This caricature of Christianity as a sort-of tribal faith of Westerners is flawed at the core. As Philip Jenkins argued in his book The Next Christendom, it took nearly a millennium and a half before the majority of Christians were Europeans. Even today, that is no longer the case. If we were true to the actual demographic realities, the “stereotypical” Christian would not be a white male but an African woman. In fact, from its inception, Christianity has always been a multiethnic, multilingual, and multicontinental faith.
In part to oppose these false stereotypes of the Christian faith, apologist Abdu Murray has written the helpful book More Than a White Man’s Religion: Why the Gospel Has Never Been Merely White, Male-Centered, or Just Another Religion. As the title indicates, Murray challenges the widely held idea that the Christianity to which he converted from Islam is just a tool for Western civilization, that it’s oppressive to women, or that it’s just a fabricated ideology determined to crush the human spirit. This book is especially important at a cultural moment like this, when so many misnomers about Christianity are repeated and unquestioned.
It is vitally important that we understand the true nature and history of Christianity if we’re going to engage the wider world. The first founders of Christianity were not powerful European rulers hoping to oppress the world. They were Middle Easterners, mostly “blue collar,” almost all of whom died a violent death at the hands of the ruling elite. In fact, the only Europeans who make it into the biblical accounts are the Philistines in the Old Testament and the Romans and Greeks in the New.
Even after Christianity spread out from “Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” the core of the faithful continued to be within the Middle East, particularly Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Mesopotamia. As the centuries wore on, churches extended westward along both shores of the Mediterranean basin and eastward into Asia.
Rather than a Western imposition, Christianity in India can be plausibly dated to the ministry of the Apostle Thomas, of doubting fame. There were Christians in China in the 700s when most whites were still steeped in paganism. Many of those who suffered (and fought) the terrors of ISIS a few years ago were Assyrian, Arab, and Syrian Christians, whose ancestors had come to faith long before any true Scotsman had even heard of it.
Any study of the key figures and actions of Christianity’s first half-millennium reveals most were in decidedly non-European areas. Consider the councils that clarified Christian teachings—of Jerusalem, Carthage, Nicaea, Chalcedon, and Ephesus. Each took place in Christianity’s “heartland”: the Middle East and North Africa.
As historian Tom Holland and evangelist Glen Scrivener have repeated for years now, this faith so captured Western civilization, we struggle to see just how alien it was to the Western imagination at the beginning. The best of the West—the priority of the individual, the importance of science and reason, the check on state power, the care for the poor and the sick, the dignity of women, the abolition of slavery—is a consequence of the blessed cultural imperialism of an originally Middle Eastern deity.
Wherever it has gone, Christianity has transformed the indigenous culture to the better. The growth of this faith around the world has brought goods we can now see among Chinese Calvinists, African Anglicans, Native American Roman Catholics, and other tongues, tribes, nations, and languages whose great train of treasures will one day be offered as tribute to King Jesus in the New Jerusalem.
We need not be ashamed of this history. For a donation of any amount this month, receive a copy of Abdu Murray’s new book, More Than a White Man’s Religion, which examines and refutes many of the modern claims against Christianity. Go to colsoncenter.org/February.
This Breakpoint was co-authored by Dr. Timothy D. Padgett. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to colsoncenter.org.