*Why is the Western world so different? What accounts for its uniqueness, compared to many other regions of the world such as Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America? In one word, this book answers: the Bible.
Truth and Transformation explores how the Bible has shaped Western societies and how the gospel can transform other communities today. This impact on the West has been notable along 4 crucial dimensions: giving a basis for morality, encouraging rationality, nurturing a sense of humanity, fostering the status of the family.
The Bible gave the West a basis for morality. This was also helped along by a number of religious revivals and developments which helped foster regard for God’s word among the people. Among these was the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, as well as the dissemination of biblical truth via catechisms in the years which followed. Of note also was the Evangelical Awakening via the ministries of John Wesley and George Whitefield. These, in turn, helped build a culture of trust markedly different from what obtains in other regions. This significant social capital has had enormous impact in building thriving economies.
The confidence in the ability of the human mind helped develop science and technology. Western societies applied the mind to understanding the universe and developing tools which helped make work easier. And this confidence stems from the Biblical teaching that humanity is different from animals, for they have been created in God’s own image.
The Western world also elevated the family, as well as the status of women within it, by fostering monogamy. The Protestant reformer Martin Luther was particularly influential in this regard. Through his revolt against the system of priestly celibacy, he helped position the family as the central unit of society and championed marriage as the school of character. Ultimately, this has resulted in the higher status of women in Western societies, relative to other cultures.
The modern regard for human rights did not emerge out of a vacuum. It is a fruit of the West’s belief that every human has being created in God’s own image. According to the author,
‘The belief in the unique dignity of human beings was the force that created Western civilization, where citizens do not exist for the state but the state exists for individuals.’
This high view of the human person has had a profound influence across spheres as diverse as politics, legal theory, and business, and the idea derives from the Bible.
Sadly, as the modern West turns its back on the Bible and rejects the moral legacy established through it, these great factors could become relics of a distant past.
A book for today
Besides this historical lesson on the legacy of the Bible in the West, this volume goes on to explore how the message of the Bible – the gospel – can heal nations today. We get to see from several passages in the book of Isaiah that God’s plan of redemption reaches beyond mere individuals to salvaging whole nations. This brings a message of hope in the midst of the distress of our day. Amidst the financial scandals, military conflicts, and political turmoil, the gospel gives us an assurance that God’s kingdom will prevail ultimately:
‘There is hope for the healing of nations because Jesus confronted sins that separate people into people groups such as caste, tribe, and race, that prohibit us from loving our neighbors across these divisions.’
This gospel is not a gospel of solely personal salvation, which much of the church today have grown accustomed to. It is a radical message which unsettles the power equation in societies. Through the gospel boldly proclaimed and compassionately demonstrated in the care of the poor and oppressed, the church can transform whole communities.
Writing from Africa, I am excited to learn of the immense potential of the gospel to transform our continent, with its reputation for corruption. Beyond the contemporary church’s preoccupation with the gifts of the Holy Spirit for personal healing and blessing, and our fascination with the idea of going to live in heaven forever when we die, the full message of the gospel offers something richer and grander. God is renewing his world and making all things new. Along with Peter, we wait ‘for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells’ (2 Peter 3:13). As the church heralds truth, in the power of the Holy Spirit, she acts as God’s key agent in establishing this new heaven and new earth.
*Vishal Mangalwadi. Truth and Transformation: A Manifesto for Ailing Nations. YWAM Publishing, 2009. 317pp.