How the Bible Shaped Western Civilization

Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011) is a thought provoking, sweeping survey of the history of Western Civilization from a particular perspective. Mangalwadi’s argument is very easy to summarize. It is the Judeo-Christian worldview that makes Western Civilization unique. That worldview is derived from the Bible, the Old Testament that comes from the ancient Hebrews, and the New Testament that is largely a product of the early Christians. Behind this is the presupposition that it is worldview that determines the uniqueness of a civilization, that is, its moral values, its cultural expression, etc.

Those familiar with the Christian writer, Francis A. Schaeffer, will find Mangalwadi’s book a more scholarly version of Schaeffer’s popular book, How Should We Then Live? (1976). The connection between the two is made clear in the brief bio at the end of the book and on the book jacket. It is also clear from a quick internet search of Vishal Mangalwadi. Christianity Today, we are told, referred to Mangalwadi as “India’s foremost Christian intellectual.” The numerous endorsements from a list of prominent Christian writers revels that many of them see Mangalwadi as Schaeffer’s successor. Making this connection will guarantee that the book receives attention from Christian readers who want to understand the relationship between Christianity and Western Civilization.

Mangalwadi, like Schaeffer, defends his thesis by numerous examples from the history of Western Civilization. The result is a list of examples of the Bible’s influence in the history of the West, without necessarily demonstrating that that influence was the sole influence, or the most significant influence. At times, his sweeping conclusions demand evidence, but none is given. An example is Mangalwadi’s assertion that the Great Awakening provided the moral force, “which launched the American Revolution” (p. 205). It is not that the statement is in error so much as that it does not acknowledge the complexity of influences—moral, economic, etc.—behind the American Revolution.

Readers with some background in history as a discipline are “turned off” by books that try to “prove,” for example, that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Such books are often written by individuals who lack any credentials as historians. They do not so much want to relate and interpret history they wish to promote a particular ideology. They are propagandists, and their books are propaganda, not history (See, e. g., Jill Lapore’s The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History [201]).

I am not saying That The Book that Made Your World lacks scholarship, or should not be taken seriously by those interested in the roots of Western Civilization. Western Civilization is the product of a synthesis of three traditions—Classical Humanism, Judeo-Christianity, and Germanic. Mangalwadi’s goal is to demonstrate that the Judeo-Christian influence was the determining cultural influence. Unfortunately, his presentation too often denigrates the other two traditions.

I would agree in general with the argument that the Judeo-Christian religious tradition is what makes Western Civilization distinct, just as the uniqueness of every other civilization is determined by its worldview, rooted in its dominant religion. In order to understand the history of any civilization, one must try to understand its religious roots. My fear is that Vishal Mangalwadi’s very interesting and thought provoking book will be ignored by most everyone except those who already agree with him, especially those familiar with Francis A. Schaeffer’s books. Mangalwadi is preaching to the choir, as they say.

Apart from any weaknesses, The Book That Made Your World is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in understanding how religious worldviews influence the character of a civilization. It should also raise questions about the future direction of world history. Western Civilization is clearly in decline. Is it because the West has cut itself free from its tap root? What will the death of Western Civilization mean for the future? These are questions that other writers with an audience beyond Evangelical Christians are wrestling with (See, e. g., Benedict VI’s Europe Today and Tomorrow [2007] and George Weigel’s The Cube and the Cathedral [2006]).

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