Support us on Paypal
Contact Us
Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Andy Stanley » Andy Stanley - Has Christianity Done More Harm than Good?

Andy Stanley - Has Christianity Done More Harm than Good?

Andy Stanley - Has Christianity Done More Harm than Good?
TOPICS: Christianity

Andy Stanley: So would you please welcome our special guest, Dr. John Dickson. I've been so looking forward to this. We've already talked so much about all these things, but real quick, my introduction to John came through his book, "Bullies and Saints". The subtitle is "An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History". So I started listening to it 'cause I listen to books first and then about 1/3 of the way, I just went ahead and bought it. So authors love me. I buy everything twice. And then I started talking about this book and oftentimes, you know, people in our churches will say, "Andy, what's a good Christian history book to read"? But there's so many, you know? And anyway, so I started recommending this book and I thought, "I would love for our churches to meet you and hear the content of this book". And then of course you lived in Australia, but now you live in the United States. And so thank you so much for doing this.

Dr. John Dickson: Thank you.

Andy Stanley: And real quick, the best way to jump into this is, why did you write this book? Because it's a look at the dark side of Christianity, but as dark as it has been historically and even in some cases currently, you're still a Christian.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah.

Andy Stanley: So, you know, it didn't drive you away, but why, what drove you to write the book?

Dr. John Dickson: Well, being a historian by academic training, I already knew there are lots of bodies buried in...

Andy Stanley: In Christian history.

Dr. John Dickson: In the graveyard of church history.

Andy Stanley: Yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: But increasingly, I found that people who aren't connected with church think that Christianity has only damaged the world, or that its main influence is negative. And this really came home to me in a large public debate in Sydney back in 2008. And the debate motion was, we'd be better off without religion.

Andy Stanley: That was the assumption.

Dr. John Dickson: It was. And Christianity was the main focus.

Andy Stanley: Yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: There were three academics arguing for the motion, we'd be better off without it, and three against. And about 1,200 people were in the auditorium, but it was broadcast nationally through our national broadcaster so the stakes were high. And they did an entrance poll asking the audience what they thought about that motion before the debate and then they did an exit poll after the debate. And I'm sorry to say, we overwhelmingly lost both. This group of 1,200 Australians thought overwhelmingly that we would be better off without Christianity. And I came away from that evening in 2008 realizing something that I hadn't quite put my finger on before then. And that is, our wider secular culture has changed. It used to complain that Christianity was too moral.

Andy Stanley: Too narrow, yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: Too narrow. You know, it would, you know, I'd have to be a good person if I became a Christian, and I don't wanna be one of those. But it's way more common now, way more common now for people to think actually, no, Christianity is bad. It's bigoted, it's hateful, it's only damaged the world. So that set me on a kind of 10-year odyssey to research, what are the worst bits of church history? In other words, what are the best arguments that we'd be better off without Christianity? And so I wanted to sink into the depths, but along the way, of course, rediscover the beautiful things Christianity has given us.

Andy Stanley: And oftentimes they're in parallel. It's just that the negative gets the press, right?

Dr. John Dickson: It does, and for obvious reasons. And people have been hurt by the church. And so if they've been hurt by the church, for them, the Crusades or the Inquisitions are the symbol of what Christianity does when it has power.

Andy Stanley: In the book you write, "I've never felt this inner conflict," the one you just described, "more acutely than when I stood on the site of one of the greatest atrocities in religious history". Tell us a little bit about that. Where were you?

Dr. John Dickson: I was outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and I was standing right here. And I was filming a documentary.

Andy Stanley: And for those who don't know, the Al-Aqsa, it sits on the Temple Mount where Solomon's temple used to sit and Herod's temple. It was destroyed and now there's a mosque there.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah, and it's one of the holiest places in Islam now, and it's in Jerusalem. And I was filming a documentary about the history of Christianity. And the reason we were filming a scene right here is that this happened to be the site of the first victory the European crusaders won against the Muslims of Jerusalem on July 15, 1099. And we have loads of records about what the crusaders were thinking. And they were very much doing this for Jesus, as in, in their heads they loved Jesus and they thought they had to go and attack these Muslims for Jesus. And from the primary sources we have, the letters back home and so on, we know that they filled this whole colonnade, which you could fit 15 football fields in there. It's like massive.

