Has Christianity had an impact on Western civilization? In this well-researched volume, Rodney Stark contends and concludes that Christians have greatly influenced events in the West. This book focuses on four important episodes in Western history: the Reformation, the rise of science, witch-hunts, and the end of slavery.
Early in this study, Stark points out that Constantine turned Christianity from being a grassroots movement to being an institution controlled by the elite. State funding in Rome could now be directed to Christian causes. With Rome’s fall, the Christian church lost its power to put down false teachings, and the Catholic Church did not forcibly put down certain aberrant doctrines because they were not threatened by them.
As the years passed and inhabitants of the universities (Christian institutions) devoted themselves to deeper study of scripture, Reformation roots began to grow in the hearts of men and societies. This was aided by the church’s growing wealth at the expense of the laity and by the spread of ideas via the newly invented printing press. In his research, Stark provides answers to such questions as why the Reformation was more successful in some areas of Europe than others.
In the chapters on science, witchcraft, and slavery the author provides a wealth of background information and penetrating insight. He shows that true science rose in Europe because Europe provided the necessary religious base on which science could be erected. He provides fascinating proof that the Middle Ages was a time of invention that allowed civilization to advance and paved the way for additional discoveries. It was a Christian worldview that understood the universe to be created with meaning and purpose by God. This worldview propelled scientific study and development. The push for the acceptance of evolution was motivated by atheists wanting to do away with God, not by scientists.
Witch-hunting reached its pinnacle during the Age of Enlightenment. Stark explains the three major factors that led to the witch-hunts and the reasons for their demise. Again, it was Christianity that facilitated the end of witch-hunting.
The same can be said for slavery. Although early civilizations saw slavery as normal, organized opposition arose after Christianity’s advance into Europe. The growth of Christianity resulted in a desire to apply Biblical morality in society. In those areas where the church and Christians were silent to this practice, slavery lingered longer.
This volume contains far more information — interestingly presented and factually supported — than can be covered in a brief review.
In addition to a historical overview, the author frequently looks at the manner in which European countries and colonial America approached the issues of the Reformation, science, witch-hunts, and slavery. He also concludes that other religions such as Islam have no basis for advances in science or for providing answers to the slavery issue.
This work should be carefully read and referenced often by Christians today. Many readers will discover that they have been misled regarding the origins of true science and the impact of Christianity on society. The development of Western civilization was greatly aided by the worldview of a correct understanding and application of Christianity, by God’s grace. This volume is most valuable in our day of waning Christian impact on Western culture.
I have long believed that the loss of such a worldview does not bode well for our future progress. Having read this volume, I am even firmer in my belief.