By Jeff Faull
The Book that Made Your World suggests that the Bible provided the framework that orders most of Western society today.
Author Vishal Mangalwadi is so attuned to this concept that he published an entire volume entitled The Book that Made Your World with the subtitle How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012). His thesis is that most of the constructs, freedoms, and societal order we enjoy in the West today are built on theological perspectives and underpinning that came from Scripture itself.
He was prompted to write the book in response to criticisms of Scripture and Christianity made by Arun Shourie, a prominent member of India’s Parliament and former government minister. Shourie had written two books that became best sellers in India that vilified and demonized Christian missionaries in India as cultural proselytizers who were stripping India of her beauty, culture, and heritage. Shourie used his position and clout in the National party to promote his anti-Christian ideals, which caused greater persecution and pain for some of the people who were actually doing the most to relieve suffering in Northern India.
Mangalwadi’s writings are an intellectual response and rebuttal to those volumes and their central message. Mangalwadi insisted that the very forces that allowed Shourie to receive an education and to rise above the poverty systems in India were a result of Western ideas and realities that found their source in a biblical worldview. What impact Mangalwadi’s rebuttals will have in India remains to be seen, but his message to American culture is fascinating, as well.
The popular mind-set and mantra of many today is to blame all of the world’s ills on religion and to suggest that all war, conflict, and inequity are a result of belief in imaginary deities and a subsequent commitment to their nonsensical and absurd moral codes. Mangalwadi’s book systematically shreds that distorted perspective and insists, through careful argument, that reality is the opposite of those biased claims. His underlying premise is that much of the foundation and framework of today’s society and way of life rests on the “theological thinking” of yesterday. Simply put, the philosophical framework for our free, orderly, prosperous, and opportunity-laden society came from minds of society and nation builders who were profoundly influenced by Scripture. This “theological thinking” both consciously and subconsciously undergirds the privileges, rights, and progress we enjoy today.
Mangalwadi’s chapter titles reveal the structure of his entire case. Here are several of the headings:
Rationality: What Made the West a Thinking Civilization?
He cites Edward Grant, author of God and Reason in the Middle Ages, who suggests that the Bible created a peculiar religious person called the “scholastic” who used logic as his primary tool to study divinity. “No earlier culture had created such a rational man with the intellectual ‘capacity for establishing the foundations of the nation-state parliaments, democracy, commerce, banking, higher education and various literary forms, such as novels and history.’”
He also quotes historian George Holmes, who wrote in The Oxford History of Medieval Europe, “The forms of thought and action which we take for granted in modern Europe and America, which we have exported to other substantial portions of the globe, and from which indeed, we cannot escape, were implanted in the mentalities of our ancestors in the struggles of the medieval centuries.”
Mangalwadi contends this was no coincidence. The rationality and thinking patterns of the West came from the underlying assertion that the ultimate reality of the universe was the rational logos of a rational creator.
Technology: Why Did Monks Develop It?
In this chapter, the author proposes that the Judeo-Christian view of reality produced and nurtured technology. He, along with numerous philosophers, argues from several main perspectives. First, the concept of order and intelligent design, coupled with the realization that human beings are creative themselves, since they are made in the image of God; and second, the biblical concept of using the physical universe for noble purposes while maximizing the use of time. Consequently a biblical cosmology helped drive the rise of humanitarian technology.
Revolution: What Made Translators World Changers?
In answering this question, the author points out that the reformers sought to place knowledge and power in the hands of the people rather than leaving control only with the elite. He reminds us that widespread translation and distribution of the Bible was fought bitterly because it “threatened the entire hierarchical organization of medieval society” and gave knowledge, freedom, and power to commoners.
The efforts of William Tyndale and other Bible translators “sparked revolutions in England and America, democratized nations, and ushered in new civilization where right became superior to might.”
Science: What Is Its Source?
Even the pursuit of science, which is often presented as the antithesis of theology, had its basis in exploring the natural world for the glory of God. Science had much of its beginnings in “thinking theologically.” In For the Glory of God, sociologist Rodney Stark created a “Roster of Scientific Stars” and concluded that of the 52 most important scientists who helped launch the scientific revolution, all but two of them professed faith in God.
Copernicus, Robert Boyle, Sir Isaac Newton, Galileo, Blaise Pascal, and others were all adherents to belief in God and his revelation. Their understanding of God and the desire to study his creation drove them to new discoveries and theories. At the very least it must be acknowledged that modern science has some deeply theological roots.
Liberty: Why Did Fundamentalism Produce Freedom?
Another example of the result of thinking theologically is the existence of freedom and democracy. Mangalwadi says the theme of losing and recovering freedom is recorded from Genesis on. He opines, “Durable freedom is possible only under the rule of God, the rule of law, and the rule of elders (representatives).”
The overarching authority and blessing of God, the existence of a benevolent moral code, and the concept of freedom of individuals and the division of power were all born out of the incessant cry for freedom in the history of the Bible. Ironically, the freedoms we employ to question authority and develop individual freedoms are derived from the very book and history that are often denounced by those espousing those freedoms.
The Book that Made Your World goes on to explore other aspects of our current culture and constructs. Mangalwadi explores additional questions like, “Compassion: Why Did Caring Become Medical Commitment?”; “True Wealth: How Did Stewardship Become Spirituality?”; “University: Why Educate Your Subjects?”; “Morality: Why Are Some Less Corrupt?”
In each chapter he attempts to explain the connection between the shape of the world we live in today and the influence of Scripture on the formation of its foundations and pillars. He makes a convincing case that things are as they are in our world because of “thinking theologically.”
Even if Mangalwadi is only partially right or exaggerates his point, his premise is worthy of careful consideration. How we think and respond theologically will inform our world today and build the world of tomorrow.
Jeff Faull serves as senior minister with Mount Gilead Church, Mooresville, Indiana, and as a contributing editor for CHRISTIAN STANDARD.