Andy Stanley: Yeah. Maybe 37 acres or something, yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: They filled it with blood. And not just fighters, women and children. And these followers of Jesus then held a church service in the great Church of the Holy Sepulcher about 500 meters away, the place that celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus. They held a church service praising Jesus for this victory over the unbelievers. Now I know a good argument can be made that the crusade itself was just trying to fight back against the expansion of Arab communities, and I understand that argument. But what they did that day broke every rule of just war in killing women and children en masse, minimum 5,000, perhaps 20.

Andy Stanley: And while you were shooting, you did a documentary there. You had a guide that sort of is what highlighted this tension for you.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah, there she is. So Asra is her name, and she was just lovely. She showed us around. She made sure no one annoyed us while we were filming the scenes. But I had to say these lines about crusaders coming in here and killing men, women, and children. I had to say these lines over and over because I'm not a, you know, one-take wonder like you are.

Andy Stanley: Two take, nine and 11, yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: And so I had to say it like five or six times, but after about two or three times I'm telling this story, she's slightly off camera. So I'm looking to camera, but she's just there, and I could tell she was crying. Tears had welled up in her eyes, and I still had to tell this story to camera. And after we were packing up, I took her aside and I said, "Asra, I'm so sorry". And she was, "No, it's fine, it's fine". But I could tell it wasn't fine.

Andy Stanley: Yeah, but at the same time, you, because this is sort of where this merges with some of our thinking, it's not your fault. You weren't there, and you probably told yourself what I would tell myself, "Oh, if I had lived in that time, I would have never participated in anything like that". She wasn't there. She wasn't directly hurt. And yet there is a connection, an emotional connection.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah, in some ways it's illogical for me to say sorry to her.

Andy Stanley: Right.

Dr. John Dickson: But it felt right at the time because the more I've studied church history, the dominant thought is not, how crazy were those crusaders? The thought is, "I wonder what my blind spot is". I wonder what 200 years from now people will say about John Dickson and the way he lived. So I feel an affinity with those crusaders. I'm a messed up Christian too. And I suppose in your pastoral ministry, you've met many people whose, say, family has been damaged by past church behavior.

Andy Stanley: Right.

Dr. John Dickson: Your instinct is gonna be, "I'm sorry".

Andy Stanley: Right.

Dr. John Dickson: Even though you didn't do it.

Andy Stanley: Exactly, yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: That's what it felt like. I feel that about a lot of church history. I am so sorry.

Andy Stanley: And you know, it's interesting 'cause I, occasionally I'll look at the camera and say to people, "Hey, if this has been your experience with the church, I wanna apologize". And the feedback from people who've been hurt by the church or non-Christians is positive. But then I'll get negative feedback, if we could just do some counseling real quick, I get negative feedback from Christians who are like, "How dare you apologize for me? And you're apologizing for Jesus". I'm like, "Wait," and there's this tension. So with all that, why, I mean, why air the church's dirty laundry? I mean, it's not just the Crusades. You go through and talk about, you bring it all the way up to modern atrocities that have been, you know, performed or have happened in the name of Jesus. So, why?

Dr. John Dickson: I think I realized years ago in my Christian journey that Christians do not believe we are good through and through. That's the kind of secular myth. You know, we're just a blank slate and you can basically be really good. Christians know that we're flawed, all of us. And the teaching of Jesus urges us to think of this 'cause Jesus called us sinners. And there's that one place in the Sermon on the Mount, that famous collection of Jesus' teaching where He says, "Oh, if you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more would your Heavenly Father give good gifts"? And I'm sure people were going, "Did He just call us evil"?

Andy Stanley: Yeah. He doesn't even know my story, and He, yes, yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: So I'm sorry if this is news to you, but Jesus didn't think you were good through and through. And so the thing is, Christians ought to be the best at admitting fault. It should be our instinct when we mess up.

Andy Stanley: Right.

Dr. John Dickson: And when our group messes up, we should be the first to say, "We are fallen and I'm so sorry".

Andy Stanley: You're right. I pulled this quote out. It was the master of the church himself who said, "I should worry more about my own sins than the sins of others". But our reputation is, we worry far more about the sins of others than our own, which, you know, but essentially Jesus said, "Well, there's plenty for you, Andy, to worry about without worrying about John's sins". So this, to your point, I love the way you said it. It should be intuitive to us to acknowledge who we are and who we aren't first. And so again, highlighting or writing about the sins of the church should not be, we're not bragging, we're sorry.

