Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Church Still has a Pulse

Written by: on April 1, 2024

Tom Holland’s book Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind is a compelling work that traces the most enduring influences of Christianity from ancient Rome to the present day. It is an ambitious work that attempts to argue about who we are and how we came to be who we are.[1] According to Holland, Christianity has formed the Western mind. As a historian, Holland has tackled voluminous projects in classical antiquity, such as the Rubicon, The Persia Fire, and the Millennium, and it was in his research of these ancient histories and pagan cultures that Holland recognized the overarching impact Christianity had on the world. What is unique about Holland’s work is that he attempts to convey how Christianity formed the Western mind, “not just in its moral and intellectual conventions but in their opposites, such as atheism or the natural sciences.”[2] One has to keep in mind that Dominion is a historical narrative, and as a result, Biblical narratives are merely there to strengthen the timeline of Christianity’s expansion.

One Christian apologetics teacher thought the book was fresh and an affirmation of Christianity’s influence on Western culture.[3] In his review, Edgar states on page 209 that Holland’s “thesis is that the gospel reverses the usual way in which power works by introducing love rather than conquest.” Conversely, one critic writes that Holland tells a “long and complicated story to explain how the “dominion” of Christian values came about but does not attempt to explain why these values succeeded as they did.”[4] I agree with both of these reviews, but three insights that impressed me the most were:

  • The death of Holland’s faith.
  • The historical demise or death of Christianity.
  • The poignant realization that God is dead.

I’ll briefly explain in the following few paragraphs.

Holland is open about his relationship with Christianity, and he describes his loss of faith and eventual disbelief in God throughout the book. His childhood recollections concerning his beliefs are sprinkled throughout the book, which often compete with his love for pre-historic dinosaurs. His relationship with his God-fearing god-mother had a tremendous influence on him because of her faith, and during his visits with her, he was able to explore nearby cliffs where, in “1811, a complete skull of an ichthyosaur had been found.”[5] Her death in 2009 affected him as one would expect to lose a loved one. It also seemed symbolic of the final death of his beliefs. He writes of the experience of leaving the hospital and his thoughts on whether he would ever see her again. He knows that he won’t, and for a fleeting moment, he thinks that her atoms and energy will remain, but at the same time, he tells himself that it is just a story that is untrue and not based on reality.[6] According to the article by Beckett, Holland is now an agnostic.[7]

The second insight is that Holland’s Dominion makes a compelling argument that can lead one to believe that Christianity is on its deathbed. It still has a pulse. However, he quickly points out that the rise of science and a less superstitious spirituality have replaced outdated Christian beliefs. Because Holland is fascinated with pre-historic dinosaurs, he continues to weave a thread of extinction and evolution juxtaposed with his historical account of Christianity’s influence on the West. He writes that Latin Christendom has been on a course of evolution and that the ‘West’ is “less its heir than its continuation.”[8] It didn’t die; it evolved. According to Holland, on page xxvi, he asserts that Christianity is still the most dominant force in the U.S.; however, a growing number view it as a relic. Holland writes that “time itself has been Christianized.”[9] His point is that Christian morals and values are ingrained in us. However, the most telling indictment of Christianity’s demise is his assertion that Christians are not needed for Christian values to flourish and that one does not need to believe that Jesus rose from the dead to be shaped by Christian values.[10] In his article, Jonathan Sumption writes, “it would be truer to say that the Western mind made Christianity…And the Western mind is in the process of discarding it, now that its practical utility as a foundation of social existence is no longer obvious.”[11]

The last point that God is dead became clear as I read the last chapter of Dominion. Holland states on page 524 that both Europe and America have left God dead, and the point is reiterated on page 525 when he describes the image of a god dead on the cross, but this time, it seems different. There is a sense of finality to his statement. In reading this last chapter, I thought of Walter Wink’s point in his work, The Powers That Be. In it, Wink describes Christianity as conflicting with the dominant system, the Roman Empire. Christ as Victor (or the atonement theory) freed the captives. However, with the conversion of Constantine, the Roman Empire took over the church’s role as God’s providential agent in the world. As a result, the empire’s success became the criterion for ethical behavior. Hence, according to Wink, Christ as Victor was no longer emphasized because it contradicted the Roman Empire’s desire to rule its subjects.[12]

Consequently, the church no longer saw the demonic lodged in the empire but in the empire’s enemies.[13] The point is, historically, did the church symbolically die based on Wink’s version of how the church downplayed an essential tenet of the faith, or if one believes Holland’s account that Christianity no longer needs its beliefs to survive, on the surface, both paint a dismal future. However, Wink’s book is a theological discourse, so his exploration of how we got here is more hopeful. The church is still redeemable. Perhaps they would agree that God draws people through His magnificent love throughout church history until the present, when the church preaches the God that Paul passionately describes to the Galatians and Corinthians. A love that has no borders. A love that sees everyone as equal. A love that never dies.

