The searing image of five screaming children fleeing a napalm attack in Vietnam in June 1972 was one of the iconic photographs of the twentieth century. Kim Phuc, the central child in the photo, suffered life-changing burns. She was left with physical and psychological scars, and a burden of anger and bitterness. When Kim became a Christian, she testified, ‘Forgiveness made me free from hatred.’ Despite severe ongoing physical pain, Kim devotes herself to providing medical and psychological support to child victims of war. She is one of countless Christians who show love for God by showing love for neighbour.
Today, some influential secular commentators, such as Tom Holland and Douglas Murray, rightly argue that the biblical worldview is the foundation of the justice, freedom, and compassion that we regard as fundamental to human flourishing. But many others insist that Christianity has been a toxic and oppressive influence through history. The consensus today in the media and the educational establishment is often deeply hostile to biblical Christianity. I have written How Christianity Transformed the World in order to present a positive response to the overly-negative story we often hear.
Of course, we should admit that in the past, in the name of Christ, injustices have sometimes been wrongly perpetrated. We have to distinguish nominal or institutional religion from real living Christianity. We also need to remember that the biblical truth of God’s common grace means that Christians don’t have a monopoly on virtue and compassion.
But the big picture is that we have a great story to tell! From the inception of the Christian church at Pentecost, countess followers of Jesus Christ have lived out the biblical command to love God and love neighbour. Through history, Christians have challenged injustice and abuse, and provided care for the needy, often at great cost to themselves.
The different chapters trace the beneficial impact of Christianity on all areas of human life: freedom, religious liberty, justice, the protection of human life, the dignity of women, philanthropy, healthcare, educational provision, and work ethic.
Take healthcare. Christians all over the world often recite the Nicene Creed, affirming the truth that our Lord Jesus is both true God and true man. We may forget that the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD not only formulated that important creed, they also ordered that a hospital should be built in every town where there was a Christian cathedral. Our Lord Jesus Christ had compassion on the sick. So his followers should also show mercy. The parable of the Good Samaritan has been described as the parable that changed the world. Christians through history, and today, have been, and are, at the forefront of providing healthcare and other humanitarian help wherever they see human need.
Many today accuse Christianity of being ‘white and western’. In reality, Christianity is truly a global faith, and biblical Christianity is expanding most rapidly outside the West. I give numerous examples of believers in non-Western nations who have been a blessing to many.
Rochunga Pudaite, for example. He was born in 1927, into the Hmar people group in North East India who were then widely feared for their violence. Rochunga’s parents lived in squalor and poverty. Brutality was the norm: women and children were the main victims. The people lived in terror of evil spirits. Medicine was unknown. Rochunga’s father sent his little boy away to the nearest primary school, ninety miles away. Eventually, Rochunga not only translated the New Testament into Hmar, but went on to found eighty-five schools, a college, and a hospital. The culture was transformed. Rochunga died in 2015. He had devoted his life to bring the blessings of Christianity, education, healthcare, and freedom from want to his own people and to many others.
Or consider Tu Airong, a Chinese Christian who was sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment for his role in helping North Korean refugees escape to Thailand. North Korea is probably the least free country on earth today. The government keeps control with a network of concentration camps and widespread arrests. Those who attempt to escape over the border to China are often caught and sent back to these concentration camps, or to execution. If escapees do elude capture in China, they are often told: ‘Look for the Cross!’ For even though Christians in China are themselves under severe pressure from the authorities, many take huge personal risks to help refugees from North Korea. Tu Airong, and many Christians like him, run such risks because they believe that human beings made in God’s image have dignity and should enjoy freedom.
The humble of the earth
Each chapter includes the stories of people who never hit the headlines, the ‘humble of the earth’ (Zephaniah 2:3, NASB). Thomas Jones, for example. Thomas was a clergyman who was forced to leave his parish church in Wales in 1785 because he had been converted to genuine living Christianity. Many parishioners were embarrassed by his ‘enthusiasm’. Eventually he became curate of a tiny hamlet of 46 houses in Northamptonshire, where he ministered faithfully for 43 years. From that humble base he transformed the surrounding community. He wrote devotional books in English and Welsh. All the profits were ploughed into charitable enterprises. He was the founder of Sunday Schools, elementary schools, Sick Clubs, and Clothing Clubs. He built six almshouses for aged widows. He founded an Education Society which enabled fifty Evangelical laymen to enter the ministry. At that time, those at the top of the Church hierarchy were enormously well paid, but many ordinary clergy were pitifully poor. Thomas Jones raised significant funds to help clergy more needy than himself. He did incalculable good.
A certain hope
It’s easy to be intimidated by the hostility to the Christian message displayed by so many.
But the evidence is clear: the gospel is, and always has been, good news. Above all, of course, it offers a certain hope in this life and for all eternity, a hope based on the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
All around us there are vast needs and many injustices. It can feel overwhelming. But Christ is King. He triumphed over every evil at the cross. The horror of each evil only serves to magnify the splendour of his triumph. We are called to share the gospel, to stand for God’s righteousness, and to protect the weak and defenceless wherever he has placed us, just as so many believers have done through history. I’ve been inspired by researching the people I write about. Of course, they would all say that any good they achieved was by God’s grace. It is the God of justice, compassion, truth, and mercy who provides never-failing resources of grace to serve others.
Sharon James works for The Christian Institute and author of How Christianity Transformed the World.