Sadly, Americans these days are notorious for their ignorance of world history. Ask the average American who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, or what happened in 1066, or where the Battle of the Bulge took place, and you will probably get a look of, “I don’t know.”
Even worse, this lack of historical knowledge goes beyond mere dates, people, and places. It extends to our understanding of the various worldviews which have shaped culture, especially Western culture, for the past 2,000 years.
That’s why I’m glad to report that a new book by my good friend, history professor Glenn Sunshine, addresses this problem in a highly readable survey of Western worldviews “from Rome to home.” The book, entitled Why You Think the Way You Do, is built on the premise that as a society’s dominant worldview changes, so too does its culture-for good or ill.
The book begins by outlining the dominant worldview of Rome, paganism, which resulted in a “glittering empire” with a “rotten core.” We rightly applaud the positive hallmarks of Roman civilization: prosperity, vigorous trade, education, efficient government, and the rule of law. But we also remember the Romans for their widespread use of slave labor; their brutal exercise of authority to suppress revolts; their violent entertainment; the widespread practice of abortion and infanticide; and their decadence, gluttony, and sexual perversions. (Sounds oddly familiar, doesn’t it?)
Into that dark, violent world came the light of Christianity, which began to change the hearts and minds of diverse groups of people throughout the empire.
Instead of devaluing life, Christians promoted a worldview in which every individual is important because he or she is created in God’s image. This led Christians in the Roman Empire to oppose the gladiatorial games, to elevate the status of women and girls, to reduce the number of abortions and end the practice of infanticide, and to oppose slavery.
While Rome eventually collapsed in the fifth century, Christianity and the Church have survived through the ages. Glenn’s book shows us Christianity’s impact throughout history, from the Irish Christians who saved Western civilization, to the medieval age, to the attempts of Enlightenment philosophers to undermine faith, to modernity and then postmodernity.
Glenn shows how we can see the clash between biblical and anti-biblical worldviews in every age-and then learn something about how we can counter lies with God’s truth in our own time and place.
It may not matter so much if Christians can’t answer questions about Napoleon or the Battle of the Bulge, but we cannot afford to be ignorant about the various worldviews that oppose God’s truth.
If we are, then we will find it difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill the commands to be “salt” and “light” for our generation as the ancient Christians were for theirs.
As we hope, pray, and work for revival, we can find in the book Why You Think the Way You Do a valuable tool in helping us “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
From BreakPoint, December 10, 2009, Copyright 2009, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. “BreakPoint®” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries®” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship