There are times that, as a book reviewer, I get a book that I am obligated to review but really just don’t want to. I understand the work the author has put in, I know negativity isn’t really needed, and I would rather let those who praise a work speak on their own. However, each book comes with an obligation to review it, good or bad.
Today’s book is Apostate: The Men who Destroyed the Christian West. Kevin Swanson is the author, and the book is published by Generations with Vision. It represents a hardcover presentation of the basis of the overall ministry work Swanson does through Generations with Vision.
I have a divided response to this book. First, let me give you the positives:
Swanson is refreshingly direct in his writing style. It is certainly easy to take this directness as harshness, but I recognize the approach. Apostate is not addressing the potential for disaster. Apostate is responding to imminent, happening disaster. If I were in your home recommending smoke detectors, I would use a different tone than if I were in your home and the kitchen was on fire. Swanson’s writing style is clear: the kitchen has already burned, and the living room is next.
Further, Apostate is clearly well-researched. Swanson walks the reader through the underlying philosophies of many of those held by our current system as great people. From literary giants like Shakespeare (the only fiction mandated in the Common Core standards) to Mark Twain; philosophers like Emerson to Marx to Nietzsche; scientists like Darwin; and so on, the reader finds that there are legitimate questions that need asked and discussed. The foundations of the modern public education system, based on John Dewey’s work, are specifically addressed.
All of these, and select others, are highlighted for the damage their work has done to a culture that Swanson sees as having once been Christian in its existence. Even philosopher Rene Descartes, who is counted part of the Christian philosophical heritage, is brought to task for corrupting what had been a good, faithful society.
It is here that I find Apostate to be lacking. Overall, while Swanson has accurately portrayed the fundamental flaws in the arguments and individuals presented in his book, he has not been faithful to history. His preface idealizes 475-1200 AD as seeing Christian thinking dominate the West, while a cursory read of Christian History will point out the flaws and failings within the church itself during those years.
Those years saw oppressive kings, corrupt religious leaders, and a decided bent against basic ideas like sanitation. While the creep of humanism does occur, one should hardly pine for kings who commanded life and death and based their authority on a claim of divine right. Reading through Apostate’s preface I could not help but wonder whether Swanson longed to be the serf or the knight in the feudal system. Or if he would have gladly followed Urban II’s call to Jerusalem.
I would suggest that true Christianity has never been a dominant worldview, and actually awaits the Second Coming to truly be an earthly-visible kingdom. There was a heyday where political power and church power were merged, but to assume that this was equal to a universal following of Christianity is wishful thinking at best. I find it hard to believe that Swanson actually would accept living in a world where one man was deemed the final authority for all matters, both spiritual and temporal. This was the “Christian West” of 800-1200.
This is not to say that there was not a strong Christian influence, nor to say that a world where a Biblical Christian influence was celebrated and strong would be bad. I would dearly love to see such a world, where the Word of God guides all through the power of the Spirit and people live in freedom to follow Christ.
It is also certainly true that many of the personalities detailed in Apostate prepared, presented, and perpetuated philosophies that are antithetical to Christianity. Absolutely, one cannot hold both Nietzche and Jesus as right. One or the other must be chosen.
I cannot bring myself, though, to blame Dewey and Darwin, Hawthorne and Sartre, for the declining influence of Christianity in the Western World. It is not the fault of any of the individuals in Apostate that the church and the churches have failed to engage the world with the Gospel. Hawthorne, for example, expressed his bitterness toward Christianity because of the abuse of power he had seen. Emerson saw no good in Christianity that was not present in naturalistic religions.
That falls on believers. The continued problem falls on believers. It is not the fault of atheistic school systems that the children of the church do not embrace the faith. It is our own fault for not teaching the faith. It is our own fault for not living the faith.
In the end, Apostate starts from the wrong assumption, processes valid information, but then pinpoints a mistaken conclusion. The ideas he presents as solutions are valuable, but must be taken in moderation given the uncertainty of where Swanson hopes we come out.
I received a free copy of Apostate from Cross-Focused Reviews in exchange for the review.