Tom Holland is a rare academic in the secular west who (at the least) has the grit to acknowledge that his agnosticism is born from a 2,000 year old matrix of Christian ethics. (A truth that he is not embarrassed by).
Each chapter is incredibly well written and defines an epoch of church reformation, narrated through the life stories of known historical characters and more interestingly those on the fringe of wider notoriety.
We read of the many shocking mistakes of Christendom that further reinforce its doctrines of the total depravity of man. We see how politics and greed corrupted and divided the church and how competing forces (paganism, Islam and secularism) have reacted against it.
But what becomes clear in this book is that throughout two millennia of cultural turbulence a thin veneer of Christian truth is always preserved by God’s brave (yet often weakened) remnant. Each generation has men and women willing to die to protect Jesus’ teaching that all are equally treasured by God and thus have dignity. That power does not come (as in the natural world) by the imposition of terror but in the love of the victim. The Cross is the sign of this revolution that has so greatly blessed humanity.
Tom makes several comparisons throughout history to show that as far as our society drifts away from God it always returns to the truth of the Cross. For it is the very morals derived from Christianity itself that those who mock and undermine the faith use to defend their cause.
The Gay Pride movement, whilst rightly attacking the homophobia within the church seek after the Christian Doctrine (of life-long monogamous marriage) that the early church fathers died to preserve under the Roman Empire.
The feminists who rightly attack bigotry in the church are also calling (through the #metoo movement) for the same self-restraint that the Puritans fought for.
Post-Christian France showed Christian virtue by welcoming Muslim refugees into their secular nation, expecting that they would take the same satire towards Muhammad as Christianity had endured for centuries with Jesus. Yet once the Atheist publication ‘Charlie Hebdo’ was attacked, secular France quickly returned to their Christian virtues to denounce it as wrong.
The much venerated John Lennon sang the Atheist anthem from his 72 acre palace in Bedfordshire “Imagine there is no Heaven-it’s easy if you try”. Baptist Pastor Martin Luther King Jr. was sent to Heaven for crying out “I have a dream”.
Wherever you stand in regards to faith and religion, the wonderful truth that Tom Holland reveals in this book, is that our histories tensions have all revolved (and thus in some way have been influenced by) the Cross! Christianity is in us all!
Although I have tremendous respect for Tom I can’t agree with his gloomy conclusion, that we are in the Shadow of God’s corpse, that just as Birds came from Dinosaurs, new cultural systems will be born from Christian ethics. If anything this book has taught me the very opposite, that throughout history new ideologies come and go, but the truth of Christianity always lives on. Why? Because it is true! If it wasn’t it would have died out long ago!
Christianity is the constant that built the West and continues to transform and liberate the oppressed all over the world.
This book has really encouraged me (as a Baptist Minister).
By God’s Grace our little church is growing but across the UK Christianity is facing extinction. This book reminds us that such decline is just one of many throughout history. God is still working and His remnant will persevere for the good of humanity. The UK will return to its first love.
“And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:10).