[1] Tom Holland, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, (London: Little, Brown Book Group, 2019), xxiv.

[2] Jonathan Sumption, ‘Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind.’ By Tom Holland – review: As Christianity Became More Organised and Hierarchical, it Grew Increasingly Hostile to both Mysticism and Empirical Science, ” The Spectator, (Aug 31, 2019): 2, https://georgefox.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/magazines/dominion-making-western-mind-tom-holland-review/docview/2281764789/se-2.

[3] William Edgar, Tom Holland. Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. Source: Unio cum Christo, 7 no 1 (Apr 2021), 209, Review https://web-p-ebscohost-com.georgefox.idm.oclc.org/ehost/results

[4] Beckett, Lucy. “Sacred and the profane: How Christianity conquered the world.” TLS. Times Literary Supplement, no. 6089 (2019): 5, https://link-gale-com.georgefox.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A632138430/AONE?u=newb64238&sid=bookmark-AONE&xid=91253ca0.

[5] Holland, Dominion, 520.

[6] Ibid., 521.

[7] Beckett, “Sacred and the profane: How Christianity conquered the world,” 5.

[8] Holland, Dominion, xx.

[9] Ibid, xxiv.

[10] Ibid., 517.

[11] Sumption, “As Christianity Became More Organised and Hierarchical, it Grew Increasingly Hostile to both Mysticism and Empirical Science,” 2.

[12] Walter Wink, The Powers That Be: A Theology for a New Millennium (New York: Ranom House, Inc. 1998), 89-90.)

[13] Ibid., 90.

About the Author


Audrey Robinson

8 responses to “The Church Still has a Pulse”

  1. Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

    Audrey, Great post. I appreciate how you took a lengthy and complex book and discussed the main themes so clearly, along with the contributions of other authors. I also found your three insights interesting! I felt a bit disappointed when I read in one of the reviews that Holland had lost his faith in God. Did that affect the way you read the book? Overall, did you enjoy this book and are there things you read here that you will continue to ponder long-term?

    Thanks for your post, Audrey!

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      Thanks for reading. Great questions.

      I felt sorry while reading because it was evident that this young man had lost his faith. But it also seemed as though he was still struggling or trying to come to grips with the loss of his faith. My thought was that only a person who had a keen insight into Paul and Scriptures could have written the chapter on Mission so articulately.

      I’m not sure I would say I enjoyed the book; however, I do think it provided some insight into how certain academics view the history of the church and it’s impact on the Western mind.

  2. mm Becca Hald says:

    Thank you Audrey for a great analysis of Holland’s book. It is sad that Holland lost his faith. I think the argument that Christianity is on its deathbed is on target but also premature. Gone is the Sacred Canopy that once spread over Western Civilization. In Western culture, we see a downfall of Christianity, but in the places where the church is persecuted, we see tremendous growth and faith. I think our fault is in trying to keep Christianity at the forefront of Western Civilization – how does it help the church to try and regulate morality? As you concluded, it is love that will make an impact in the world, “A love that has no borders. A love that sees everyone as equal. A love that never dies.”

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      Great question as to “how does it help the church to try to regulate morality?” I’m not sure it has helped.

      My comment from Wink’s book was meant to show that the Jesus Church died when Emperor Constantine used it to try to subdue the known world. It lost the totality of the message regarding the price that Jesus paid, but more importantly, the aspect of N.T. community and being our brothers keeper. It has been interesting to ponder both Wink and Holland.

  3. mm David Beavis says:

    I love it when you bring up Walter Wink! It is clear that he is a dialogue partner that has shaped your thinking in a good way. I agree with what you wrote – bringing in Wink – that Christianity became a warped version of what it was meant to be with its enemy no longer being “Empire” or the powers, but the enemies of the empire. Would you argue we, as the American Church, are more entangled with empire than the church under Constantine? Or are we less entangled?

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      Wow, David, such a good question!

      I think it is more entangled with the Empire. At least the Church stood for something during Constantine. Today, I’m not so sure the Church has a firm grip on its identity. Secondly, it is more entangled when you add the effects of capitalism and the love of money.

  4. Tonette Kellett says:


    I so enjoyed your review of this lengthy book! You have a wonderful way of breaking down the things we read and adding thoughtful insights.

    The way you wrapped it up was my favorite part, as it usually is:

    “The church is still redeemable. Perhaps they would agree that God draws people through His magnificent love throughout church history until the present, when the church preaches the God that Paul passionately describes to the Galatians and Corinthians. A love that has no borders. A love that sees everyone as equal. A love that never dies.”

    I especially love those last three sentences!!! That’s what Christianity is all about, isn’t it?!

    Fabulous as ever!

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