By Jesse Sumpter
Vishal Mangalwadi, a Christian from India, has written a number of books. One of his recent ones is The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization. In it, he recounts his experience growing up in India and how different the Indian culture is from the western world. He also recounts the history of key developments in the West showing how ideas and principles in the Bible have brought about key innovations in culture, politics, and technology. His primary goal is to unpack what God promised to Abraham, that all nations will be blessed through him.
That is a gigantic task but Mangalwadi does it well, hitting key figures and events in the west. He also shares several personal stories that highlight how much the western world is steeped in Christianity, something we westerners often don’t realize because this is the air we breathe. He shows that there are other cultures and societies that are empty and dark in comparison. This is not to say that the west is perfect. But that God’s grace has been upon the west in ways that some of us do not realize.
Here are three key examples from Mangalwadi’s book which show how the Bible, specifically the gospel, has made the western world free. These three areas are invention, work, and caring for others.
The Bible Frees us to invent
Mangalwadi tells a story of when he visited Jinja, Uganda (p. 92). While there, he saw hundreds of women and girls carrying water pots on their heads, taking water from the local water source to their homes. He couldn’t believe people were still doing that kind of work in this place. The city is built right next to Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world. The British built a hydroelectric dam there and it generates tons of electricity, so much that there is extra to sell to Kenya.
Given such technology in the region, why are people still carrying water on their heads? The reality is that there is a great need in Jinja for some good indoor plumbing. But nothing has been done to change things. Women and girls are wasting billions of hours of labor on hauling water but nothing has been done about it.
Some might argue that the need will bring about the invention but this example is a clear counter to that idea. Instead, the thing that brings about solutions are thoughtful and creative people.
Mangalwadi argues that Christians have been people of invention and creation because the Bible clearly teaches that God is a creator (p. 97). God created us and then when we are restored to a right relationship with him, we imitate him and we also create. In this way, the gospel sets us free to create and invent like our heavenly father.
The Bible Frees us to work
Solomon in Ecclesiastes writes this as his conclusion: “For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
Some might object to the idea of God’s judgment and say they don’t believe it, but there is no way to avoid God’s judgment. Even those who deny it will stand one day before the God of the universe and He will judge them.
For a Christian, knowing that everything we do and say and think will be judged is one of God’s great gifts to us. It is God’s judgment which enables people to be truly free.
In his book, Mangalwadi was visiting a friend in Holland in 1982 and his friend invited him to go get fresh milk (p. 250). They walked to a neighboring dairy farm to get the milk. As they entered the farm, there was no one around: the cows were being milked automatically and the milk was being pumped into a large tank. Mangalwadi and his friend went into the milk room and there was no one there either. Mangalwadi was a bit perplexed by this but his friend was undisturbed and proceeded to fill his jug with milk at one of the taps. Then his friend took out a wallet to pay. There was a bowl of cash just lying there and his friend made change with the bills in the bowl and then put his wallet away. His friend picked up his jug of milk and headed out. Mangalwadi was dumbfounded at what he just saw and commented to his friend: “Man, if you were Indian you would take the milk and the money!”
In this clash of cultures, Mangalwadi shows how the biblical teaching that God is judge had impacted the people in Holland for good. There is a judge who sees all we do, even the secret things and this means there is no room to steal, even when no one is watching. In this example, the farmer does not have to pay someone to monitor milk purchases and the customer is free to come and go as he pleases and purchase as he needs to. There is great freedom here. Now I don’t think this is an ideal business model in all situations, but it does illustrate the principle that people can trust each other in business because God is judge.
The Bible Frees us to care
Mangalwadi also tells a story about how he and his wife were travelling in the United States in 2000. They were on the highway driving at 60 mph through downtown Minneapolis (p. 298). Suddenly, they heard sirens behind them and the traffic slowed down and moved off to the side as two ambulances and a few police cars sped past. Mangalwadi turned to his wife and saw that she had tears in her eyes.
“What is the matter?” he asked. She responded “How much they care for their people.”
While we might not think twice about pulling over for an ambulance with sirens, here we get to see how strange America really is.
I have also heard stories from friends who have visited other countries and they have shared stories about how hard it is for an ambulance to get through traffic in other countries. Often an ambulance will have to drive around key city centers because people on the streets will not move out of the way for those in need.
Mangalwadi also tells about how women and young girls are treated in India. He starts the book with a story about trying to save a young baby girl from a family that is starving her to death because they do not want to care for her or have to marry her off later (p. 62-63). This practice is called dowry deaths and is a common part of Indian culture.
These stories highlight how God’s law brings dignity to people. Loving your neighbor as yourself is not something that every society or culture does. It is something that God does in his people and it changes society. In this way, we see that God’s love sets us free to love others rightly.
I highly recommend this book for those of us in the west who need new eyes to see how God has blessed western culture. This blessing is not something that we have created for ourselves. This is something that God has given us. He is faithful and he has done this.