We are the product of two missions to the West.
1st: Conversion of Rome (Constantine);
2nd: the conversion of the Barbarian kingdoms.
Chinese were civilized for thousands of years, we were Barbarians: violent, bloodthirsty, warring, tribal. It was the Gospel that gentled us. We’re now living in the twilight of that 2nd Mission.
I was misquoted with a 3rd “conquest” to the West. God forbid! The way of Christ winning the Barbarian tribes were the GENTLING of the European people. “The cross is like a taming talisman that cooled down the berserk rage.” When the cross was no longer powerful in Europe, that berserk rage will burst out again.
To contribute constructively to the human future.
The “Crunch Generation”. Many global issues (environment, economic, etc.) are coming together, and they will need to be answered wisely by your generation, or humankind will be deeply in trouble.
But today we are less good at getting into the thick of many of the great issues of humankind (not just the great evils), and conceiving and articulating and struggling for constructive solutions to guide humankind forward to the future.
Explore the somewhat surprising relationship between the Christian faith and culture and civilization.
Culture: simply, a way of life lived in common. Ex. Teenage culture, hippie culture.
Civilization: simply, a culture with sufficient extension (spreads widely enough), sufficient duration (lasts long enough), and sufficient elevation (produces things with sufficient excellence that people proclaim it worthy of human civilization).
The Christian faith is the decisive factor is now described as the world’s most powerful civilization. It’s globalizing the ENTIRE world, not limited to any region or time.
But that’s surprising.
(i) The Christian faith is unnecessary to culture.
Can you be good without God? Can you create a civilization without Christ? All human beings, if they recognize or not, are made in His image, living in His world, there is such a thing as common grace, so of course, you can have “good pagans” who may be better artists than another Christian artist, or better husbands than another Christian husband. And equally, you can have great civilizations that never have any regard for God. We’re quick to recognize the merits of the Chinese, or the Mayan or the Greek, or the Roman [or, the Khmer!], etc.
(ii) The Christian faith is unlikely as a faith to produce civilization.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And He is relatively indifferent to most of the issues we talked about today in political and global affairs. He repudiates and renounces force, which you need to establish any culture. Neither He nor his first followers had any discussion to build a culture or create a civilization, or whatever.
And yet, and yet…it’s undeniable that the Christian faith is the decisive force and the world’s most powerful.
Of course, if we look at our Western civilization, we owe a great amount to the Greeks (philosophy, democracy, drama, tragedy, literature), and the Greeks were the first European to have the self awareness that they were, in this case, not Asian.
We owe a great deal to the Romans, particularly in America which prizes the Romans above the Greeks, whereas the Brits prize the Greeks above the Romans. But law, stability, order, empire, all these things, lie much behind the American founders’ understanding of the American republic.
And of course, we owe everything to the Hebrews, supremely to their understanding of God. And the difference that a radical monotheism makes. And its view of history, human agency, etc.
We owe a lot to all of these. But we talk of WESTERN civilization. All of those (Greeks, Romans, Hebrews) were Mediterranean.
What was it that made it European and then Western? It was the Church and the Gospel. And especially the winning of the bloodthirsty, barbarian European tribes.
If we look at Western civilization, the Church and the Gospel were the decisive factors in creating what we see today as the West.
Not surprisingly, look at Western civilization, what’s distinctive? Our reforms, our philanthropy, the rise of the modern universities, the rise of modern science, human rights, and the indirect link to capitalism, and indirect link to democracy – all going back to the Gospel and the Scriptures without much comment. Or, we can take the gentling of the European peoples – the most important of all, but usually passed over.
The Christian faith has a surprising relationship. “My kingdom is not of this world,” says Jesus. Yet, his followers have been influential in a decisive civilization history has ever seen.