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

Western Christianity: Down But Not Out

Written by: on February 22, 2023

Tom Holland is an award-winning historian, author, and broadcaster. In Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, Holland tackles social and ecclesiastical theology and its influence on the Western world. Classified under theology, Holland demonstrates how Christianity began humbly but grew to dominate Western culture and thought and continues to do so today. Holland states his premise in his introduction: “to explore how we in the West came to be what we are, and to think the way that we do.”[1] Raised in the Church of England but disengaged from the faith of his youth, Holland was drawn to ancient civilizations, viewing them as virtuous and idealistic. However, upon more study, he found the ancient world terrifyingly close to Nazi thought and culture. His conclusion about what changed the world for the better came to rest on Christianity.[2] The book contains three sections: Jesus and the early church, the time of Christendom, and the modern world.

The support for his argument spans not only the time of Christianity but also includes aspects of the Western world before its emergence in ancient Greece. Written as a history but reading like an engrossing novel and telling stories in vignettes like a biography, Holland builds a strong case for the pervasive influence of Judeo-Christian values by all in the West, even by those who espouse secular or humanistic identities. So ingrained are the Christian values that they are assumed to be instinctive or the results of moving away from the Christian faith. The author does not whitewash Christian history on issues at times when the church did not live up to its ideals. The horrors of the Crusades, burning heretics, the complicity in the slave trade, etc., does not erase the impact of Christian thought throughout the last two-thousand years, including the present day. Someone skeptical about Christianity may find this book helpful due to it honesty about influence and error in the history of the church.

            Holland points out that the world before the advent of Christianity did not model equality, compassion, or morality. “The gods. . .never thought to regulate morals.”[3] The ancient world was not a conflict of good and evil but a power struggle where the strong win and subjugate the weak. The world before Jesus was purely Darwinian in that the strong survived and dominated the weak in often brutal ways. In contrast, Christianity enacted an engagement in the world born out of values and actions present in the life of Christ. Holland illustrates this point with numerous examples of thinkers and believers who engaged and lived their faith in practical ways. From meager resources, followers of Jesus gave to help widows, orphans, prisoners, and the infirm.[4] The first hospital sprang from Christian compassion to care for lepers and greeted them with a kiss. On another issue, Gregory leveled a critique of the ubiquitous practice of slavery as “an unpardonable offence against God.”[5] The accepted practice of abandoning unwanted children led Christians to search for those children and raise them as their own. In summary, Christianity introduced radically different values to the world.

            In later sections of the book, Holland interacts with contemporary issues like immigration, #MeToo, the sexual revolution, and others to show how those movements contain Christian thought despite a time of waning engagement with Christianity. As church attendance declines, the influence of Christian values continues, fueling many cultural trends, including wokeness. “Nietzsche had foretold it all. God might be dead, but his shadow, immense and dreadful, continued to flicker even as his corpse lay cold.”[6] People may be abandoning the Christian faith in record numbers, but they have not, perhaps even cannot, abandon the values rooted so deeply in the West. Having never entertained this connection before, I would explore the connections between the Christian faith and the principles driving the woke issues if I had more time.

            This semester, we have read about postmodernism and its impact on current culture wars. Most recently, Cynical Theories argued for the influence of postmodern thought upon race, gender, and identity. In a cultural time like this, how the church postures itself presents an important issue. In Jesus’ day, some withdrew from culture, specifically the Essenes. The Pharisees took a hardline posture with narrow boundaries. The Sadducees capitulated to the Romans. Jesus charted a different course than all of the options. The early church lived out its faith in a way that influenced a culture devoid of Christian values, especially for the marginalized and oppressed.

            Tom Holland offers a way for the church to engage the current culture in ways that capitalize on the shared values of Christian thought, whether those values are seen as Christian or not. For example, the highly politicized and emotional issue of police violence toward people of color in America can lead to an exchange of Paul’s aim at the three cultural divides of his day: ethnic, socio-economic, and gender. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 ESV) Of course, talk is cheap, and it is easy to espouse a belief. However, people outside of faith could experience a community living out the shared values of concern for the last, the least, and the lost. Tom Holland might say, “Those values are distinctly and inherently Christian.”

