Review: The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values

The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our ValuesThe Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values by Nick Spencer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series of essays from Nick Spencer is a challenge to those who might believe that Christianity has never made a contribution to the development of the Western world, that the Western world has, in fact, would have developed better without the influence of religion – as the Enlightenment has cause to show anyone who would pay attention to the world around us. It is the Enlightenment, and all that flows from the Enlightenment, that has allowed the Western world to become what it has become.

Except that such a revelation is simply not true, as Spencer examines in this book. Walking through a variety of themes, Spencer looks at the positive contribution Christianity, or Christian thought more specifically, has made to those themes, regardless of whether the wider world is prepared to acknowledge that contribution or not. Certainly, Christianity has had its failings, but that does not immediately mean that all its contributions must be discarded as unhelpful or, worse, dangerous.

For Christian believers, this book is a reminder that there is much to be thankful for in those same contributions to the wider world. It is also, I would suggest, a provocation to not surrender to a prevailing secularist narrative that seeks to remove the influence of Christianity from Western civilisation. The series of essays explicitly, and powerfully, rejects the proposition that Western civilisation would have come to hold the values it professes regardless of the restraining hand of the Christian churches, because of the superior authority of the human faculty of reason.

At the heart of the thesis offered by Spencer, however, is the profound recognition that the true vision of the faculty of reason utilised by humanity will only reach its full potential when we recognise that all the values the secularist narrative propose find their fulfilment not in human reason but in the recognition that humans have a value that is found in their very existence.

This book of essays was a challenging read, yet I found it quite comforting in a variety of ways. To read someone actively defending the contribution of Christianity to Western civilisation in a clear, rational and logical way gives this reader hope that all is not yet lost.

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