Book Review - Why You Think The Way You Do by Glenn Sunshine

This book addresses something I think is important to know: how the way we think has changed over the centuries right up to the present day. In fact I once fantasized briefly about writing this book myself, but the thought went away when I realized how much research I'd have to do to lay it all out correctly. Fortunately Dr. Glenn Sunshine, who as a history professor has a better background for this book anyway, had been compiling the research for a few years already and chose to put it in book form. I've gotten to know Glenn over the past couple years, and have learned to appreciate his insights as a historian, a thinker, and a Christian.

In this book Sunshine describes what the dominant worldview in the West has been, starting with the Roman Empire. He explains that the well-known decadence of the Romans, from slavery to sexual license to infanticide and more, was the result of the basic assumptions about life in the Empire. He also shows how the gradual flourishing of Christianity introduced an entirely different view of life - one based on the Bible - and how this Biblical worldview not only counter-acted many of the evils of Roman society, but became the basis for Western societies into the Middle Ages. He provides a good summary of how Naturalism (the belief that there is no God of any kind; the physical world is all that exists) became such a force in the West just in the last couple centuries, as well as explaining the popularity of postmodern thinking today.

The reason I think it's important for Christians to understand this is basically twofold. First, it helps us understand that all ideas come from somewhere: they come from a worldview. For example, the notion that science has dis-proven God's existence is a one popular today, but it's not a brute fact. Rather, it's a philosophical assumption (ie. an opinion) rooted in the Enlightenment. Learning to recognize the worldview roots of such ideas we encounter increases understanding, helping us sort out fact from opinion. Secondly, knowing why certain ideas have gained traction helps us dialogue more effectively with people who hold other, different worldviews than we do.

This book is written for the layman. It describes the flow of thought in the West for the past 2,000 years as a story, making it easier to grasp. In the process, it explains how Christianity is the foundation for virtually all of the good aspects of Western society, from human rights to science & technology, to personal liberty and representative government. And by implication then, it describes what we stand to lose if Christianity is completely dislodged from the Western worldview by Naturalism and/or postmodernism.

Along those lines, Sunshine ends the book with a list of eye-opening parallels between modern America and ancient Rome. He argues that after two millennia we have come full circle, and that the American worldview is now looking increasingly like the Roman worldview during the decline of the Empire. And he suggests several things Christians and churches can and should do about it. Worth the read.

To get a sense of what's in the book, here's an audio interview with the author.


Bill said...

Have you read any of Francis Schaeffer's stuff? Schaeffer also addresses this same question, especially in the book, "Escape from Reason".

If so, how does Sunshine's (what a name!) book compare?

Bill Mc.

Matt Guerino said...

I have not read that particular book, but I have a huge respect for Schaeffer. That said, I think Francis is a lot like me (only smarter): a generalist. He was great at making the big connections and showing how ideas have consequences. But I think Glenn is a better historian. Schaeffer is great at explaining worldview concepts - Glenn is great (probably better than Schaeffer) at explaining how those concepts have shaped Western history. Besides, this book captures the last 60 years of American history, much of which Schaeffer predicted, but of course he never had the opportunity to comment on.

The Clue Merchant said...

Thanks for the review, Matt. I've been thinking of picking this up, especially since I saw it in the bibliography of Timothy Keller's "The Reason For God".

Great! Now you've made me put down my comic books and actually READ. Do you know how hard that is with two little kids in the house? (Never mind, you probably do.)

Matt Guerino said...

It'll be GOOD for you! And yes, I do know what it's like... This too shall pass my friend!

Crown of Beauty said...

Hi Matt,
I love visiting your blog to read, and really read.

Engage my mind, and make me think.

Worldviews, and mindsets, paradigms, perspectives...these are important words because we need to be in the right worldview to move on in our journey toward God's heart.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the Hellenist and the Hebraic way of learning. Rome was very much inspired by the Greek method of learning, and this is where the modern day church is. In the early days of Christianity people learned by building line upon line precept upon precept, the Hebraic method of learning, interactive as we would call it today. So application was the way to learn a truth.

Greeks focuse on information, the Hebrews focused on transformation.

It would do us all a lot of good to go back to the Hebraic way.

If American has come full circle, then we know that the nation is on the verge of... let me not say it.

We just need to pray, it may still be averted. I have this thing about organized and institutionalized church, though I am very much a part of it at the moment. But my friends and I also do kingdom ministry under Family Foundations, and this has helped us maintain our perspective and enabled us to really connect to the Father at the heart to heart level.

I still believe that Jesus is bringing us back to the home church, where two or three gathering in His name is enough to invite His presence in our midst.

THank you for how your post has provoked me to think long and hard about some important things.

I want to think straight... think right... use my mind for Christ, and not for satan.

Have you read books by Tom Marshall?

Right Relationships,

Free Indeed...

just a few good titles.

Well, enough said.

Blessings on your day.

Matt Guerino said...

Yes, history doesn't have to repeat itself. Whether America will go the way of Rome is yet to be seen, but the similarities are there. One thing America has, which Rome didn't have until it was too late to save the empire, is widespread Christianity. So if only the American church will gain a vision for living from the Bible and engage in spirit transformed living - who knows?

Lidj, I love your comments. Like your writing on your own blog, I think every comment you've left here or on Amy's blog has been thoughtful, heartfelt, and deep. Thanks for enhancing my blog with your thoughts! I enjoy reading yours as well.

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