[1] Tom Holland, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (London: Abacus, 2020), xxiv.

[2] “Tom Holland Interview – Dominion: How The Christian Revolution Remade The World,” Regent College, March 22, 2022, accessed February 22, 2023 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpCeauhcLuc

[3] Holland, Dominion, 15.

[4] Ibid., 123.

[5] Ibid., 124.

[6] Ibid., 515.Hol

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

16 responses to “Western Christianity: Down But Not Out”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:


    Another fabulous post near Dr.

    You raised a fascinating hermeneutical thought: the Bible addressing social issues is nothing new, and neither is ignoring them for the sake of personal piety. But, as you gathered from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, similar to what he states in Colossians 3:11, in Christ, we are all one. It is not a call to eliminate race, gender, or socio-economic positions. Instead, it is a call to embrace equitable diversity within the Kingdom of God. And, like the Hebrew prophets of old warned the people, a price will be paid when we blindly look past the injustices of this world. As Isaiah 1:11-17 states, God is less concerned with our religious worship expressions and more concerned with seeking justice for the poor, oppressed, and marginalized.

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Andy, I believe faith is person, corporate, and public. I agree that Paul’s point is not to eliminate the issues he references, but to identify the value to every person, no matter their race, economic standing, or gender. I love the picture of the early church where a Roman official could sit next to a slave and a woman, and each of them united to something and Someone bigger than them all, but equally valued in God’s new community. I’m sure I have an overly optimistic sense of what that kind of church looked like as we tend to glorify the past but I think the American church abandoned the public concerns of the poor, oppressed, and marginalized as a reaction the liberalism of the early 1900s. Generally, evangelicalism in our country focused on the individual side of faith to the exclusion of concern for the societal issues all around. I hope the church in this post-Christian era recovers what Richard Stears calls “The Hole in Our Gospel.”

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Roy: I also liked how Holland did not white wash the Christian faith when it did not live up to its ideals. He covers with a fair hand the good, the bad, and the ugly. But that honesty makes his premise all the more powerful I think–that the Christian faith has influenced all aspects of the West for the better for 2,000 years. Politics, art, education, economics…no part of western culture has been untouched by the Christian faith.

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Troy, I agree with Holland’s balanced approach to the history of the church. I can imagine recommending this book to skeptics who bring up negative aspects of the church’s history. Those “dark” realities are not the whole story, and I believe seeing all of it presented in such a compelling way by Holland could help some to see the church’s positive influences and actions.

  3. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    Hi Roy,

    Ty for your thoughts. Holland presented many critical moments from history. Which were some of the events from the book that you felt connected? Are there any events that you see the young adults in your church (25 – 35 years old) connected to?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Jonathan, for me, the acts of compassion in the early church have been a topic of interest for me for some time. I like that Holland points out the flaws in the church’s history when it did not live up to its own standards or its teachings. We should not ignore the bad parts of the church in the world. But, that does not change the positive parts of the church’s influence, and Holland does a great job of portraying it all. As for young adults, they care a lot about the social issues of our day and connect with efforts to show compassion. I’ve also found that many of young adult believers are looking for direction about where biblical boundaries exist. One of the events we are planning right now is an invitation to all young adults to meet with a panel of staff members and they can ask any questions they want. If this goes well, we will do that 2 or 3 times each year.

  4. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Thank you, Roy, for your post.
    I would be interested to hear how you have been able to channel, guide, direct the activism nature of young adults in your congregation. Are these leadership determined and directed “events” or of their initiative?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Denise, thank for you question. As a church as a whole, we do regular compassion efforts and we have seen young adults connect with those in large numbers. It seems as though younger generations want to act on their faith, not just know it. I believe that attribute of those generations will bring a renewed emphasis on faith as an action-oriented belief, not just head knowledge. We are also big on small groups and young adults have joined those in large numbers. We encourage small groups to come up with their own compassion events and a few of young adult groups have served in local missions and shelters. We hope to invite young adult leaders into leadership within the corporate church in the hopes of creating a leadership “pipeline.” I am optimistic about the future of the church due to the passionate faith of emerging generations.

