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.” 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. 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.” 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. 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.” 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.” 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.”
 Tom Holland, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (London: Abacus, 2020), xxiv.
 “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
 Holland, Dominion, 15.
 Ibid., 123.
 Ibid., 124.
 Ibid., 515.Hol