A Brief Book Notice from Books At a Glance
(The following is from the author’s Foreword.)
Does the Christian faith work? Is it practical? For a good many advocates today the fact that it works is the very essence of the gospel. If you peruse the religion section in a bookstore or at the airport, you will find claims such as ‘Jesus can make you a better you’, or that you can end your depression by applying a few simple gospel principles. In many countries around the world the message of the ‘health and wealth gospel’ is proclaimed. For some, the impact the Christian faith has had in history is one of the primary proofs of its veracity. And indeed, there is an impressive record of social and cultural improvement based on the Christian message. One readily thinks of health care, women’s rights, glorious art and music, governments with checks and balances, the abolition of slavery, and so much more.
However, two questions immediately come to mind that give us pause. First, what about the dramatic failures attributable to Christians? Corruption has dogged the clergy from ancient times till today. Apartheid was justified by some Reformed Christians based on the doctrine of providence. So was chattel slavery. It took much too long for believers to find slavery and human trafficking contrary to Scripture. On the whole, the church was slow, very slow to respond to the cruel messianic ambitions of the Third Reich. Both the Hutus and the Tutsis claimed to be practicing Christians, yet the death toll in the genocide is in the hundreds of thousands. Facing these issues, it would be too facile to say, ‘But they were the wrong kinds of Christians.’ Certainly these great evils came because of a failure to live up to the will of Christ as found in the pages of the New Testament. But the truth is, Christians have at times been on the wrong side of the moral ledger.
The second question is a deeper one. Does the truth of the Christian message depend on its achievements? Is the measurable triumph of the gospel a requirement for its veracity? This is a harder question than may first appear. Should we, in effect, subject God to our human criteria, things such as visible signs, evidence, data, and so forth? Is He not self-defining, self-attesting? It would have seemed an insulting affront had Moses, upon hearing ‘I am that I am’, asked for more evidence than God’s Word itself. And yet, the gospel does not call for fideism, the notion that belief needs no justification. Appeals in the Bible are never to the ‘leap of faith’, without any basis. Even Moses stood before a burning bush. Furthermore, the Lord Jesus told us He would build His church on the rock of apostolic faith (Matthew 16:18).1 His church is surely not merely invisible. There must be evidence for its effectiveness.
This little book is an attempt to recognize some of the achievements throughout history attributable to the Christian faith, without at the same time isolating those achievements from the person and character of the God who is ultimately behind them. And it also wants to recognize that where there have been failures, some of them dreadful, the fault is not with the gospel but with sinful believers. Sin is a far more serious plague than most people today are ready to acknowledge. But this plague may be healed. Sin can be forgiven. That, in fact, is the true heart of the Christian message. Christ came ‘once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself ’ (Hebrews 9:26). While that work of redemption is accomplished, it is still being applied.
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DOES CHRISTIANITY REALLY WORK?, by William Edgar