Mangalwadi, Vishal. 2011. The book that made your world: How the Bible created the sould of Western civilization. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Mangalwadi’s book has had a number of positive reviews in the six years since it was published. His background as an Indian scholar and his depth of appraising history demonstrate conclusively that the main contributors to Western civilization have had their worldviews built solidly on the Bible. Mangalwadi uses both research and story to convey this information in a convincing manner.
In the foreword, J. Stanley Mattson, founder and president of the C.S. Lewis Foundation in Redlands, California, compares Mangalwadi’s book to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, in terms of its wide-ranging assessment of Western cultures and civilization. It is his contention that the research of Mangalwadi “establishes the fact that the Bible and its world view…combined to serve as the single most powerful force in the emergence of Western civilization” (xvi and wvii, emphasis in the original).
There are seven parts to the book. The first discusses what Mangalwadi refers to as the “soul of Western civilization,” and begins with a story about the suicide of Kurt Cobain, the lead artist in the rock band called Nirvana. Cobain felt rejected by his family and his moral despair and nihilism drew him into Buddhism. His album Nevermind was popular and remains popular with people who wish to create their own version of reality. It directly opposes the music of men like Bach and Martin Luther, who celebrated “the soul’s eternal rest in the Creator’s love….” (p. 21). Instead, and often nurtured in the punk rock of today, we have what Mangalwadi calls “the amputation of the soul.”
Part two documents the personal journey of Mangalwadi, who grew up in a culture dominated by poverty. Nevertheless, Mangalwadi and his wife, with a vision of helping their people, moved back into their culture, living on a farm in a rural area of India. At the time (1980), Mangalwadi was only 20. He chronicles the interactions with local leaders, many of them corrupt and dangerous, and how God led him to various community development projects to help the people. It was prayer, however, that both sustained his work and angered the authorities. It also led to his imprisonment, but the publicity benefitted him.
Mangalwadi’s pilgrimage “began in a moral struggle” (p. 38). He stole and, knowing that it was wrong, somehow heard the good news of Jesus Christ, who “became the most precious person in my life” (p. 39). Various questions confronted him when he attended University and he began to read the Bible. Mangalwadi questioned Hindu philosophies, but in the Bible he found not only the notion of freedom, but also of nation.
Part two is an overview that discusses the “seeds of western civilization” and begins with the question: “What is the West’s greatest discovery?” (p. 59). For a start, the West brought compassion in the form of medicine, rationality as a thinking society, and technology to aid the underprivileged workers—all because of a biblical worldview. Other societies built the pyramids, the Taj Mahal and other edifices to satisfy their gods, not because of their value of the human being. The West also had a type of heroism that was different from the classical and medieval hero—its modern hero did not emerge until the Bible became a part of western consciousness (p.134).
The men who enabled the revolution of the western mind were Bible translators and in England, chief among them, was William Tyndale. Up until his time and afterward, “[t]he bishops had been burning people alive who possessed even fragments of its [the Bible’s] copies” (p.138). Rome was in demise, but the papacy took its place of power, and it was John Wycliffe who put “his pen against the pope’s sword” (p. 143) and challenged the Roman churches authority. Up until then the intellectual elite controlled the “Bible”, which was the Latin vulgate, translated by Jerome. They did not like “the idea that the Bible could be translated into a rustic dialect like English” (p. 145). They liked, for example, Jerome’s translation of repentance as “doing penance.”
What Tyndale and Wycliffe did for English speakers, Martin Luther did for the Germans—give the masses a Bible they could read and understand.
The first Protestant study Bible was the Geneva Bible, published in 1660, with illustrations, maps and other study aids. The King James Bible followed , although the King himself “opposed the Puritans who championed the Geneva Bible,” because he upheld the divine right of kings (p. 155). The Geneva Bible used the word “tyrant” to refer to kings—the KJV never did (p.156).
Part five is called “The Intellectual Revolution” in which Mangalwadi reminds us that Latin was the language of the Roman Empire and that “for a thousand years, nobody after Jerome bothered to translate the Bible into the dialects of the people of England” (p. 163) until the reformers came along. In India, Henry Martyn was most notable in seeing the value of the various “dialects” and translated the Bible into Urdu. An India scholar, Dr. Babu Verghese documented the achievements of Bible translators and how they, using mostly illiterate Indians, “created seventy-three modern literacy language” (p. 169), including Hindi, Urdu and Bengali.
The translation of the Bible into Hindi eventually promoted nationalism and helped to create a new national identity for modern India. And, although Gandhi and Nehru were nationalist leaders, they had no “nation” to lead without the biblical idea of nation that came…through the linguistic revolution initiated by Bible translation and English literature introduced by Christian education” (p. 177).
