by Gary DeMar and Peter Leithart
While most Christians will admit that they have a mind, many seem to think that they don’t need it. In fact, some Christians today seem to believe that thinking is an act of unbelief. Many Christians do not even begin to think about how the Bible might apply, for example, to economics, law, or education. They might have opinions about these areas but no formulated, thought-out worldview.
This view has not always prevailed in the history of Christian culture. In fact, some of the greatest thinkers throughout the centuries have been Christians. Of course, not all of them were perfectly consistent in their application of Christianity to various intellectual pursuits. The important point is that they did not believe their faith kept them from using their minds.
- In the area of LAW, Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England has remained a classic of legal scholarship since it was first published in the mid-1700s. Blackstone defined law as “a rule of action dictated by some superior being.” He claimed that God dictated laws for men, which could be discovered in nature and in the Bible: “Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human law should be suffered to contradict these.“1
- In LITERATURE, the number of great Christian writers through the centuries is astounding. To look only at England, we find that many of the greatest poets were Christians, even clergymen: John Donne, George Herbert, and John Milton. Samuel Johnson was, in his time, the leading literary critic in the English language, and the compiler of an early English dictionary. Even into this century, many leading English literary figures were Christians, including G. K. Chesterton, T. S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers.
- In PHILOSOPHY, Christians dominated the West from the fifth century until modern times. The great philosophers of the Middle Ages were all theologians: Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Anselm of Canterbury, William of Ockham. When philosophers began to abandon Christianity in the 17th century, most continued to be influenced by Christianity and to address the issues that Christians had been wrestling with for centuries. Even the “father of modern philosophy,” Rene Descartes, despite the evil effects of his thought, was trying to provide a secure proof for the existence of God.
- In POLITICS, many of the important political leaders of the medieval and early modern West were Christians. Until the later Middle Ages, every king of Europe claimed to be Christ’s representative on earth. In Russia, the czars claimed to be the protectors of the Orthodox Church right up to the time of the Bolshevik Revolution. In the modern era, such outstanding political figures as John Adams, George Washington, William Gladstone, and William Wilberforce were all to varying degrees professing and practicing Christians.
- In the ARTS, we discover again that most of the (sometimes anonymous) medieval painters, sculptors, and architects were evidently Christians. The great cathedrals of Europe, the magnificent stained glass windows, the colorful altar pieces, the statuary that adorned the cathedrals – all were dedicated to Christian themes, and were generally produced by Christian artisans. During the Renaissance and Reformation periods, artists began to gain more individual recognition, and we have clearer evidence that many were believers. Among these were Rembrandt van Rijn and Albrect Durer, two Protestant painters.
- In MUSIC, much of Western music was written by Christians.2 Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Friederich Handel are two representatives of the great German Christian tradition in music. Handel’s “Messiah,” a series of Scripture texts set to some of the most exhilarating music ever written, is still a holiday favorite today. Everyone recognizes the tune to Handel’s magnificent “Hallelujah Chorus.” Bach was, if anything, even more self-consciously Christian than Handel, and dedicated many of his compositions to the glory of God.
- SCIENCE and technology in the modern world often seem to be at odds with Christianity, but this was not always the case. In fact, after Christianity had taken over the Western Roman Empire, there was an unprecedented burst of innovation in agricultural technology. The inventions included the heavy plow, crop-rotation, new types of harnesses for horses, and nailed horseshoes. Some scholars have concluded that this burst of technology, which continued throughout the medieval period in Europe, was a result of Christian beliefs and attitudes.3 Many of the leading scientists of the early modern world were also professing Christians: Isaac Newton, Johann Kepler, Robert Boyle, Lord Kelvin, Louis Pasteur, Michael Faraday, Clerk Maxwell, and many more.
1 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1765), vol. 1, pp. 38-42.
2 See Jane Stuart Smith and Betty Carlson, The Gift of Music (rev. ed.; Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1978).
3 Lynn White, Jr., Medieval Religion and Technology (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978), pp. 77, 236.