Updated: Nov 26, 2020
In May, my son Tyler and I headed off to Washington to attend an event sponsored by the Colson Center. The topic for the conference to consider was “Is Christianity Good for the World?” “Of course it is!” is what we Christians say. But John Stonestreet, the president of the Colson Center said that many non-Christians are no longer asking if Christianity is true, but if it’s even good.
I found this article from Thinkapologetics.com helpful as I meet with younger Christian and non-Christians some of whom are wrestling with this idea as well.
Is Christianity bad for the world? According to some outspoken atheists, the world would be a better place if we had no Christianity or religion in general. Furthermore, I have been told that ‘science works’ and faith-based systems like Christianity haven’t worked. I find comments like these to be based on a ignorant view of history.
Several years ago I read a book called What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? by D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcomb. Some of these points are adapted from this book. I have also expanded on a few of the issues. Sure I know that the Church has some serious black marks on its record. I have heard complaints about The Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials, or those who profess to be Christians that hold their signs up that say “God hates gays” etc. But it is evident that without Jesus, our world would be a different place than the one we have now. For those that want to go deeper on this topic, I recommend How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin J. Schmidt
So here are some points that may lead to further discussion:
Slavery Although many committed Christians owned slaves in history, it was Christians who historians credit with being the primary force behind ending international slave trade. Two-thirds of the members of the American abolition society in 1835 were Christian ministers. Wilberforce, Charles Finney, William Lloyd Garrison, Edward Beecher, and Theodore Dwight Weld all battled to abolish slavery. John Gregg Fee, the evangelical founder of Berea College in Kentucky called out to God in prayer on his knees and said “Lord, if needs be, make me an Abolitionist.” (Gary Haugen, Good News About Injustice, pg 62-63).
Children In the ancient world, for example in classical Rome or Greece, infanticide was not only legal, it was applauded. Killing a Roman was murder, but it was commonly held in Rome that killing one’s own children could be an act of beauty. Through a higher view of life, it was the early Christian church that ultimately brought an end to infanticide.
The modern pro-life movement is largely Christian. This pro-life view has been true from the very beginning of Christianity.
Education From the beginning of Judaism, from which Christianity is derived, there was an emphasis on the written word. But the phenomenon of education for the masses has its roots in the Protestant Reformation. In his book Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul by J. P. Moreland traces the history of what has happened in relation to the Christian mind.
Moreland discusses the history of the pilgrims arriving to the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century. The Pilgrims along with other American believers placed a high value on the intellectual life in relation to Christian spirituality. The Puritans were highly educated people (the literacy rate for men in Massachusetts and Connecticut was between 89 and 95 percent) who founded colleges, taught their children to read and write before the age of six, studied art, philosophy, and other fields as well. Evangelical scholars such as Jonathan Edwards were scholarly and well informed about other fields other than theology.
Universities All but one of the first 123 colleges in colonial America were Christian institutions. While these universities have lost their Christian identities, it is interesting to read the founding statements of these schools. Harvard, for example, was founded on this statement: “Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17:3.”
The Printing Press In order to promote Bible literacy, Christians have been leaders in education. This trend was accelerated with the advent of the printing press at about the same time as the Protestant Reformation. Many of the world’s languages were first set to writing by Christian missionaries in order for people to read the Bible.
Science A theist asserts that the physical universe is not all there is. There is an infinite, personal God who created it, sustains it and can act within it in a natural and non-natural way.
By the way, I am not saying just because there are a group of scientists who believe in the existence of God makes theism true. Anyway, here are some of the scientists (although some were deistic) who believed that God was the primary Cause of the universe and the one who created the laws of nature. These men gave birth to modern science: Johann Kepler (1571–1630), celestial mechanics, physical astronomy Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), hydrostatics Robert Boyle (1627–1691), chemistry, gas dynamics Nicholas Steno (1638–1687), stratigraphy Isaac Newton (1642–1727), calculus, dynamics Michael Faraday (1791–1867), field theory Charles Babbage (1792–1871), computer science Louis Agassiz (1807–1873), glacial geology, ichthyology James Simpson (1811–1870), gynecology Gregor Mendel (1822–1884), genetics Louis Pasteur (1822–1895), bacteriology William Kelvin (1824–1907), energetics, thermodynamics Joseph Lister (1827–1912), antiseptic surgery James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879), electrodynamics, statistical thermodynamics William Ramsay (1852–1916), isotopic chemistry.
