Book Review: Tom Holland’s Dominion

With eager anticipation I awaited the book Dominion: How Christian Revolution Remade the World written by British historian, Tom Holland, who I first heard on the podcast Unbelievable in a conversation with the renowned New Testament scholar, NT Wright.

Opening gifts from my husband Christmas morning, delight arose within me when I tore off the Christmas wrappings to find Dominion by Tom Holland. The weight of it lay heavy in my hands. I had not realized it was such a tome. It filled my January. I read it cover to cover in twenty-seven days.

Dominion explores the thesis that Christianity undergirds the modern world. Christianity has shaped us all. Opponents and believers alike operate from Christian assumptions. The very idea that humans have rights is Christian. This was not news to me. My familiarity with this topic is why I became thrilled to read Dominion.

I had read The Book That Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi as well as This Book Changed Everything. I had consumed hours of Vishal’s teachings. I knew full well the Bible shaped the modern world. The difference is that Dominion is written by a ‘secular’ historian who came upon this truth and decided to share it with the world simply because it is historically true.

“Time itself has been Christianized,” writes Holland opening his book demonstrating how something so fundamental as time came to us from Christianity. Unfolding this historical insight, he writes,

“No riddling pronouncement of Apollo had ever served to reconfigure the very concept of time. Yet this, across the Roman world, was what the Old and New Testament had combined to achieve. Those who lacked the Christian understanding of history, so Augustine had written, ‘were doomed to ‘wander in a circuitous maze finding neither ther entrance nor exit.’ The course of time, as sure as a direct arrow, proceeded in a straight line: from Genesis to Revelation; from Creation to the Day of Judgement.”

Holland expounds that not only time, but also history and the calendar came to us from Christian thinking. Holland refers to it as the Christian ‘myth’ and yet sees it as unequal in magnitude and contribution to other myths of the world. Holland is not a professing Christian but sees his inherited worldview as thoroughly Christian.

Many of the major points Holland makes underscore a similar point that Vishal Mangalwadi has taught. I am reminded of Vishal’s chapter on how the Bible shifted what constitutes a hero with the first sentence of this quote from Dominion:

“The paradox that weakness might be a source of strength, that a victim might triumph over his torturers, that suffering might constitute victory, lay at the heart of the Gospels. Voltaire, when he sketched a portrait of Calas broken on the wheel, could not help but evoke in the imaginings of his readers the image of Christ on the cross. The standards by which he judged Christianity, and condemned it for its faults, were not universal. They were not shared by philosophers across the world. They were not common from Beijing to Cayenne. They were distinctively, peculiarly Christian.”

I love how Holland points out on several key points in his book that the arguments used to judge Christianity come from Christianity. You can see that in the quote above. He writes again, “Any condemnation of Christianity as patriarchal and repressive derived from a framework of values that was itself utterly Christian.” What is more, he argues that secularism owes its existence to Christianity. “Secularism is a Christian heresy,” is a profound statement I first read from Vishal Mangalwadi. Holland cannot go so far as to call it a heresy, as he is not arguing for a Christian orthodoxy. But he writes,

“The great claim of what, in 1846, an English newspaper editor first termed ‘secularism’ was to neutrality. Yet this was a conceit. Secularism was not a neutral concept. The very word came trailing incense clouds of meaning that were irrevocably and venerably Christian.”

I write in my first book Back to the Future that, “there is no neutral worldview” Secularism has been masked in neutrality whereas, unmasked, it is a weakened shell of Christianity.

The most exciting point Holland makes . . . exciting because, once again, I learned this first from Vishal, an idea that people, even Christians, struggle to accept. Holland writes,

“That all men had been created equal, and endowed with an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, were not remotely self-evident truths. That most Americans believed they were owed less to philosophy than to the Bible: to the assurance given equally to Christians and Jews, to Protestants and Catholics, to Calvinists and Quakers, that every human being was created in God’s image. The truest and ultimate seedbed of the American republic–no matter what some of those who had composed its founding documents might have cared to think–was the book of Genesis.”

Reading The Book that Made Your World, you will learn that Jefferson first penned that these truths were ‘sacred’ – not self-evident. The amending came from Benjamin Franklin who thought the term self-evident more palatable. The word choice made a worldview difference. The HBO series John Adams based on David McCullough’s book depicts this scene in the writing of the Declaration of Independence.

It is in this sense that America is a Christian nation. We may be the home to people of many different religions, but our infrastructure, culture, way of life, is Christian. Even our freedom of religion is Christian. It is because we are Christian that we are the home of practitioners of other religions. Europe, despite its empty churches, to paraphrase Holland, is also Christian. Christianity reached to India, Africa, and the Middle East. In fact, Holland shows how Protestantism changed Islam. There is little left on earth that Christianity has not impacted to some degree.

Holland got a great deal right in his history. I disagreed with some points about Paul and some modern cultural topics, but that is to be expected as I come from the worldview where the Bible is true truth and not myth. Holland wrote justly about Christianity – he did not spare its vices nor its virtues.

It is strangely controversial to acknowledge the history of the Bible upon the world. Some Christians argue against this truth. We cling to the idea that truth is universal and known innately. We resist crediting the Bible. But when you have a historian who has intimate knowledge of antiquity come to the realization that he is Christian – even though not in the born again sense – but in the sense he acknowledges his inheritance of the Christian way of thinking or worldview – it is time to reexamine our assumptions about epistemology – how we know truth.

Worldviews have a history. They can be traced to their origin. We are all borrowing from a Christian worldview whether we like it or not. If we strengthen that Christian worldview our world will improve, if we let it languish and decay, we will create a new dark age. Holland believes the Christian worldview is here to stay to continue to shape the world because it has done so with such great strides for thousands of years. I think if we do not resume discipling nations we will regress into a much less Christian world.

Book.3D

Available Now on Amazon.

To reform a nation, you need to know what makes a nation truly great. Understanding America’s beginnings creates a pathway forward for all nations. From America’s first President, to the birth of capitalism, to the shaping of its institutions, Karla Perry shows the reader what makes nations flourish.

“Karla has important insights into some of the critical issues of our times. She has the ability to articulate them in an interesting and engaging way that is also practical.”
Rick Joyner, Founder and President, MorningStar Ministries

“An enemy is not needed to destroy a great civilization. It can self-destruct by forgetting the ideas that made its language, literature, family, education, politics, economy, laws and judiciary great. Many feel the need to re-form America that no longer knows what is love, marriage, divorce, male and female, family or nation. In this powerful premier, Karla Perry explains what made America great in the first place and how it can again become a blessing to its citizens and a light to the world.” Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi, Author of The Book That Made Your World

 

One thought on “Book Review: Tom Holland’s Dominion

  • Thank you for sending time to read and share with us the precious nuggets you picked up from those books. As a student of Chuck Colsom I am keenly aware of ideas that shape that world. I appreciate your review. I look forward having those books in my shelf as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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