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After taking over a month off, I finally have another blog-post finished. Except this one here was commissioned by a friend at my local church, Peace Mennonite Community Church, and this friend, Marjorie, asked me to do a book review, along with a short summary of The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi. To be honest, I had never heard of him or his oddly titled book, but I went for it and thoroughly enjoyed it for the most part. There were a few minor issues I had with the book, but they are too minut to mention every single one in detail.
Primarily, my issues with the book were either grammatical spelling errors (i.e. “bcome” vs. “become”) or jumps in logic to unproven conclusions. Yet, those issues were brief and were my only nitpicks with the book itself. There was also the fact that it reads like an encyclopedia of information as it goes from subject to subject like a textbook of sorts, but I guess there was no way around that problem either considering what this book is actually about in the first place.
Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World is a very informative take on the Bible’s influence in twenty key areas of the human experience. From the origins of science to the concept of compassion and forgiveness in the face of utter barbarism in the early first century. It’s aim was to show how the Bible has shaped and literally made the West in some of the most profound ways imaginable, and even in some ways unexpectedly. In that respect, the book succeeds on that front, but does tend to lack the artistic appeal of more expressive writers.
The book begins with how the Bible was crucial in the conceptual development of the human soul. Comparing both Johann Sebastian Bach and Nirvana’s lead singer, Kurt Cobain, we see a stark contrast in their lives and striking similarities. Bach’s biblical upbringing versus Cobain’s Buddhism which led to his belief in Nihilism later in life.
For Bach, his worldview produced some of the most celebrated classical music of all time that gave a sense of hope to its audience as they admired the art of his compositions. For Cobain, his worldview led to producing music that bears nothing meaningful or worthwhile in substance. The soul can express itself best through music and music allows us to see into the souls of one another. The Bible shapes our souls into redeemed wretches, while its absence allows our souls to rot in utter decay. On the one hand, everlasting life and on the other hand, a life that left too soon.
The next chapter focuses on the biblical value of service when compared to other worldviews. Drawing from his own experiences growing up in India, Mangalwadi explains how someone who lives out the statutes of the Bible in a real-world way will see their whole outlook on life change as they do less for themselves and more for others in the name of Christ. While others worry about getting to the other side where the grass is always greener, Christ compels His followers to seek out those whose grass is not so green and to help them flourish as they soak in the love of the Son. The world promotes self-love for our own good, but Christ commands selfless love as we serve others for the greater good.
Mangalwadi continues into more particular ways in which the Bible has influenced and helped make the modern West by going into the quest of life, along with our role in that quest as free creatures. The Bible helped give humans the ultimate quest in life: to be known by God, to know God, and to make God known. In the same respect, it also gives us a true sense of self as we now know that we are neither equal to God nor to a dog, but rather exist in the middle of the spiritual and the natural as the best of both realms. We are free creatures that create like our Creator and yet are the cherry on top of Creation itself. He asserts that “I am a creative creature” and a free one at that too as we journey on our unique quests into the unknown reaches of what truly makes us human. As we draw close to God, we at the same token draw close to a proper understanding of ourselves in light of His light: the Word of God.
From here, Mangalwadi touches on our humanity and rationality as self-conscious beings. When it comes to humanity in particular, the Bible was the very spark that ignited the Renaissance, along with the reintroduced idea of human dignity. Even in the most cruel cases of people living in rejection to God in history, our human dignity cannot be erased from the human consciousness. It remains an ever-present element in our lives as a mark that we were made for more.
For rationality, the greatest movements post-11th Century Europe all involved in some shape or form a strong emphasis on learning, especially through reading and writing. But this can be traced back to Augustine, Boethius, William Tyndale, and other brights that sought to bring the truths of Scripture to the commoner who lived in ignorance. It was men like these who brought about new generations of free thinkers that could now test the claims of the corrupt and powerful.
When it came to the advancements of technology throughout the ages, a notable scholar, Ernst Benz, clearly pinpoints the four key ways that a Judeo-Christian worldview helped the development of technology on a worldwide scale. His reasoning can be summarized below by Mangalwadi himself in the following quote:
“First, the Bible emphasized intelligent craftsmanship in the world’s design. Second, the Bible suggested that human beings participate in divine workmanship by being good artisans themselves. Third, the Bible taught that we follow divine example when we use the physical universe for righteous ends. And fourth, the Bible challenged the West to use time wisely, because each moment is a valuable, one-time opportunity (P. 97).”
In short, most of the most important inventions of the last several centuries can be attributed to a Biblical worldview that fueled the passion of many inventors over time. These inventions include the lateen sail, the wheeled plow, the horse as a tool in the workforce, the water mill, the windmill, the crank, the wheelbarrow, the flywheel, the pipe organ, the mechanical clock, eyeglasses, and dozens of other inventions that are the basis of Western technological advancements.
The idea of a hero has changed as the culture in Western society has transformed with the passing of time. The classical hero exemplified the traits that would be expected of the Greco-Roman mentality and that meant powerful leverage over others, whether politically, militarily, or any other barbaric means necessary to control those beneath you. The medieval hero was the next idea of heroism and they sought glory, skill, prowess, loyalty, generosity, and courtesy. This eventually led to what is known as religious chivalry and this was basically the equivalent of placing a spiritual mask onto a sinful practice. That is, that fighting for the LORD would guarantee salvation, which was a lie and this idea has evolved into what is known today and what I like to call “good-person salvation.” The idea that because someone “lives a good life” and is a “good person,” that they will inherit eternal life in Heaven. As this idea flourished over the years, it was the Reformers of the 15th and 16th centuries who brought back the idea of true heroism. A heroism based off of Christ himself and His selfless sacrifice for his enemies. This is the backbone behind what most people refer to in Western society as a real hero: someone who is sacrificial, loving, true, and giving to those in need.
