Western Civilisation and the Image of God

Western Civilisation and the Image of God

16 September 2021

4.5 MINS

Christians often take Western Civilisation — and the benefits that come with it — for granted. We often overlook the fact that the Western project is incredibly unique in world history. Consequently, it should be honoured and protected by those who enjoy it.

A Great Place to Live

What has made Australia a great place to live?

The Canberra Declaration maintains that,

“the many freedoms, advantages, opportunities, values and liberties which characterise the West owe much to the growth of Christianity with its inherent belief in the dignity of the human person as created in the image of God and the code of behaviour that flows from that belief.”

Only a generation ago the vast majority of Australians indicated in the national census that they were Christians. There was a general consensus that Australia was a ‘Christian’ nation.

When you filled out a form you were asked for your Christian name! While many were not practising Christians there was an underlying Christian worldview that held society together and caused it to flourish.

What has happened since then?

The Decay of Western Civilisation

In post-modern Australia, as with all of the Western world, much has changed. In recent decades secular humanism has replaced God with man.

Moral relativism has rejected the existence of absolute truth. And so we have seen things in our present generation that were once unthinkable. Examples include the abortion of babies on demand, the redefinition of marriage and the curtailment of some of our basic freedoms. Many believe we are seeing the decay of Western civilisation.

The United States, for example, began as a nation rooted in Biblical principles. However, as society became more pluralistic — with each new wave of immigrants — proponents of a new philosophy of secular humanism gradually came to dominate debates on policy issues.

Humanists put human progress, rather than God, at the centre of their consideration. They have pushed American culture in all manner of ungodly directions.

The West’s Greatest Discovery

What was it that caused Western civilisation to flourish the way that it did?

Dr Vishal Mangalwadi, an eminent Indian philosopher, asserts,

“The belief in the unique dignity of human beings was the force that created Western civilisation”.

Even secular professors teach that the secret of the success of Western civilisation was the ‘discovery’ of human dignity. Nevertheless, they taught that it was the Renaissance writers of 500 years ago who discovered this concept in the Roman and Greek classics.

Mangalwadi refutes this stating bluntly:

“this is a myth. Although classical writers held many noble ideas, the inherent value and dignity of each human being was not among them.This unique idea came from the Bible.”

The inherent dignity of the human person as created in the image of God was not a new discovery. Instead, it was a re-discovery of truths found in the Bible and early Christian writers such as Saint Augustine of the third century AD.

The Ultimate Proof of Human Dignity

The dignity of humans flows out of the doctrine of their being created in the image of God known as Imago Dei. We read in Genesis 1:27

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.”

Nonetheless, the Reformation theologians such as John Calvin, Martin Luther and Jonathan Edwards did not derive their view of humanity from only one verse in the Bible. They found human dignity affirmed most supremely in the Bible’s teaching on the incarnation of Christ.

The Bible teaches that God loved human beings enough to come to this earth as a human to save them. So He sent Jesus Christ – the perfect “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) to rescue humanity from sin.

The image of God in humans was damaged by sin through the Fall. By giving His life Jesus opened the way for the image of God to be fully restored in those who come to Him in faith. This is the ultimate proof of the dignity of human beings.

The fatalistic worldviews of Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and other civilisations failed to appreciate the value and dignity of human beings. This is why these civilisations did not flourish in the same way and fell behind in certain areas such as education and medical care.

Common Sense?

Yes, there are many in our society today who do not point to the Bible or to theological creeds to justify that humans can create a different and better future for themselves. To them, it is ‘commons sense’.

Luc Ferry, French atheist and former Minister for Education in France described how Christianity burst into the ancient world and turned the ancient world’s view of civilisation on its head. He wrote

Christianity was to introduce the notion … that men were equal in dignity – an unprecedented idea at the time, and one to which our world owes its entire democratic inheritance.”

In other words, the idea of all human beings being equal may seem self-evident to us (who live in a society heavily impacted by Christianity). But in a pre-Christian world, this seemed like utter nonsense. Ferry explained:

“We see today how civilisations that have not experienced Christianity have great difficulties in fostering democratic regimes, because the notion of equality is not so deep rooted.”

Francis Schaeffer wrote:

“we must understand that the question of the dignity of human life is not something on the periphery of Judeo-Christian thinking, but almost in the center of it (though not the center because the center is the existence of God Himself). But the dignity of human life is unbreakably linked to the existence of a personal God.”

People, in general, are not fully aware that it is the Judeo-Christian belief of what people were created to be and saved to become, that became the ‘common sense’ view of the West.

 

Prayer:

Sovereign God, You are the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Majestic is Your holy Name. Long ago You spoke through Your servant David:

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against His Anointed One” (Psalm 2:1,2).

Indeed, the nations of the earth that once gave You pre-eminence and knew Your hand of blessing have rejected You and Jesus Christ — the One You sent to show us the way to heaven.

Just as the tower of Babel was a monument to humanity rather than to You, secular humanism seeks to create a civilisation that usurps Your glory and give it all to humans.

We come against this stronghold that denies that people were specially created in Your image to have fellowship with You and to bring glory to You. We look to You that our nation may flourish under Your hand once again. Help us to communicate the truth of the dignity of humans in love and with great boldness.

In the mighty name of Jesus we pray.

Amen.

___

Photo collage by multiple authors on Pexels: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3, Image 4, Image 5.

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