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What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?
[COMMENT: There is a growing awareness that Western culture is not secular humanism, it is and was Judeo-Christian culture. Secularism was just a short stop on the way out of Western culture back again into paganism (unless we get the spiritual maturity and spunk to turn it around. See also remarks by Rodney Stark. E. Fox]
On December 25, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described in his beautiful hymn, the belfries of all Christendom will roll along “the unbroken song of peace on earth, good will to men.” But few today truly understand the world-changing influence the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has had across history.
What would the last two millennia have been like had Jesus not been born? That’s the intriguing question Jerry Newcombe and the late Dr. D. James Kennedy ask in their 1994 bookWhat If Jesus Had Never Been Born?
Most skeptics grudgingly acknowledge that Jesus has had a positive effect on history, but the truth of the incarnation’s full impact is mind-boggling. The 19th century poet James Russell Lowell said:
“I challenge any skeptic to find a ten-square-mile spot on this planet where they can live their lives in peace and safety and decency, where womanhood is honored, where infancy and old age are revered, where they can educate their children, where the Gospel of Jesus Christ has not gone first to prepare the way. If they find such a place, then I would encourage them to emigrate thither and there proclaim their unbelief.”1
Newcombe, who took over Truth in Action Ministries (known then as Coral Ridge Ministries) after Kennedy’s 2007 passing, toldThe Journal that he’s concerned that as Christ is being pushed out of public life, people will forget the physical benefits of the Gospel in the here and now.
Take science, for example. Today, Christians in science struggle to earn legitimacy among peers biased against the biblical worldview. But the study of science owes its very existence to the Gospel. “Science could not have been born in today’s milieu,” Newcombe said. “The postmodern world could not ever give birth to science.”
The same applies even to the United States. Without the notions of freedom — derived from Christianity — embedded in our country’s founding ideals, our nation may never have existed. “Without Jesus, you wouldn’t have these types of freedoms,” Newcombe said.
The Gospel of Christ touches the business world as well. As Theodore Roosevelt Malloch points out inDoing Virtuous Business, some of the most successful modern companies employ particular virtues based on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church: faith, hope, and charity.
The impact of Christ is at the very heart of what we love and appreciate about Western civilization. Yet today many anti-Christian groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom from Religion Foundation are obsessed with erasing any mention of Christ. The 20th century should be our guide; as R.J. Rummel noted, cultures that began with anti-Christ assumptions have wreaked havoc on an unimaginable scale. For example, the Lenin/Stalin regimes of the former Soviet Union and the Mao Tsetung regime in China both killed more of their own people — about 84.5 million — than both world wars combined (24 million).2
So it behooves us to take a close look at but a
few areas to see what difference it made that Jesus came into the world.
Christians Fight for Equality of the Sexes
Most cultures throughout history have not considered women to be of equal value to men. In ancient Greek and Roman civilization, women had virtually no rights. With the both Greek social customs and the Roman institution ofpatria postestas, a woman was a man’s property — either her husband’s or her father’s.3 In many cases, women weren’t permitted to speak in public and were restricted as to when they could leave their homes. In Roman culture, men weren’t expected to be faithful to their wives and openly obtained mistresses. In fact, men were permitted to have their wives or daughters executed under some circumstances. Even in the Jewish tradition the testimony of women was thought to be unreliable, and women whose husbands had died or divorced them were at the mercy of whatever evil intent the men in their communities could devise.
Though liberal and secular humanist activists have hijacked the debate over women’s rights, the cause of recognizing the dignity of women was originally taken up by followers of Christ in the centuries after his birth. Jesus interacted with women in a dignifying way and the early Christians carried his example forth, as women were educated the same as men in Christian education institutions.4
The spread of the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire correlated with a drop in infanticide practiced on baby girls.5
Eventually Romans gave women more rights, including property rights, which came from the influence of Christianity, and marriage came to be viewed as monogamous.6
The Good News of Jesus Leads to More Education
Though formalized institutes of education had existed since ancient Greece, it was Christians who extended the lifechanging value of education to boys and girls of all socio-economic backgrounds. Prior to the Protestant Reformation, Christian schools taught Scripture, but they also delved into literature, math, and medicine.7
Many people don’t know that part of the reformation Martin Luther sought from the Catholic Church was to ensure that ordinary people — not just priests — had access to education.8 Christians founded the first universities, schools for the blind, and schools for the deaf.9
Christ’s Care for the Sick Prompts Charitable Hospitals
Jesus’ work heals his people spiritually, but he also tended to their physical needs by healing their diseases and deformities. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine now how radical this was. In the culture of the Romans — and even the Jews of Israel — the sick were cast aside and treated as inferior. The Greco-Roman world did have medical treatment, but only for the elite classes of men or soldiers. No institutions existed to take care of all sick, regardless of social status. Until Christians started them, that is.10
Care for all those with physical ailments was a uniquely Christian idea, based on the fact that all people have value as image-bearers of God. It gradually spread throughout the Roman Empire.
In 325, the Council of Nicaea proclaimed that every city with a cathedral should also have a hospital, which also served as shelters for the poor.11 The culture of caring for the sick grew as Christians continued the work through the Crusades, the Middle Ages, and even to the New World. Today we have institutions like the International Red Cross, begun and proliferated by Christians.12
The model of charitable hospitals, though
largely different today, spread to other cultures throughout history. But the
idea sprouted from Jesus’ care for the sick.
Christ’s Influence Is Inescapable
It may well be impossible to calculate the influence of Christ and his followers in the world, but there is no denying that it is massive. In addition to the topics covered above, Christ’s life has changed our justice system; it pushed abolitionists to free slaves throughout several cultures and time periods; it has provided inspiration for centuries of Western art and literature; Christ’s life even changed our calendars and the words in our vocabulary.
Above all, though, Jesus completely reshaped our understanding of the value of each human life. As Chuck Colson puts it, the idea that we all bear the image of God, and because of that have inherent value, is perhaps the most radical idea the world has ever known. Jesus embodied the depths of God’s love for creation, showing that God so loved the world that he would send his only son, that whoever believes in him would not perish, but would have eternal life.
Merry Christmas from Summit Ministries.
1. D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe,What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (Thomas Nelson, 1994), 238.
2. “War Isn’t This Century’s Biggest
Killer,” R. J. Rummel, accessed November 19, 2011,
3. Alvin J. Schmidt,How Christianity Changed the World (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan: 2001), 111.
4. Ibid, 172.
5. Ibid, 99-100.
6. Ibid, 111.
7. See note 4.
8. Ibid, 177.
9. Ibid, 182, 183, 187.
10. Ibid, 153-54.
11. Ibid, 155.
12. Ibid, 165.
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Date Posted - 07/06/2011 - Date Last Edited - 07/07/2012