Dr. John Dickson: We're sorry, and in a sense, the Sermon on the Mount, which is chapters five to seven of Matthew's Gospel, if you've never read it, is the greatest hits of Jesus, you know. It's, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, turn the other cheek, judge not lest you be judged.

Andy Stanley: Extra mile, yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: Extra mile. Our Father in Heaven, like, it's all there. But the opening line of the Sermon on the Mount gets me every time. The opening line of the most sublime teaching ever is, "Blessed are the poor in spirit. Theirs is the kingdom of Heaven". It's not those who think they have credit with God. It's those who know they are poor, bankrupt, out of credit with God. So this underlines that however lofty is the ethic Jesus calls us to, we are actually all poor before God.

Andy Stanley: One of the things that I so loved about the book, and when we first talked, I said, "This is what I really would love you to kind of double down on," is with all the church history, with all the negative that is interspersed throughout Christian history, church history, you make the point that Christianity has a built-in, self-correcting, I guess a mechanism is the word. A self-correcting mechanism that's tied specifically to the teaching of Jesus. That regardless of how things go, it always comes back. Talk a little bit about that because I think for many of us as Christians, we aren't as aware of that as we should be. And for people who are outside the faith who only wanna look at the negative, when they look at the whole story, there's definitely a self-correcting.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah.

Andy Stanley: I love this part of the book.

Dr. John Dickson: Well, it is really clear to me that in every century where Christians went astray, some Christian pops up and says, "This is not how we're meant to be"! And they persuade people and they turn back.

Andy Stanley: Yep.

Dr. John Dickson: And so people quote the bad stuff, but if they kept quoting, they'd get like just a few years later and they'd find some Christian who brought them all back. There were riots in the early fifth century where Christians killed people for Jesus. But actually we have Christian writings condemning those Christians and saying, "This is not the way of Jesus". We have Charlemagne in the eighth century slaughtering people if they didn't become Christians.

Andy Stanley: Yeah, forced conversions.

Dr. John Dickson: Forced conversions.

Andy Stanley: Yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: But then one of his key advisors wrote two letters to the most powerful man in the world, said, "We cannot do this, this is not the way of Jesus". And actually changed Charlemagne's policy. Even in the Crusades, there were crazy people like Francis of Assisi who turned up at the crusade at the front line of the crusade and said, "I'm going to go and preach to those Muslims. This is how God wants to bring them. He doesn't want to kill them, He wants to convert them". So off he went for a week and no one heard from him for a week. Very dangerous to go and preach the Gospel in that context. Anyway, he was beaten up and let go so it didn't go really well, but the thing is, people left the battlefield with him.

Andy Stanley: Mm-hmm, right.

Dr. John Dickson: So I'm thinking "What is this self-corrective mechanism"? I think it comes straight back to the teaching of Jesus and in particular, that bit in the Sermon on the Mount where He says to His disciples, not to the Pharisees, "You got a great big log in your eye and you can't see clearly the sin of others if you've got a great big log in your eye".

Andy Stanley: I want you to walk us through that text. I think we have that text. Yeah. Because this is, again, most of us know this. We could quote some of this.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah.

Andy Stanley: And yet within the context of this conversation, I think it's so personal, so powerful.

Dr. John Dickson: Well, remember, He's not talking to the Pharisees and you know, He's talking to us. "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye"? Now, as soon as I read that, I'm thinking, "Huh, He grew up a carpenter. He must have got lots of specks of sawdust in his eye". I know like, He's God in the flesh and everything, but I'm sure the sawdust still got in His eyes. And when He got a speck in His eye, when you get something in your eye, it feels like a log, doesn't it? Tiny, but a log. And this is what He says. "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, then you'll see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye". And His point is, the wrongdoing of the believer ought to feel like a log, whereas the wrongdoing in someone else's life should look like a speck. We should be more concerned about our own wrongdoing than others. And I think this idea pulls Christians back to Jesus through every century where Christians are doing bad things. Someone says, "Hang on, this is not what Jesus said. We're probably all going to hell"!

Andy Stanley: Yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: Let's get this log out of our eye.

