Lesson 14

Christianity is a White European religion, a product of Western Culture

A Klansman might be proud to say that Christianity is a product of white, European, Western culture. For the rest of us, though, it’s a problem. Imagine yourself sipping a latte at Starbuck’s, and you casually mention to a friend that you’re financially supporting a missionary in India. “Oh, that’s horrible,” your fellow coffee-lover exclaims, “The people of India have their own culture. Why do you want to push Western culture on them? Do you think we’re better just because we’re white European-Americans?” How do you answer?

Or let’s say you’re not white, but African-American. The same argument arises. An African-American friend of yours objects to your spreading Christianity within the black community in St. Louis. “You’re just an agent of white racists, spreading white racist religion,” he tells you, “We need to get back to a truly African religion—like Islam.” Sure, you could inform your friend that Islam is not African, and that most of the slave trade was run by Arab Moslems. Also inform him that race-based black slavery is still practiced in many Moslem lands to this day. But once all that is said, how can you answer the assumption within his question?  

1. Christianity is not a product of Western Culture, but a peaceful invader.

The accusation that Christianity is a product of Western civilization shows a high degree of ignorance about Western civilization. Western civilization, passing through Greece to Rome and eventually north to civilize the barbarians, was anything but Christian. Zeus and Apollo are the indigenous gods of Western culture—Yahweh has been a peaceful invader. Certainly Christianity has made a deep and positive imprint upon Western civilization (see Lesson 8). But make no doubt about it—the culture came first, Jesus started reforming it later. Christianity is Christ—the two cannot be distinguished. Our religion is all about Jesus. He wasn’t German. He was Semitic—a Jew, a Middle Eastern carpenter.

Remember that Moses was criticized in Numbers 12:1 for marrying a black African woman (a Cushite or Ethiopian woman), likely after his first wife died. God’s judgment on Miriam for her racist remark was to be stricken with a sudden and severe skin disease that turned her skin completely white. Christianity’s roots are not European.

2. Jesus is extending his influence within every culture.

And Jesus told us that his kingdom (his rule, or influence) would spread throughout the globe and through every culture, like yeast through dough (Matthew 13). In the early Christian era, Egypt, North Africa and modern-day Turkey were the great centers of Christianity—not Western Europe. Indeed, one of the oldest of all Christian denominations in the world is the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the largest church in Ethiopia. While surrounding parts of Africa were overthrown first by Moslem armies and later by Western colonialists, Ethiopia alone successfully resisted both the Moslem and later the European armies, remaining an independent Christian state for over 16 centuries until a Marxist coup in 1974.

And the Thomas Christians in India will gladly tell you that Christianity isn’t a product of Western culture. They trace the beginnings of their churches back to the apostle Thomas, who (according to early and reliable histories) traveled east to preach Jesus in India at the end of the first century, even converting one of the kings of first-century India—Gundaphoras, whom skeptics claimed was mythical until historians confirmed his existence in the past century. Christianity reached India centuries before it reached England. And the Christians in India really long for Jesus to exert his power in their land even more greatly than he has already.

3. Western Europe is one of the least Christian cultures today.

If people think that Christianity is a European thing, they’ll be in for a shock when they see the numbers. With only about 2.8% of Europeans claiming to have been born again, Europe today is perhaps the least Christian of all the continents. The Scandinavian nations are the best off, with about one in ten people being evangelical. But sadly, most European states are empty spiritual shells filled with people who identify themselves loosely as “Christian” but who have no commitment to Jesus Christ, no new life in him, and little or no commitment to the church. In Greece, for example, only one in a thousand has been born again. Most nations have less than 1% Bible-believing, evangelical Christians; among them: Albania, Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland, Poland, Spain, and Yugoslavia. I remember an Irish pastor commenting on how most Europeans had been made Christians outwardly, but never inwardly. Even jolly old England fares poorly, with only 10% of adults in church services on an average Sunday—and that including dead churches as well as living ones.

4. Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most Christian places today.

So with about 10% of planet earth claiming to have been born again, where are all the believers? Non-Western lands. 34% of the people of Kenya say they’ve been born again. One in four Ugandans has followed Jesus’ call. Indeed, the East African revival has been going strong since the 1930s. The Central African Republic is about 25% evangelical, the Congo (former Zaire) about 22%. And I’m not the only American Christian to find that believers from Nigeria are a lot more serious about Jesus than we are. Remember: it was Zambia, not the United States, which formally declared itself a “Christian nation” in the 1990s. At his inauguration, their president confessed publicly a national prayer of repentance that renounced the sins of idolatry, witchcraft, occultism, injustice and corruption, pleading before Jesus Christ for forgiveness upon the nation through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross. That’s not Western culture and sure isn’t a “white” thing!

And look elsewhere in the world. Chile, formerly the home of dead Catholicism, is now 33% evangelical. South Korea has turned its back on Buddhism to follow Jesus—there are more Presbyterians there than in the United States. Almost half of Koreans today are Christians—and they’re sending about 3,000 missionaries out of Korea to the rest of the world, to pagan lands like the United States, so we can know Jesus too!

HOMEWORK

Think about these discussion questions over the next week. You may want to jot down your thoughts.

1. “Evolution is a fact.” How would you approach someone who voiced this assumption?

2. List three basic scientific problems with Darwinian evolution.

3. What is meant by the problem of transitional forms?

4. What different approaches have Christians taken to try to integrate knowledge gained through science with the biblical account of creation? Which do you find the most promising? What might be the strengths and weaknesses of each—both from a theological and from a scientific perspective?

5. A cousin of yours complains, “Christians are all hypocrites!” What points might you like to make when discussing this problem with him?

6. How would you respond to the following argument? “Christianity is a product of white racism. White people want to force their culture down the rest of the world’s throat.”