Jonathan Hill, What Has Christianity Ever Done For Us? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 192pp.
Christianity is the largest religion in the world, and perhaps the most globally indigenous, having spread most everywhere on earth. For many people in our post-Christian world that global reach has become synonymous with economic exploitation, cultural imperialism, military domination, and reactionary intolerance. Think of Cortez in Central America, medieval crusaders, slave-traders in the Congo, or witch hunts in Boston. What often goes unnoticed and unspoken, though, is how broadly and deeply Christianity has shaped the modern world for good. Thus Jonathan Hill's book is a refreshing exception. He does not ignore or soft-pedal the wrongs Christians have done, and even enfolds those dark episodes into his narrative, but in this book he highlights the debt we all owe for the "positive heritage of Christianity."
Almost any realm of human endeavor you might contemplate has in some way been shaped for good by Christianity. Reading and writing, art and architecture, education and literacy, music and politics, the rule of law and care for the poor. Examples and connections abound. The incarnation, in which Christians believe that God became a man, implies the radical notion that human history is important. Belief in the imago dei signals that every person bears a sacred identity that cannot be earned or forfeited. The doctrine of creation signals the rational intelligibility of the world upon which scientific inquiry is based. Hill considers all these areas and more, which means that by necessity his work is quite general. A half-page on Milton or Dostoyevsky, for example, informs you only so well. Still, in our age of specialized expertise, I appreciated his attempt at the big picture and the grand sweep. American readers might not warm to Hill's British idiom, and at times his attempts to inject humor into his casual style come off as strained and distracting. Hill mines the Christian heritage from the early church mothers and fathers down through Tolkien, the Irish rock group U2, and black American blues. Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant traditions all get their due. He introduces you to Christian contributions from Africa, South America, Japan, and beyond. This hard back book is handsomely bound and includes nearly 100 gorgeous color plates of icons, architecture, portraiture, and photography.