Andy Stanley: Yeah, and the through line is always the specific teaching of Jesus. And historically, this is amazing, historically it's usually from the Sermon on the Mount.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah.

Andy Stanley: Or one of the parables.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah.

Andy Stanley: But the thing that brings us back to center is actually the teaching of Jesus, which makes sense out of why He said in the sermon, I mean the Great Commission, "Go into the world and teach them everything I have commanded you". He's pretty narrow, "I have commanded you, and I'll be with you at the end of the world". So we can talk the rest of the time about that, but moving on, you argue, and this is one of the things I love to talk about, so maybe this is why I'm kind of nerding out on this, but you talk about the fact that Jesus offered the world a new view of humanity. That there was the Greek view of humanity, very similar, the Roman view of humanity that pretty much characterized what we would consider the world at the time. And yet Jesus doesn't come along and say, "Let's take the Greek view up a notch" or, "Let's edit". He introduces a completely different view of humanity. Talk a little bit about that because that, again, this explains some of the confusion in terms of why we think we're such good people and think noble thoughts.

Dr. John Dickson: The ancient view, whether in Greece or Rome and everywhere else, frankly, was that your value is dependent on your capacity, your usefulness to society. There's no such thing as equality amongst human beings because some people are better looking and smarter than other people.

Andy Stanley: Well, thank you, yeah, yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: It just makes perfect sense. So that was the ancient Greek and Roman view. And Jesus promoted the view that really comes out of Genesis 1, that everyone is made in the image of God and therefore is loved by God regardless of capacities. It doesn't matter if someone's not as smart as someone else. It doesn't matter if someone's not as strong as someone else, everyone is equal because everyone bears the image of God and is loved by God. We now assume this, even if we're secularists. We might not go with the God bit, but we go with the equality bit. But if you were transported back into the first century and met a Greek or a Roman and tried to spin this idea that you assume that everyone's equal, they'd go, "What? You're crazy".

Andy Stanley: Tools aren't equal, right? I mean, they just looked at the whole world and thought that it's absurd.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah. Animals aren't equal when you purchase them in the market. Like, nothing is equal. And you know, I try and get classes that I teach at Wheaton and elsewhere to try and make an argument for human equality that doesn't rely on any Christian assumptions. And they have a good go, but they can't pull it off.

Andy Stanley: Yeah, one of the illustrations that you talk about in the book that I'd love for you to walk us through is one I've mentioned a couple times years ago in a sermon because it's such a fascinating... It's the story, it's the illustration of this letter that a Roman soldier writes to his wife, and it just illustrates the, I don't know, the extraordinary insensitivity by our standards and the devaluation of human life that we can't even imagine it. Tell us this.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah, this is a handwritten note from a Roman soldier to his wife.

Andy Stanley: And this is actually a...

Dr. John Dickson: This is actually a...

Andy Stanley: Picture of the, yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: And at some level, it's sweet. It's like, "Oh, don't worry, darling. You know, I'll send my pay soon. I love you". And then he says, "Oh, and if you give birth and it's a girl, discard it".

Andy Stanley: Very casual.

Dr. John Dickson: Casual.

Andy Stanley: Read some of this text for us. Here it is, yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: Hilarion writes to Alis, his wife, "Know that I am still in Alexandria, and do not worry if the army wholly sets out. I'm staying in Alexandria. I ask you and entreat you take care of the child," that they already have, "and if I receive my pay soon, I will send it up to you. Above all, if you bear a child and it is a male, let it be. If it is a female, cast it out. You have told to Aphrodisias, 'Do not forget me.' But how can I forget you? Thus I'm asking you not to worry". That's it. A lovely letter. In the middle of it, a casual, oh, and get rid of the girl baby. He would not have thought that was wrong. His friends would not have thought that was wrong. If you wanna get rid of an infant, it's fine. This was common. It's called exposure, and it was everywhere in the ancient world because they did not think that thing was equal. The Christians came along and they said, "You're nuts. There is one God. He loves everyone. That infant is as valuable as the emperor because it bears the image of God". And actually, the Christians went round scooping up these babies that had been left on rubbish dumps and raised them and cared for them. And Greeks and Romans looked on at them as completely crazy for doing that and actually thought it was a mark against the Christians 'cause lots of them were made up of the leftovers of society. But the Christians actually thought it was the truth that everyone is equal.