In addition to these founders of scientific and mathematical fields were their forerunners, who also held to creation. Their number included Roger Bacon, 1220–1292), Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543), and Galileo Galilei (1564–1642). With few exceptions, scientists before 1860 were followers of Jesus. Kepler has been quoted as saying, “I wanted to be a theologian. Now, however, I beheld how through my effort God is being celebrated through astronomy.” (1)
Not only did founders of modern science believe in God as the Cause of the universe and the laws of nature, but the very concept of creation was a significant factor in the impetus for science. M. B. Foster, writing in the prestigious English journal, Mind, in 1934 observed that:
“The general question arises: What is the source of the un-Greek elements which were imported into philosophy by the post-reformation philosophers, and which constitute the modernity of modern philosophy? And . . . what is the source of those un-Greek elements in the modern theory of nature by which the peculiar character of the modern science of nature was to be determined? The answer to the first question is: The Christian revelation, and the answer to the second: The Christian doctrine of creation.” (2)
According to sociologist Rodney Stark who is a prominent historian of religion,
“Not only were science and religion compatible, they were inseparable—the rise of science was achieved by deeply religious Christian scholars.” (3)
Paul Davies offers a relevant comment to this issue:
“Even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is a rational basis to physical existence manifested as a law like order in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.” –Paul Davies, Physics and The Mind of God
Compassion and Mercy Both historically and statistically, Christianity has led the way to alleviate suffering in the world. Just to name a few of these organizations that continue to alleviate suffering in the world are Samaritans Purse, The Salvation Army, The Red Cross, World Vision, Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, United Methodist Committee on Relief, ChildFund International, Catholic Relief Services, Operation Blessing, Lutheran World Relief, Prison Fellowship Ministry, and Habitat for Humanity. Not to mention the countless of efforts by local churches and the hospitals that have been built all around the world.
I also recalled that Rick Warren had taken most of his profits from his best-selling Purpose Driven Life book (which 30 million copies worldwide) and directed it towards the global HIV/AIDS crisis.
Now I know I will hear the objection that people don’t need God to alleviate suffering in the world. And I know that there are humanitarian organizations that aren’t faith based. But, Christian based organizations have always led the way in doing everything they can to alleviate suffering in the world.
Work ethic Principles that were always in the Bible were adapted by the American founders. Self-reliance and self-denial are the foundation of the famous “Protestant work ethic.” These doctrines are at the heart of our economic (and political) way of life.
Free Enterprise Anyone who doubts the relationship of Biblical ideas to free enterprise need only to note the stark contrast with communism. Communism is specifically an atheistic system that relies on the non-biblical notion that all men are good (thus will work for the common good). But communism has been an abject economic failure.
Literature The Christian faith has influenced literature in such Christian writers such as Dante, Chaucer, Donne, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Dickens, Milton, and scores more.
Music Had Jesus never been born, music would likely sound very different from what we’re used to. There may never have developed the cantata, the concerto, or the symphony. Handel, Vivaldi, and Bach were Christians who worked to honor God with their work. Bach, for example, signed all his works with Soli Deo Gloria (“Solely to the glory of God”).
Art Art has likewise been magnificently impacted by Jesus. Classical Christian art tries to bring out the best of mankind–pointing us to a higher plane. Artists like Michelangelo used his paintings to honor Jesus. Incredible architecture in the beautiful cathedrals in Europe were built to honor Christ.
Clare’s comments: I never try to minimize the horrible things people who call themselves “Christians” have done over the centuries. But today one of the most difficult things for non-Christians to understand that I run into weekly is this; How can an evangelical who believes Christians should act like Jesus, support a person like Donald Trump, who appears to have zero interest in acting like Jesus?
They understand that it’s the nature of politics to have a clash of ideas and nobody expects all politicians to be Christians. But on the issues of personal morality and ethics, if you claim to be a Christian you must act like one personally, and call out unethical immoral behavior in all of our leaders, regardless of your party affiliation – Democrat or Republican. And the fact that the “other” party is acting unethically has never been an excuse that followers of Jesus can use. The silence of evangelicals to demand virtuous leaders is deafening! Non-Christians are hearing that silence. It’s just the latest issue that is leading many in this generation to ask, Is Christianity good for the world?
How following Jesus works in real life.
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