When you have such notables as Max Lucado, Patrick Lencioni, N.T. Wright, Phillip Yancey and Dallas Willard writing testimonials and Condeleeza Rice providing the foreword, you know you're in for a treat! I may have found another new favorite book. Leave it to John Ortberg to hit it out of the park.
I grabbed this book when I heard John mention it at this year's Leadership Summit. I was intrigued by the question that is implied by this book: what would this world look like without Jesus? What difference did He really make? As Ortberg shares, our world would be barely recognizable without his influence.
Jesus is the ultimate paradox. Born in obscurity to an oppressed people, never traveling more than 200 miles from his home, rejecting the normal avenues to power, limiting his public ministry to only three years, being struck down in his prime: none of these hint of a world-changer. Yet, as historian H.G. Wells wrote, "The historian's test of an individual's greatness is 'What did he leave to grow?' Did he start men thinking along fresh lines with a vigor that persisted after him? By this test Jesus stands first."
Ortberg shares a myriad number of ways that Jesus has impacted our world for the better - many of which would surprise our secular world which has lately been studiously trying to erase any vestige of him. The rise of Western Civilization is largely due to the principles taught by Jesus in his public ministry. We can begin with the promotion of human dignity which changed the way that society treated women and children.
While some cultures may have valued women and children, it was Jesus' followers who spread those values to the world. Before Christ, in the world ruled by Rome, women were viewed as chattel, children were often abandoned to die if they were born weak or the wrong gender (read female). Jesus accepted women as disciples, and the church which he established became the first egalitarian organization on earth, according to historian Thomas Cahill. All were welcomed and valued. Abandoned children were adopted by Christians because Jesus had taught them that each of them were created in God's image and were loved by Him. It was Christ-followers who established the first orphanages.
Because Jesus valued children, Christians began to teach them - all of them. Education was restricted in Roman culture to children of the wealthy and privileged. Christians taught children of the poor and slaves alike, wanting to help them to serve God with their minds as well. Philosopher Mark Nelson writes, "If you ask what is Jesus' influence on medicine and compassion, I would suggest that wherever you have an institution of self-giving for the lonely (and for practical welfare of the lonely), schools, hospitals, hospices, orphanages for those who will never be able to repay, this probably has its roots in the movement of Jesus."
The first universities found their impetus in the monasteries. Christ-followers devoted their lives to study - not just of Christian works, but of the classics and pagan works as well. In fact, after the sacking of Rome, it was these Christian communities, particularly in Ireland, that preserved the great works of ancient literature for future generations. Christ-followers established the first universities, like Oxford in the 13th century, whose motto is taken from Psalm 27:1 - "The Lord is my light." The Sunday School movement was largely responsible for the foundation of the first public schools. The first law to require mass universal education was also enacted by Christ-followers - the same ones who founded Harvard and Yale and William and Mary and Princeton, etc...
It was Christian missionaries who found languages that had not been committed to writing and who devoted their lives to doing so. They compiled the first dictionaries, wrote the first grammars and developed the first alphabets. It was Methodist missionary, Frank Laubach who was called "the Apostle to the Illiterates. He traveled to more than a hundred countries and his organization developed primers in 313 languages.
Contrary to popular thought today, Christianity was largely responsible for the development of modern science. As Alfred North Whitehead, one of the dominant thinkers of the twentieth century asked, "What is it that made it possible for science to emerge in the human race? It's the medieval insistence on the rationality of God." The vast majority of the pioneers of science were believers in Christ, men like William of Ockham, Francis Bacon, Galileo, Copernicus, Blaise Pascal, Joseph Priestley, Louis Pasteur, Isaac Newton, etc...
The book also deals with Jesus' influence on government and the arts, technology, architecture, marriage and the family and so much more. As Yale historian Jaroslav Pelikan wrote, "Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western Culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull up out of the history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left?" How much, indeed.
Whether you are a skeptic or a Christ-follower, I recommend you read this book. It will change your thinking of this man called Jesus, the one I am so blessed to call my Saviour.
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Book Review: "Why Jesus?"
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