It was the influence and work of Christian missions that established universities in India , although “the Hindu, Buddist, and Muslim civilizations did not establish a single institution of learning in this center of Gangetic civilization” (p. 195).
William Carey was the father of vernacular education in India and was a model for countless other missionary-educators. Alexander Duff, a Scottish missionary started a college in Calcutta in 1830. Others followed: For example, Charles Trevelyan and Lord Macaulay were also significant educators and pioneers.
The West also had a passion for science that benefitted India and, again, Christian educators were in the forefront. They believed that the laws of nature and creation itself were supported and came from the Bible. Both Francis Bacon and Galileo Galilei held that the book of nature and God’s Word were to be studied. It follows that “[t]he Protestant Reformation awakened popular interest in discovering and knowing truth, and that boosted science” (p. 245).
But what is it that, in Mangalwadi’s description, “made the West the best”? To answer, he examines the effects of corruption in various counties, including England. It was into this country with its “spiritual and moral quagmire [that] stepped John Wesley” in almost the same year as Jonathan Edwards in America. Wesley preached 45,000 sermons on the Bible and he “deplored the stupidity and futility of war, especially Britain’s war with the American colonies” (p. 267). Wesley died as he lived, In humility and poverty and his funeral instructions were that “six poor men, in need of employment, be given a pound each to carry his body to the grave” (p. 269).
The biblical revival resulted in the formation of a number of missionary societies: Baptist Missionary, London Missionary, Wesleyan Mission, Church Missionary, China Inland Mission, the British and Foreign Bible and others—all within a few years of each other. There are also a number of social issues that were improved that can be traced to Wesley: the abolition of slavery, factory schools, founding of the Salvation Army, and many humanitarian efforts as well.
Mangalwadi believes that America surged ahead of Europe because of its emphasis on the family, the freedom of women to pursue vocations, and the sanctity and philosophy of marriage, to name a few. (Of course, the family and marriage are in a sad condition now.)
Mangalwadi also suggests that “much of the Christian community in India lacks the spirit of personal (noninstitutional) level” that occurs in America (p. 299). Combining compassion with knowledge has led to the Christian contribution, as well as using wealth as an aspect of spirituality. There are Hindu holy men but “[n]ot one of them…ever started an institution to serve poor peasants” (p. 312). However, two thirds of Jesus’s parables deal with money, reminding us that how any nation uses their wealth is a key to true spirituality—or its lack.
Freedom is also a product of the Bible: “[O]nly cultures founded on the Bible have viewed freedom as a virtue worth dying for” (p. 337), because they see freedom as humility and the essence of God and his image.
The final chapter of the book, “Globalizing Modernity,” quotes Dr Rochung Pudaite, who “believes in transforming negative aspects of every culture” (p.357). Known as “Ro”, Dr Pudaite is from a group of former headhunters, called the Hmar, of northeast India. The Hmar were isolated and British learned not to mess with them.
In 1909 the Hmar learned of a book, the Gospel of John in the Lushai language, and the tribal chief concluded it was an important book. In January of 1910, against the warnings of impending danger, Mr Roberts, a missionary, and his helpers trudged seven days to the Hmar territory and met with the chiefs and told them the Gospel stories. There was little interest until Roberts gave them the analogy of warring tribes who needed to agree by laying hands on a sacificial animal and discussing the terms of peace—an analogy of Jesus as their sacrifice and how he could provide peace. Roberts was opposed by the British authorities for “demeaning” the high British culture by living with the people and he was banished from contacting them. However, the Gospel took root among the Hmar and surrounding areas. The chief Chawnga’s son Rochunga, although only 10 at the time, decided to follow Jesus. Eventually, with training in theology and translation, he completed the translation of the New Testament in 1958. He went on to form his own organization, Bibles for the World, which “has continued mailing Bibles to more than a hundred countries” (p.366). Rochunga was set free and he believes that India can be set free as well.
Finally, Mangalwadi considers the future and asks, “Must the sun set on the West?” a question that we must ask as well. Because the value of “relativism” has been our prevailing worldview, the traditional value system of our Christian forefathers is not tolerated today. Instead, a variety of secular fatalism often prevails and repentance and forgiveness do not. There is moral and spiritual bankruptcy in India, but in our nation (and others)as well.
Our own universities, once founded by godly men of moral courage, are now in dire need of resurrection from the deadness of a culture and life without God and his power. It does not look good for the West.
This is a powerful and persuasive book, replete with examples and stories of how the Bible changed the West into principled Christian cultures and nations. I believe every Bible translator and worker in a third culture, i.e., other than the one they grew up in, should read it carefully. Hopefully, it might change their thinking from American nationalism to global missional concerns and actions.