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    Excellent blog. In what ways will any of the concepts from this book impact your future leadership and thoughts on the impact of Christianity in the world?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Eric, thanks for you question. This book confirmed a decision we as leaders made in our church – to engage the culture around us with compassion. In our context, many approach the LDS faith with confrontation, debate, and condemnation. We chose to lead with compassion and Holland’s book shows how a large part of the church’s history was marked by positive efforts in the culture surrounding them, especially in the first 300 years when the church was “illegal” in the Roman Empire. I believe we are in a cultural moment more like the early church than the church of the 1900s. We need to learn the strategies of the early church to be influential in a time that once again has Christian values on the fringe, not the center. I hope we can increase our efforts to show the love of God in practical ways all the more, leading ultimately to more people meeting and following the Jesus of the Bible.

  6. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Roy: You write “Tom Holland offers a way for the church to engage the current culture in ways that capitalize on the shared values of Christian thought, whether those values are seen as Christian or not.” From your vocational perspective, is it important that any community engagement/ministry that the church do clearly be identified as being from the local church or no? Sometimes I wonder if the church today is more interested in people walking away knowing they just engaged with xyz church rather than engaged with a disciple of Jesus.

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Kayli, thanks for your question – I had to think about my answer for some time. I believe we are entering a cultural phase where our engagement with the culture needs to point to Jesus more than it does to a church. In my context, the predominant faith is Mormonism, and they do many things in the name of that church. Yet, so many of the people who serve, do not enjoy it because it is expected, even forced, on them. In contrast, as followers of the Jesus of the Bible, we can serve without compulsion and a genuine joy. I think Holland showed us how that impacted a previous time when Christian values were not the dominant influence. The rapid growth of the early church is remarkable and marked by a decentralized approach to engaging culture. Therefore, I would like to say it’s a “both/and” approach to engaging but more and more, I believe individuals will have a greater impact than doing something on behalf of the church they attend. The Jehovah’s Witnesses that come to my door are sent by their church. Individuals who serve out their own desire show personal conviction over an expectation placed on them by their faith group.

  7. Elmarie Parker says:

    Roy, thank you for this most excellent post! I really enjoyed reading it and appreciate the many insightful thoughts you shared! I found your summary of Holland’s book of particular help since I focused on his lecture and another article he wrote. I am fascinated that you classified his book under theology and then later wrote: “Written as a history but reading like an engrossing novel and telling stories in vignettes like a biography…” So, I’m curious if you could say more about the theological component of his book? What do you think he is theologically professing through the history he tells?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Elmarie, thanks for you question. I understood the categorization of the book under theology, but it is not theology proper. I would call it “practical” or “pastoral” theology in the sense that relates to the actions of the church through the ages moreso than its beliefs. I especially resonated with the actions of followers of Jesus in the first three hundred years of its existence when it was illegal in the Roman Empire to call anyone other than Caesar to be Lord. The way in which the church engaged a pagan culture with profound impact leads me to believe that there is much to learn for the modern church in those centuries that will help to influence today’s culture from the fringes. I took Holland’s presentation of church history as a challenge to live what you believe in passionate, genuine, and compelling ways. It focused more on orthopraxy than it did on orthodoxy. Personally, I believe the church today needs to think through its strategy of engagement with a diverse and rapidly changing context.

  8. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Roy You say that Holland connects is thesis to Judeo-Christian values. How does he connect to the Judeo heritage? I did not read the book but in his lecture I never heard him reference the influence of the Jews. Does Holland equate Christians and Jews? How might this make a difference?

  9. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Nicole, thanks for you question. I do not remember Holland using the phrase Judeo-Christian values. I’m pretty sure that’s my term that I often apply to Christian beliefs as so many of them spring from the Old Testament. For example, even a cursory reading the Old Testament shows a concern and care for the poor. Holland does a great job of showing how those beliefs were practiced through the last two-thousand years. He does not spend time diving deep in theology, but rather into the practice of it. I also watched the lecture, and I agree with your assessment. He did not spend any time on Christian beliefs there. I appreciate that in the book he does not downplay the “sins” of the church. At the same time, he convincingly demonstrates the pervasive nature of Christian thought and actions (like hospitals, orphanages, etc.) are so ingrained in our way of life that many assume they are self-evident.

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