Andy Stanley: And so again, as we talk about sometimes what is so self-evident to us, right? As a nation, the Declaration of Independence, it's self-evident that all are created equal.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah.

Andy Stanley: Well, that's a leftover of a Christian value. That's not self-evident. It's not even self-evident currently in some parts of the world. It was certainly not self-evident in ancient times.

Dr. John Dickson: No, and I mean, this July 4th week is a great week to reflect on this because when Thomas Jefferson penned those amazing lines, I mean, they're your lines. I can hardly quote them, but you know.

Andy Stanley: We can. You're good.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah, yeah. Self-evident that everyone's created equal and has been endowed by the Creator with rights.

Andy Stanley: Rights, yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: Well, Hilarion would say, "That's hilarious". Like, no one would think that. But Thomas Jefferson, though not like an expressing Christian, assumed it, thought it was self-evident. But it's just because he's swimming in the ocean of Christianity.

Andy Stanley: Yep. And this is very difficult for modern people to understand. We'll keep moving. So one of the sections in the book, too, that you talk about the Christians in the first three centuries before Christianity was legal or recognized or actually was opposed and persecuted. In those first three centuries, you characterized them as good losers because from a human perspective, the church was losing, losing, losing. And the Christians were losing, losing, losing, but they were good losers. Talk a little bit about that.

Dr. John Dickson: Yes, well, what I mean is, I sort of tell the story of persecution. And Christians weren't persecuted every year for those first 300 years, but there were five or six pretty brutal persecutions. And the Christians had to work out, how do you cope with this? And they kept on remembering the sayings of Jesus. He said, "When people speak evil against you, rejoice". So they're thinking, "Okay, when they slander us and say evil against us, rejoice, rejoice". He said, "Turn the other cheek". Jesus said, "Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you". And they tried to put this into practice. And that's what I mean by being a good loser.

Andy Stanley: They actually took the teaching of Jesus seriously and literally.

Dr. John Dickson: They did, and what supercharged it was they knew that Jesus, though crucified by the Romans, had been raised to life by God. So they thought they were the death and resurrection people. So they felt free to lose well not because they were like a slave class, which is what Friedrich Nietzsche, the famous atheist philosopher in the 19th century said. Oh, those early Christians, they were such leftovers in society. They were like a beaten down dog.

Andy Stanley: They were used to losing.

Dr. John Dickson: Used to losing, but when you read the sources, it's the opposite. They thought they had won. They thought the whole thing, the Gospel was winning. Christ is at the right hand of God. So you can beat me up, you can burn down my church, you can take my Scriptures, the Gospel's still going forward, Christ is still on the throne. I've won and because of that I can lose.

Andy Stanley: Mm, talk a little bit about Diocletian. This was toward the, this was sort of the last great persecution. In fact it was, some people say it was the only empire-wide persecution of Christians.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah.

Andy Stanley: And by this time, he was smart enough to realize, we can't just keep getting rid of the bishops and the leaders. This Christian movement, they have literature. We gotta get rid of the literature. So it was a full-court press. There was no Bible the way we think of Bible, but there were collections of documents. Somebody has some of the Gospel, somebody has some of the letters of Paul, and these are being copied and distributed. So he's like, you know what? We're not just gonna get rid of the Christians. We're gonna get rid of their literature. Talk a little bit about that. And then you've got an extraordinary illustration of how this worked out.

Dr. John Dickson: Historians call this the Great Persecution because between 303, the year 303 and 312, the empire really turned against Christians. They thought the Christians were to blame for Rome not being as prosperous as it used to be. Because the Christians wouldn't worship the Greek and Roman gods, they thought the gods were turning against Rome. And so they started to pressure the Christians. There were public lecture series in the Imperial Court against the Christians so Christians could tell things were about to get bad. And on February 23rd, 303, I remember this date 'cause it's my wedding anniversary. Hey, darling.

Andy Stanley: You think that's kind of geeky, and I told him, I said, "I can remember when the temple was destroyed in Jerusalem because it was on my wedding anniversary, August the 6th". So nerds forever.

Dr. John Dickson: Bless you, brother. Bless you.

Andy Stanley: Yes, okay, yes.

