Pulling at the Threads of the Christian Paradigm that Uniquely Influenced the Western World

Down at the bedrock of modern, western values remains a Christian foundation.

Galleries under the central arena of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy

I read Tom Holland’s new book, Dominion, about a year ago, and I have written about it a few times. Many Christians would not think to read a history about Western Civilization by a self-described secular humanist (once atheist, perhaps now agnostic) historian.

Most non-Christians are likely to be uncomfortable with the chronicle Holland describes of the radically influential role that Christianity played in the development of Western Civilization, providing the foundation, in fact, for secular humanist ideals. When Holland dug down to the bedrock of modern, western values, he was surprised himself to find them anchored on a Christian foundation.

Holland did not set out to write a Christian apologetic, and he seems to remain somewhat uncertain how to process what he “discovered”. What he found, though, changed his mind about Christianity. He gives a brief explanation in the following clip:

Though Holland has had a turnabout on his view of Christianity, he finds himself caught in an odd position wrought by the unexpected discovery that his lifelong, secular humanist values flow from the radical catalyst of Christian influence and remain embedded ubiquitously in its very fabric. This awkwardness of his current position is evident in his interviews and discussions about the book.

Christians and secular thinkers, alike, wrestle with his book. Holland doesn’t hide any warts, and he doesn’t pull any punches. Neither does he obfuscate the thoroughly paradigmatic shift in Western thinking that Christianity worked into a society that once proudly and unashamedly championed strength and privilege over the poor, the weak, and the lowly.

Holland exposes the metanarrative developed during the Enlightenment and thereafter that belies the foundation on which the Enlightenment structure was built. Far from advancing the progression of human values, the Enlightenment threatened to undo the distinctly Christian concern for the poor, weak, and lowly while attempting to wrest western civilization from the hold of the Divine. Humanism saved the Christian ethic, albeit divorced from Christ.

Consider the full title of Darwin’s great tome which staked out the ground of a scientific (and social) revolution free from God’s interference:

“The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”

The title of Darwin’s book championing the evolutionary paradigm, harkens back to the Greco-Roman value system that despised the poor, the weak and the lowly. That value system did not just turn a callous eye at wanton and discriminate cruelty, it cheered on strong in snuffing out the weak.

The very reason the full title never “stuck” (I now believe) is due to a fundamental, pervasive, and thoroughly entrenched counter-value of the intrinsic worth of human life that is uniquely Christian in its source.

The intrinsic value of all human life, from the greatest to the least, from the wisest and strongest to the weakest and most imbecilic, from the fittest to the most infirm, is traceable to the Christian belief that all human beings are made in the image of God. That the survival of the fittest did not take hold as a western value is attributable to the deeply ingrained Christian ethic that survived yet.

Modern humanists may attempt to recast Darwin into a humanistic mold, but the idea of “social Darwinism” bears his name through no model of random, unguided selection. According to John G. West, Charles Darwin, himself, laid the groundwork for eugenics that was associated with social Darwinism:

Darwin himself in The Descent of Man provided the rationale for what became the eugenics movement, and how the vast majority of evolutionary biologists early in the twentieth century were right to see negative eugenics as a logical application of Darwin’s theory.

While the defense of Darwin from the charge of social Darwinism has been largely succeeded in popular and polite company, the very title of the Origin of Species (by means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life) belies the success of that effort. The fact that the full title is merely a parenthetical today is evidence only of a concerted rescue campaign.

Christian values survived despite the Enlightenment coupe, not because of it. Humanism today assumes the evolutionary paradigm for its science alongside the uniquely Christian paradigm of the intrinsic worth of human beings. That the two assumptions do not fit seamlessly together seems to be lost on modern consciousness

Continue reading “Pulling at the Threads of the Christian Paradigm that Uniquely Influenced the Western World”

Justice in Messianic Prophecy

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him;  he will bring forth justice to the nations.

I have written much over the last two years on the subject of justice in Scripture. I don’t think I have done the subject justice (pun intended), so I continue to find the rights words, the right perspective and seek better understanding of God’s heart for justice as it is revealed in Scripture.

John the Apostle tells us that God is love, and the Psalmist says that justice and righteousness are the foundations of His throne. Certainly God’s love, justice and righteousness are closely intertwined.

When Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll in the temple and said it was fulfilled by him in the presence of the people who heard him, the passage he read was full of images of justice (Luke 4:18-19 (reading from Isaiah 58:6; 61:1-2)):

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The reading from the Isaiah scroll is a theme to which I return often

We could read this passage to mean that Jesus came to preach to those who are poor (in spirit), to proclaim liberty to the captives (in spirit), recovering of sight to the (spiritually) blind and to set at liberty those who are oppressed (spiritually). I don’t think that is an inaccurate way of interpreting what Jesus said. Jesus often used figurative language for spiritual realities and principals.

It isn’t the only way to read those words, of course. Indeed, throughout the rest of his life, Jesus healed people, gave sight to the blind, opened the ears of the deaf, set free those who were oppressed, raised people from the dead and met the physical needs of people as he traveled around preaching the good news.

