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The Empire Strikes Back
The Rise of the Western, Liberal Apologetic
There is a new Christian apologetic on the rise.
Former atheists and agnostics are being converted to Christianity by, of all things, Christendom. By this, I mean that they are recognizing that the societal fruits of Christianity resulted in liberal, democratic values. The Christian worldview, they declare, describes and defines reality better than others. What is surprising is that this is not your father’s apologetic. It is rooted in the same Westernism that has fallen on hard times among the elite.
This argument is arriving at an interesting time. Contemporary critical social theory has, at least in the US, become the official religion of the academy. It argues that Western culture has an unforgivable original sin (slavery and its cousins colonialism, white supremacy, and traditional sexuality), that the culture needs to be reinterpreted in terms of power dynamics, and that equity is preferred over equality. Western culture, far from being a positive, is largely seen by these critics as perpetuating evil.
Working in my backyard, listening to podcasts as I cut the grass, I began to see this new apologetic from English historian Tom Holland. His podcast, The Rest is History, is highly entertaining and I became a regular listener. I soon noticed a positive view of Jesus appearing in various episodes, much to my delighted surprise. This led me to pick up his book, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind. It is a deep discussion of Jesus, Christendom, and the development of Western values in what we now call the “West.” His thesis is that Jesus’ willingness to forego power and instead sacrifice himself for the powerless emptied the Roman worldview of its moral legitimacy (which had been based on power). The values we tend to think of as historically progressive have flowed from this Jesus-infused fountainhead. He makes no excuses for the failures of Western culture, Christendom, or the church. But without Jesus and the subsequent Western church, he argues, we would not have the freedoms and values that exist today.
Holland is not alone. Christan authors have joined him in this quest to rethink the rethinkers. Here are the last three books I have read that follow this same train of thought. Each one is a bit different yet in the same vein:
Andrew Wilson, Remaking the World: How 1776 Created the Post-Christian West
Today, in theology as a whole, but particularly in missiology, there is a call to “de-Westernize” Jesus. “Christianity is Eastern, not Western,” somebody recently wrote to me. This is anachronistic. There was no West or East in the days of the New Testament, at least not as we know them. I agree that culture can muddle and confuse the Gospel message. Yet, the world is better today because of Jesus and his message. Can we not get excited about this for the great blessing it has been to humanity?
Evidently, Ayaan Hirsi Ali can.
If you don’t know her, you should educate yourself. She was born and raised under the banner of Islam, found herself as a leading human rights activist in the Netherlands, became an atheist, and today lives in the US. I remember reading her book, Infidel, and praying that she would find out how much Jesus loves her.
Even though I was surprised, I should not have been when I came across this declaration from her last week: “Why I am now a Christian.” What you will find if you read it is a powerful argument for why Christianity is our only hope. Her journey started by realizing how civilization is crumbling under an attack directed at Western, liberal values. It ends up with a realization that freedom is found in Jesus.
This is The Way.
PS A shoutout of thanks to John D. and Ted V., both of whom gave me a donation for my substack writing. Not expected but I am delighted! Thanks.