the rug is being pulled out from underneath us, and that is our freedoms. Freedoms that were God given and which he can take away in an instant. Have we forgotten that he is in control, not the devil? The devil only gets away with what he is allowed to get away with, and we are the ones allowing all this to happen on our watch. We are like Ishmael’s giving away our heritage for are piece of bread. “Jacob, he loved, Ishmael he hated”. Why because he had no respect for what our Lord had given him, he just wanted quick gratification.
    Wake up and repent. That should be something we can all agree on, but as for the rapture we must also remember that when we try and enter that door to our Heavenly Father’s kingdom, that we are not so confident as to believe that it is our works that are saving us because he can just as easily turn around and say “Go away I never knew you”.
    This ship may be sinking but if it is going to go down, I want to go down at least trying to strengthen what remains and trying not to allow our Politicians (who have been led astray and blinded by mammon & power) to sell off the rest of our God given country and heritage for are piece of bread. From now on I am going to watch our Politicians very carefully and let them know just how I feel. How about you?

  • Thank you Mark for passing on the information and petitions to me. I have signed and will be passing them on. The one about the Priest really resonated with me, and I guess in my own way that is what I am trying to get across to those within the church. I wished that we had are strong leader over here in Western Australia like Chandler, or Hanson or Lambie. Certainly something to pray about.

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