Thus, I believe Jesus meant those words to have dual meanings. He was concerned about the spiritual condition of people. We might even say he was primarily concerned with spiritual well-being, but he met people at the point of their physical circumstances and conditions.

Listen to the testimonies of people, and you will find the spiritual and the physical are intertwined. Jesus still meets people at the point of their circumstances and physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

The physical needs and difficult circumstances (perhaps) a metaphor for the more critical and ultimately more important spiritual infirmity, but they are a reality that elevates and underscores the need for more holistic resolution. Without the difficulties in our lives, we might never perceive the need for that resolution

Many are the people who only want the physical healing and not spiritual healing. At the same time, the physical infirmities of a person can be so overwhelming and demanding that a person can hardly recognize the spiritual need.

Regardless of the interrelationship, Jesus addressed both the physical needs and spiritual needs of people. Justice and righteousness are God’s foundation. They are front in center in the Messianic message that foretold the coming of Jesus:

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him;  he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.”

Isaiah 42:1‭-‬4 ESV

Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham. God’s promise to Abraham was a promise to all the nations (Gen. 12:2-3):

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

Embedded in Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy was this promise to Abraham: “he will bring forth justice to the nations…. he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law”.

Justice is a theme that runs through the prophets and is directly and intimately connected to Messianic prophecy. We see the Messianic character of justice in Jeremiah also:

“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

Jeremiah 33:15-16 ESV

Jesus, of course, has become our righteousness, as the prophet foretold. He also executes justice. Justice, in the biblical sense, is not simply punishment or retribution. Justice is redemptive. It goes hand in hand with righteousness. As followers of Jesus, we are called to participate in righteousness and justice as components of the Messianic purpose of God.

Jesus, Is Still Shaking the Church Like He Shook the First Century Religious Leaders

Righteousness and justice are the foundations of God’s throne. They are the building blocks of His character.

I wrote about A Mic Drop Moment in First Century Galilee back in March of 2020, referring to the passage in Luke 4 in which Jesus read from the Isaiah Scroll in the synagogue in Galilee where he announced his public ministry. I have been focused on that passage since the spring of 2019, when I was drawn to it for a talk on doing justice.

I am still continually drawn to that passage. I intended to write more about justice when I wrote that piece in March of 2020, but it wasn’t until July that I actually got around to it. (See Evangelicalism and Injustice Part I, Evangelicalism and Injustice Part II and The Need for the Church to Address and Injustice, for example.)

The world changed dramatically between March 2020 and July 2020. COVID shut down commerce and isolated people. The George Floyd killing happened in June, and we were embroiled in nationwide unease and unrest. The need for justice in a spiritually dry and parched world was quite evident, then, as the scabs of centuries of racial injustice were torn open and bleeding.

The focus of my writing has been on my fellow evangelicals. They way I have phrased this introduction may strike discord among my church family (or so I imagine as I write this).[i] I am convinced, however, these things are centrally important to God and how the body of Christ lives out the Gospel in the world.

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne. Mercy and truth go before Him. (Ps. 89:14)

If we want to get closer to God, to know Him better and to be like Him in this fallen world, we need to focus on these: righteousness and justice. They are the twin pillars of God’s character.


This morning, Jeff Frazier’s sermon at Chapelstreet Church in Batavia, IL was on the same passage in Luke 4 that I have been reading periodically since 2019.[ii] I focus on a particular emphasis today that prompts this article, but let me set the scene first.

The entirety of the passage is found at Luke 4:16-30.  I encourage you to read it now or read my mic drop description of it (as if Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll in a neighborhood church today).

The key points for this article are that Jesus went to his home synagogue and read from the Isaiah scroll to his “own people” who knew him well. When Jesus said the messianic message of that passage was being fulfilled in their hearing, the people asked him, “Aren’t you Joseph’s son?”

Still, they spoke well of him and marveled at his “gracious words”. (Luke 4:22) Then Jesus made them uncomfortable by foretelling that they would taunt him and reject Him, adding, “[N]o prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” (Luke 4:23-24)

I imagine the synagogue went quiet quickly. They probably looked at each, thinking or saying things, like,

  • What is he saying?
  • Did I just hear him right?
  • Weren’t we just saying how he has grown up into a fine young man?
  • Did  he just accuse us of rejecting him?
  • We haven’t done anything!
  • We weren’t even thinking those things!”

But Jesus didn’t stop there. He turned the heat up a notch! This is where things really got dicey in his hometown synagogue. This is the point I am seeing in this passage today – something for us to think about in the American Church today.

Jesus referenced two passages of Scripture and two stories of revered Hebrew prophets. His citation to Scripture may not have raised eyebrows. It was the application of them that riled up his synagogue audience.

Continue reading “Jesus, Is Still Shaking the Church Like He Shook the First Century Religious Leaders”

Thinking Outside the Circle and Focusing on the Center: What Direction are You Moving?

