Why we need to (properly) understand Christian history

I saw this video (below) posted by Wanda at SmartChristian.net that briefly describes the positive influence Christianity has had on the world. I believe that having a good understanding of history is important, so I thought it would be good to post it here, too. I will also review some of my own thoughts on the subject and share what others a lot smarter than me have to say about it.

While we certainly do live in a post-Christendom world, I would argue that we don’t live in a post-Christian one (see my post, “Christendom is dead…long live Christianity!“). Actually, what we call “Christianity” is currently being mercifully loosed from its cultural trappings and becoming more clearly defined according to Scripture.

Here’s what I mean: fifty years ago most people claimed to be “Christian” because they went to church (or worse, because they were Americans). That’s not true today. Now, a growing number of people claim to be Christian because they’re faithfully following Christ (imperfectly, of course). And I would say this is a really good trend.

Here’s the clip that I mentioned. While it’s not thorough, it does give a good summary of Christianity’s positive influence.

In “How Christianity Shaped Western Values,” I shared a video conversation between agnostic historian Tom Holland and Bible scholar N.T. Wright that further brings this point home. The following is a description of the video: 

“An agnostic in terms of his religious commitments, Tom Holland has nevertheless described the way that the birth of Christianity has shaped much of what we value in Western society in terms of human rights, culture and rule of law. He engages with NT Wright on the way that Paul and the early Christian movement stood in stark contrast to the prevailing Roman culture of its day.”

Holland says that the more he understood the mindset of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, the more alien they seemed to him, to where he finally realized, “As far as my values and background are concerned, I am a Christian.” (Remember, he’s an agnostic.)  Here is a short clip of this conversation between Holland and Wright but you can also watch the whole show here. I would strongly recommend you watch the whole thing because they go in much greater depth on the subject.

Holland’s honest assessment is refreshing, and videos like these are important because so many of our Christian despisers feed us caricatures of Christian history, cherry-picking the worst parts in order to create their straw-man that any sane person would detest. However, anyone with even a modicum of historical knowledge would know that this argument is bogus and easily refuted.

Furthermore, human beings certainly don’t need religion to poison everything. We did quite well poisoning everything during the 20th Century—one the most inhumane and violent centuries in history—and totally for secular reasons.

David Bentley Hart also says that while we shouldn’t deny where people were behaving badly in the name of Christ, what’s missing from the skeptic’s rather scathing depiction of Christian history is causality and how the interests of the political state influenced these actions, as he states in the video interview, “The Violence of Christian History

“But again, the question is one of causality, and often what one finds to be the case, is that any sin, any evil, committed by a Christian person or a Christian people, becomes an argument not only against that person or that people but against the entire tradition of Christian belief and the existence of God, as if one can make a leap from that to the other.”

We who follow Christ don’t need to sugarcoat history in order to claim its positive influence on our culture, even on secular culture. While we readily admit there were atrocities done in His name in history, we also need to clearly understand they were done in direct contradiction to Christ’s teachings and life, so we should not allow the ignorant denial of Christianity’s positive influence go unanswered.

NOTE: Tim O’Neill, who is an atheist himself, has a blog titled, “History for Atheists” that refutes a lot of the bad history we get from the so-called New Atheists. This is a good resource to answer the common historical myths from popular atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Carrier.

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 38 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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11 Responses to Why we need to (properly) understand Christian history

  1. Very cool, Mel. My favorite part of course is, “Christiandom is dead…long live Christianity.” There is just a whole lot of shaking going on in the Christian world right now and those words remind me that that can really be a good thing. Sometimes you have to dump everything out in order to clean it up and get organized. Rather then a negative, this can be the best thing ever.

    Many people here in the Western world don’t really understand that, “alien nature of the world” that Tom Holland speaks of. We tend to live in a Christian bubble in the Western world, even the atheists, and we tend to take our own reality for granted.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yes, the shaking going on is definitely a very good thing. Jesus’ Church is getting born again-again. 🙂 Like with any living thing, there needs to be pruning and change for healthy growth, but the end result is something better. We shouldn’t worry if we smell the smoke of some burnt-off branches.

      Of course, I agree about the bubble. We really don’t understand how alien a world without Christianity would be because it’s the fishbowl we’ve all been swimming in, whether believer or atheist, for so long. It’s so deeply embedded in our “normal” that it seems “secular” to us!

  2. hawk2017 says:

    Excellent. TY.

  3. Bill Sweeney says:

    Great post and videos.

  4. Pingback: Independence Day Blogging Round Up | See, there's this thing called biology...

  5. pkadams says:

    I love this! Thanks for the encouraging blog. Sent here by insanitybytes blog.

  6. pkadams says:

    I tried to share from here to Facebook and it gave me a message that it contains abusive content. 😛

    • Mel Wild says:

      LOL! That figures. I should’ve put a trigger warning at the beginning of the post so no fragile soul would be offended by bad words like “violence,” etc. 🙂

  7. Pingback: Christian History…? | See, there's this thing called biology...

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