Book Review: "Christianity on Trial"
Until some time roughly in the middle of the twentieth century, defenders of the Christian worldview employed as part of their apologetic arsenal the claim that Christianity’s impact on history was one of its most stellar credentials. The crucified and risen Christ of the Scripture transforms not only individuals, but family relationships, institutions, politics, education, race relations, charitable endeavors, and much more. . How else could one explain the conversion and civilization of the pagan nations if not by divine grace shown through Jesus Christ invasion of history? This kind of argument was used by Athanasius in the Fourth Century in his treatise, The Incarnation of the Word of God. More recent is a large book in my library dating from 1929 by Charles David Eldridge, Christianity’s Contributions to Civilization (Cokesbury Press).
Yet the practice of arguing for Christianity based on its salutary contributions to history has fallen on hard times. So hard, in fact, that the aim of Christianity On Trial is not to argue positively for Christianity given its unique achievements, but to argue against Christianity’s detractors by setting the record straight. As the subtitle states, the arguments of the book address “anti-religious bigotry.” This defensive strategy is called for given the Western media’s penchant for making Christianity a scapegoat for nearly all forms of evil in the world today.
As journalists, the authors are both well aware of media prejudice against Christianity. Carroll is the editor of the editorial pages for The Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colorado, and Shiflett is a free-lance writer. In their eight well-written and amply documented chapters, the authors argue that Christianity was foundational to the major social structures in the West. The book presents a strong case that Christian ideals are behind many beneficial aspects of contemporary culture, including an appreciation of science and education, equality before the law, universal suffrage, the structure of American government, and much more. One area where the book does not deliver adequately is in addressing the charge that Christianity is misogynistic. Some attention is paid to this complaint, but much more could and should be marshaled. (Chapter XVIII of Christianity’s Contribution to Civilization is entitled, “Christianity’s Contributions to the Uplift of Women.” However, this book is long out of print.)
The authors certainly grant that the history of Christianity is checkered, since Christians remain sinners who fail to live up to their ideals. Nevertheless, despite the incessant media references to crusades, witch trials, and racism, the Christian influence on the West has been pervasive and, all things considered, positively ennobling. To see this, however, one must dig deeper than sound bites and factoids. For those so willing, this book is a needed corrective. For a similar work demythologizing the Christian past, see Philip J. Sampson, 6 Modern Myths About Christianity and Western Civilization (InterVarsity Press, 2001).