If we are not challenged to rethink what we think we know from time to time, we are not likely coming into close enough contact with Jesus.

I watched the Chapelstreet church service today and listened to the sermon by Jeff Frazier in Batavia, IL. It was just what I needed to hear. Not that it tills new ground; it covers familiar ground from a new angle. It avoids the ruts of old, tired ways of thinking and finds fresh new ground (for me) from which to approach how we see Jesus.

The sermon today was inspired by Matthew 9:9-13.[i] You can read it in full at the endnote below. In summary, Jesus called Matthew from the tax booth where he was sitting to follow him, and Matthew responded by following him. That was the extent of the initial story

Then Scripture jumps to another scene: Jesus reclining at a table with “many tax collectors and sinners”. We are left to draw our own conclusions about what happened in the interim. It could be that Matthew invited all his friends, who were naturally other tax collectors and “sinners”, to met Jesus who had just connected with him.

The focus of the new scene, though, isn’t on Matthew anymore. The focus shifts to the Pharisees who ask the disciples why Jesus eats with “tax collectors and sinners”.

Before I describe how Jesus responded to them, I want to focus on the fact that the people who had a problem with Jesus were the religious people. Jesus was hanging around with all the wrong people according to the religious insiders of his day.

This is nothing new. I have written often about the Pharisees, Jesus and tax collectors and sinners. In fact, I wrote on the same subject just two weeks ago. (The Danger that Good, Upstanding, Religious People Face Today)

It isn’t a new thing to realize Jesus defied categorization; he shattered expectations and common ways of thinking. He challenged everyone he met to see the world differently, but we sometimes forget the radicalness of Jesus in our routine orthodoxy.

I dare say, if we are not challenged to rethink what we think we know from time to time, we are not likely coming into close enough contact with Jesus!

Back to the story: in First Century Judea, tax collectors were traitors and sell-outs. They were Hebrews who collected taxes for the Romans and used the authority of the Roman occupiers of the Hebrew Promised Land to accumulate wealth for themselves. They were hated by good Jews. They were outsiders in their own community.

As outsiders, they naturally associated with other outsiders (“sinners”). Thus, for Jesus to establish a relationship with Matthew – and worse than that: to “hang out” with other tax collectors and “sinners” – was scandalous. It was unthinkable!

When Jesus heard the Pharisees challenge the disciples to explain why Jesus was associating with “such people”, Jesus famously responded:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:12-13

This is a familiar passage to us, but I think the application of the message is sometimes lost on us today. I think we can fall into the trap of the Pharisees in our thinking without even realizing it. Thus, we need to be challenged to see things from a different angle, just as Jesus challenged the Pharisees in the first century.

Again, these are not new thoughts, but the the change of perspective (for me) comes courtesy of Paul G. Hiebert. Born to missionary parents in India, he became “arguably, the world’s leading missiological anthropologist”.[ii]

When he moved back to the west, he wrestled with questions like these: What does it mean for an illiterate, Hindu peasant to know Jesus? How much of their old life and traditions must be left behind?

Having observed missionaries in India, he concluded that the western mission movement was importing too many western traditions and thoughts. He saw the need for thinking outside the western box – like Jesus encouraged the followers of his day to think outside the box…. or rather, outside the circle, as we will see.

Continue reading “Thinking Outside the Circle and Focusing on the Center: What Direction are You Moving?”

Ten Reflections on 2020 and Three Things to do in 2021

If God isn’t our first love, we are putting other things first.

The writer of Ecclesiastes asserted boldly many thousands of years ago that “there is nothing new under the sun”. The ancient date of that statement has always been a poignant reminder to me that we aren’t as wise as we think we are for all our modern sensibilities. We struggle with the same basic issues that are common to humanity, despite our scientific and technological advances.

God stands enthroned over all of His creation. From His vantage point outside of space/time, He watches as His purposes unfold, including the groaning of creation as some of His crowning creation “seek Him, feel their way toward Him and find him”. (Acts 17:27)

We fit into His purposes by doing just that – to know God and to grow in the knowledge of God is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s purpose for us.

We easily get mired in the mundane concerns of daily life. Our future planning is often limited to the benefits we can obtain in our years in these jars of clay we call our bodies. We often fail to give full room for the eternity God set in our hearts. (Ecc. 3:11) We fail to allow the Holy spirit to have full sway in our hearts and our lives.

We are easily distracted and easily preoccupied by lesser things than our relationship with God the Father and His purposes.

I am forever grateful for the grace He has shown to us in the sacrifice He made for us that He has made a way for us to come to Him despite our frailties and sinful tendencies, and to continue coming to Him who receives us in Christ. I am more indebted to His mercy and grace now than ever before. His lovingkindness is truly new every morning.

As we watch the time closing out on 2020, looking backward, and straining forward, I am borrowing from another writer for my own ten reflections on 2020:

Continue reading “Ten Reflections on 2020 and Three Things to do in 2021”