Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization

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Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization.

By Alvin J. Schmidt. Grand Rapids: Zondervan,2001.Pp.423.$24.99/Can$36.95.

This book is written by a Lutheran clergyman who spent most of his professional life as a professor of sociology at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois. His book is characterized by clarity and easy reading and will, therefore, attract not only theologians but also a whole range of laypeople inside and outside the academy.

Each of the book's fifteen chapters examines one of the many fields of civilization that Christianity has entered and transformed. In successive chapters, the following transformations of paganism into Christianity are analyzed historically: sanctification of human life, elevation of sexual morality, freedom and dignity for women, charity and compassion, hospitals and health care, education, labor and economic freedom, science, liberty and justice for all, the abolition of slavery, art and architecture, music, literature, and, finally, holidays, words, symbols, and expressions. The author makes it very clear that nearly everything in Western civilization is connected with, and rooted in, Christianity.

The first question is whether the author has forgotten some areas and/or insufficiently dealt with others. The book deals mainly with Western civilization and thus pays very little attention to other civilizations and to the enormous impact of Christian missionaries on these civilizations (for instance, the names of the great foreign missionaries Francis Xavier and William Carey are lacking). Furthermore, the political arena is marginally explored: democracy, parliament, and the like are hardly addressed as areas of considerable Christian commitment present and past.

My second question is connected with the scope of this volume. Schmidt has written a book that can be regarded as an antidote to secularism: in numerous ways it makes both Western Christians and nonChristians aware of Christ's impact on nearly all sectors of life. …