A true revolution is one that either goes back to the way things were or changes the culture into something better. The Protestant Reformation was one of the most influential revolutions because it did both. This revolution was different in a sense from other revolutions in that it started from the top and worked its way down. Starting in universities and growing in pubs all across Europe, this revolution stood firmly on God’s Word as its source of reform. It consisted of a team of ragtag “heretics” who just wanted the Word to be the final say in the World, even greater than the Pope. The result of the revolution? Two Bible translations for the commoner, the Geneva and the KJV, along with the most powerful force in any society: an informed public.
The Bible also changed the way the West developed both our language and our literature as time went on. For instance, due to the efforts of several key missionaries like William Carey, Joshua Marshman, and William Ward, India finally had a national language, instead of hundreds of languages and their nuances that were dependent on their geographical or demographic state. When it came to literature, the Bible has influenced countless writers varying from William Shakespeare to even the immigrants on the Mayflower that sailed to find home in the New World. The Book of books forever changed the way we communicate through whatever medium we choose to do so.
In light of this, there was also the profound effect that the Bible had on both the development of the university system and on the scientific method as a whole. As history shows, a good portion of cathedrals and monasteries became universities as Christians at the time believed that we ought to relearn our knowledge of nature. A knowledge that supposedly Adam and Eve had before the Fall as they daily walked with God. Even modern day universities were founded by Christians like Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford, Princeton, and even Yale.
In regards to science, a firm belief in the Bible and God was the very cornerstone of science in general. John Lennox, professor of mathematics at Oxford University, once said concerning the debate over science and religion that “far from belief in god hindering science, it was the motor that drove it.” At first, science was referred to as natural philosophy and natural history as it branched out from theology. This is because “the scientific perspective flowered in Europe as an outworking of medieval biblical theology nurtured by the Church. Theologians pursued science for biblical reasons” (P. 223).
Francis Oakley has taken the time to observe and validate this claim between the laws of nature (science) and its origin in a Bible-believing culture in his essay entitled Christian Theology and Newtonian Science: The Rise of the Concept of the Laws of Nature (The American Society of Church History, 1961). Later Mangalwadi asserts that “science was born in the university-an institution invented by the church” (P. 229). Some notable founders of science who were also Christians include Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Nicolaus Copernicus, Robert Boyle, Albertus Magnus, Francis Bacon, and many more as pointed out by Elaine Howard Ecklund in her book Science vs Religion: What Scientists Really Think (2010).
Morality is another way in which the Bible sculpted the Western way of living, in that there was a return to a more civilized society every time a movement was led by the Holy Spirit and not by the hearsay of men. One notable time that Mangalwadi points out is John Wesley and his impact on England and the surrounding area as a preacher and social activist. Reminding people that there is a moral law written on the tablet of our hearts. This effect can also be seen when comparing Holland and India in the way the Bible’s influence, or the lack thereof, in both these respective countries.
In this day and age, the idea of family is under serious investigation and scrutiny in the West, due to the rise in awareness of the LGBT+ movement that preaches that all sexual expressions of love are love. That no matter the combination of sexual partners, it still counts as equal to the original idea of what a family looks like. In the Christian worldview, the monogamous family structure is central to what is directly taught in Scripture. Because of this model of the ideal family structure of one man and one woman in a mutually consensual relationship raising the next generation, the West thrived socially as the culture could rightly live in light of the original intent of life on Earth. The Bible gave Western society a firm foundation to build a better world and that foundation was a proper understanding of the most functional family structure: the monogamous family.
Shifting his focus, Mangalwadi then pinpoints another key in the difference between those places that are influenced by the Bible and those that are not with the fact that compassion is an essential outpouring of Christian living. Unlike America for example, India has the karmic belief that the needy do not need to be helped because they have received what they sowed. Justice has had its way and the best thing is to let the needy sort out their karmic threads on their own without the aid of the more fortunate. Yet Christ taught numerously that we ought to love our neighbor as ourselves, to help the poor, to serve the downtrodden, and to not neglect the needs of the weakest links in our own societies. Compassion is a key outpouring of God’s Word penetrating the hearts of humans as they live out what Christ taught. It is for this reason that Christians have made the most homeless shelters, hospitals, and orphanages than any other religious system in history by a long shot.
Concerning wealth, Mangalwadi argues that capitalism is a direct result of the Bible’s influence on the West in the economic sense. He believes that because of this influence, it created brilliant inventors like Cyrus McCormick who grew up in a home that had strong Protestant influences like John Calvin and other Reformers. Later on, he makes the statement that “ambition is good, but it becomes greed when separated from moral absolutes (P. 321).” The idea of a free market economy and saving wealth for later, instead of either hiding it or throwing it away on quick pleasures. This specific chapter covers a lot of other ground too like foreign markets and the history of capitalism in the West.
Jumping off of the free market section of the book, Mangalwadi ends the book going over the biblical ideas of liberty from all forms of oppression, the effect of missions work such as that done for the Hmars tribe, and ends with where the West is going now that these biblical principles are being abandoned in favor of other, more tolerant, worldviews. In summary, the Bible is the most influential book of all time and Mangalwadi does a pretty good job of showcasing that truth in this book. There is a lot of good information in this book and it’s worth the read for any who are curious on the subject matter. Suffice to say, the Bible is the book that made your world. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!