I live in a realm of policies, protocols and bylaws with a three-inch-wide “Guide to Services.” When questioning the curators of this knowledge, “Why does this exist?” one quickly discovers that every policy has a story behind it. A narrative about a situation where someone made a decision that had consequences, sometimes for many people. As a result, a new rule was created. The problem is when that law, intended to serve and protect, actually becomes constricting and painful itself when applied. How does this happen? With time and distance from the story, relationship is replaced by rule, context is changed for concrete box checking. The spirit of the law is lost and the rule of law takes over. At the least, bureaucracy at its finest (gratefully, our organization has been addressing this) and at its worst cruelty and oppression.
In his book, “The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values” Nick Spencer, Senior Fellow at Theos, a think tank in the UK, takes his readers on a historical journey. He tells the stories of how our morals, values and laws came into being under Christianity’s influence. The mission statement of Theos is to stimulate “the debate about the place of religion in society, challenging and changing ideas through research, commentary and events.” It is clear this mission is Spencer’s intention with this book and he presents a compelling argument.
There were many interesting concepts from the birth of science and rise of atheism, to democracy, humanism and much more. What caught this reader’s attention was the chapter, “Trouble with the Law: Magna Carta and the Limits of the Law.” While having my memory refreshed reading the history of the formation of the Magna Carta I was reminded on a larger scale that every law has a story. This infamous document was developed in the thirteenth century five hundred years before the Enlightenment. This would have been the time we consider society as brutal and barbaric yet it’s foci on due process, limitations to sovereignty, and human rights for all have had lasting influence to this day. Spencer points out the “first clause of the Charter, the promise of King John that ‘the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired.’” He then continues the historical narrative and points out “behind accidents and agendas of baronial revolt, there is a significant story…It’s a checkered story, but it does at least put Christianity back on Magna Carta’s map.” “Story” continues to be the theme as he describes the backstories behind the story. Each one revealing the law’s limitations, exceptions made, and attempted disregard by the powerful.
This chapter attempts to show how Christianity influenced the shaping of law and why that matters and how it has evolved into something not intended. Reading the storyline, I could not help but see similarities in organizations and government today. Even the law itself and the leaders supposedly legislating and upholding it need limits. Laws, policies, and protocols need to be evaluated and either amended or suspended if their intended purpose is no longer relevant. Spencer helps his readers see that we might want to consider, that law is “only a good thing when used to do the things that law should be used to do.” He argues that we live in an age when we believe the law is central to social and moral progress. As a result, regulations continue to have volumes written to uphold, as stories continue to require them. The warning to be considered in the progression of this chapter was summed up, “Too much law may be problematic in the way that too little law is.”
As I reflected upon the story of the people of God from the Law of Moses and the original ten that grew to many and the reasons behind them, to the pride of the Pharisees in their strict observance of the Law all while traversing their adventures in missing the point, I continued thinking about the stories that predicated them. What is it about humans that continues to us move away from relational ethics in community to dependence upon law to govern us all while supposedly evolving? Fallen man requires boundaries to keep us safe and civil, but those same boundaries become unhelpful when kept without thought. The law is not the issue, but when the matters which are deeply impacting people’s lives are no longer open to consideration and debate, rather strict adjudication, as Spencer says, “it badly undermines people’s faith in democracy” and has the potential to weaken it.
Whether in small organizations or entire nations, forgotten histories and failing to know the purposes behind the policies, can soon turn into deadly bureaucracy or deadly revolt. What if the church believed she still has potential for influence today? What if we brought thoughtful discourse and civil engagement to the matters at hand? What if the spirit with which we did so reflected the fruit of the Spirit’s maturing work in our lives, with the perfect Law of Liberty modeled in our speech and actions. What if we asked if the story still make sense and if the purpose is still viable to this next generation?” The Evolution of the West gives us indication that the evolution will continue, what story will be next and what will our response be? I am witness to a small organization that has acted with courage because courageous people dared to speak. Though this is small in comparison to the issues of our world today, I believe we can influence the shape of things to come.
 Nick Spencer, The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), Kindle Loc. 691-901.
 Ibid., Kindle Loc. 752.
 Ibid., Kindle Loc. 783.
 Ibid., Kindle Loc. 872.
 Ibid., Kindle Loc. 889.
 Ibid., Kindle Loc. 890.