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

The music of Christianity resounds in our shared history

Written by: on February 2, 2020

This is a little late, but hey, it’s here 🙂

Over the last decade or so, Christian authors from a wide range of backgrounds have been pushing back on the secular narrative that Christianity has no right to a public voice, given that enlightenment thinking has caused the decline of interest in the mystical traditions of the church. Indeed, pluralism may offer the olive branch of private faith, but such faith must be confined to the precincts of the less than rational mind. From this revisionist theory of Christianity’s demise and its attendant rewriting of history, scholars like Charles Taylor paved the way for a new wave of Christians thinkers and leaders who have said, ‘enough is enough’.

Nick Spenser (research director at Theos), like others before him, have continued the task that Charles Taylor began in his large book, A Secular Age.[1] They all argue that the Western world would not look like it does without the influence of Christianity. In fact, what we have inherited from one generation to the next, is not due to the decline of Christianity, but rather it’s extraordinary history of thinking and liberal engagement with ideas; without it current secular scholars with their selective historic amnesia wouldn’t exist.

Like Taylor, Spencer’s book  The Evolution of the West,[2] paints Western history, not so much as a war between rationalist and dogmatic despots, but rather as the gradual outworking of tensions found in a multi-layered society struggling to remain standing while earth should under the force of intra-ecclesial disputes, class wars, reformation infighting, and the terror of overreaching papal authority. As the title suggests, our modernity is little more than genetic and social inheritance from our Christian ancestors.[3]

Being only 200 pages long, the book covers a lot of ground and it does so because it is essentially 12 distinct essays. However, it is easy to discern two particular themes that seem to be buried in all the chapters. The first is a Christian anthropology based on the imago die.[4] The second is his assertion that “human rights” and “human dignity” are entirely uncertain without having a universally accepted foundation.[5] I noticed these two nuggets because they are a key part of my own thesis on the nature of Christian identity. Perhaps they are there because I was looking for them, however, they crop up so often, it is hard to ignore them.

Simply put, the book attempts to show how careful scholarship clearly reveals that excluding Christianity from public conversation is academically and historically unwarranted. What stands out is his rather circumspect view that equally avoids overstating Christianity’s rational virtues my observing that good and evil existed in our past Christian context, he writes, “The tree of Western values did grow in Christian soil but it would be a mistake to imagine that soil had some precise blueprint for what the tree would eventually look like.”[6]

I said earlier that the book was rather absorbing, and it is so because it is straightforward to read. However, chapter 10 is harder going and has a more academic flavour which kind of altered the flow, which is hardly surprising as it is a precis of Taylor’s behemoth, A Secular Age. I also felt that in his attempt to downplay the role of Christianity to avoid the usual responsory backlash, he actually undersold his well thought through, and well-presented arguments: However, I am biased.  Besides that, the book really does put the case well: “the story of how Christianity crafted the building blocks that made the West” has been lost.[7] It is now the case, that our culture is “largely ignorant of the deep reasons why the West became what it did.”[8]

Like most books that act as critical introductions to a topic, it is short on conclusions so the reader must discern their own. What it means for leadership is a little unclear, but alongside Taylors, Secular Age Spencer adds a tremendous amount of encouraging material for the thoughtful leader to integrate into their own missional tasks. I can’t remember where the quote came from, but one reviewer made the accurate point that Spenser’s essays, “may succeed in disrupting the triumphalist mythology of dilettante secular historians, but little in these essays is likely to deter the now better-informed atheist from her project”. However, I would argue in response, that the point of the book was not to act a polemic against secular arguments or to provide a basis for robust public debate, but rather to offer thoughtful Christian leaders and thinkers a starting point for educating western believers about our own history in such a fashion that we can have confidence that there are rational constructs for our historic, present and future right to engage in public dialogue as valid citizens of society and the Kingdom of God.


[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, Kindle ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

[2] Nick Spencer, The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values, Kindle ed. (London: SPCK, 2016).

[3] Ibid. 6

[4] Ibid. summed up in his comment, “Humans are not creatures that are valued by God because they bear the imago dei. Humans are creatures that bear the imago dei because they are valued by God. 74

[5] Ibid. See Chapter 3 and the then every other chapter.

[6] Ibid. 6

[7] Ibid. 23

[8] Ibid. 24


Spencer, Nick. The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values. Kindle ed. London: SPCK, 2016.

Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Kindle ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard university Press, 2007.

About the Author

Digby Wilkinson

I am currently the Vicar of the Tawa Anglican Church in Wellington, New Zealand. I have only been in this role since February 2018. Prior to this appointment, I was the Dean of the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, which made me the senior priest of the diocese working alongside the Bishop. I guess from an American perspective this makes me look decidedly Episcopalian, however my ministry background and training was among the Baptists. Consequently, I have been serving as pastor/priest for nearly thirty years. My wife Jane also trained for ministry, and has spent the last decade spiritually directing and supervising church leaders from different denominations. We have three grown children.

3 responses to “The music of Christianity resounds in our shared history”

  1. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Excellent summary of the two main concepts, Digby. The posture the Church engages the dialogue is critical to any active engagement. Yet, we know those who have closed their minds to any possibility that Christianity has been influential in the historical shaping of the West, will not listen no matter how we come across. My hope is the Church will be the ones to listen more closely and take more serious the need to be thoughtful and do the deep work.

  2. Mary Mims says:

    I agree with your final point, Digby. The point of the book is not to change the Atheist but to help the Western believer understand their starting point. Just being able to respond to some of these arguments about Christianity is helpful.

  3. Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Nice post, Digby. I agree with you that Spencer is exploring that “our modernity is little more than genetic and social inheritance from our Christian ancestors” in this book. We are who we are because of our experiences. And certainly the history of the church has guided us on that journey. But if the memories of our history are lost, will our deeply ingrained experiences continue to be passed through the generations? Interesting point to ponder…

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