Dr. John Dickson: He issued four decrees. And part of it was, burn Scriptures, take buildings. Everyone had to offer a sacrifice to pagan gods. You literally had to go down to the courthouse, worship a pagan God, and get your name ticked off a list. And if you didn't, you were killed. And the Christians, we have writings during this period where Christians would say things like, "You're only doing this 'cause you're scared of debating us 'cause if you were really confident in your beliefs, you'd meet us on the debate stage and we'll win". They were so confident. So when they were actually killed and arrested and taken to court, some of the evidence we have of Christians losing well is extraordinary. But it's not because they were losers, it's 'cause they knew they were winners.

Andy Stanley: Yep, they'd already won.

Dr. John Dickson: They'd already won. I think we'd prepped this Roman transcript that we have. This is an actual Roman transcript, stenographer taking down the court record of an interview with Christians in Cirta in North Africa, a Roman town. And Felix, who's like the prefect of the town, the Roman prefect, interviews these lowly church ministers, they're called subdeacons. So they're not even deacons yet, Marcuclius and Catullinus. And he says, "Bring me out your Scriptures". And they...

Andy Stanley: They bring him one.

Dr. John Dickson: They sort of go, they squint and they... And so he says, "Why have you given only one codex"? Book, okay, one book. And then it goes on, Catullinus and Marcuclius said, remember, this is a Roman transcript, "We have no more, as we are subdeacons, but the readers have the codices". That is, the public readers of the Scripture. Felix said, "Show me the readers," you know? Catullinus and Marcuclius said, "We don't know where they live". Now, this is a town of less than 20,000 people so-

Andy Stanley: The Christians knew each other.

Dr. John Dickson: Little white lie.

Andy Stanley: Right, yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: They didn't want their buddies to get in trouble. Felix said, "If you don't know where they live, tell their names and I'll find 'em". They replied, "We are not traitors. Here we are, have us killed". Felix said, "Let them be taken into custody". And this is the last we hear of these two brave Christians who were almost certainly executed on the spot.

Andy Stanley: Hm, and were willing to risk their lives to protect other Christians and were willing to risk their lives to preserve these texts. And this is one of the things we take for granted anytime we pick up a Bible that again, the Bible wasn't, you know, assembled until Christianity well, until it was legal for the bishops to come out and work to actually assemble what we call the Bible. And these men and women were protecting these ancient texts, and they weren't even, I mean, they hadn't even decided what's worth protecting. But if, again, the Gospels were recognized in terms of when they were written and what they said about Christ, the letters of Paul. And they risked their lives to ensure the next generation had these texts. It's amazing.

Dr. John Dickson: They thought these were the words of eternal life and so I'm going down with them.

Andy Stanley: They were worth preserving, yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: And I'll die to protect them.

Andy Stanley: Yeah, it's amazing. So then very soon after Diocletian, Constantine the Great surfaces, sort of defeats his two, the largest enemies and wakes up one day and he's the emperor of the empire. His mom's a Christian. He has some sort of conversion experience and things begin to change, and they've changed for good and bad. Now the Christians can come out of hiding, the first Scripture, the Bible we think about it begins to be assembled. But now Christians have power. And with power comes responsibility, but sometimes irresponsibility. So talk a little bit about that transition.

Dr. John Dickson: There are lots of myths about Constantine. Some people like to sort of date the downfall of Christianity from Constantine. I think that's too simple because Constantine freed the Christians from persecution. He didn't privilege them. He gave them the same rights as Jewish synagogues and pagan temples. But that meant Christians could supercharge all the wonderful things they were doing, preaching the Gospel, establishing healthcare, feeding the poor, and freeing slaves, which they'd been trying to do for centuries. Pretty inconsistently, but still some great success. Now with Constantine, they were free to do it, and they did. And the changes in legislation that Constantine gave the church actually made the church able to be the church. However, it also meant bishops were invited to dinner with the emperor. Just think what psychological change this was. A few years ago, they'd been running away from Roman soldiers on pain of death. And now they're dining with the emperor. It must have been disorienting.

Andy Stanley: Right.

Dr. John Dickson: And some Christians were seduced by power, that's for sure. But I don't think it's as simple as, Constantine gives the church power and then it's terrible. No, Constantine freed the Christians to be the Christians, but in allowing them to hold power, some Christians used it really well for the good of others and other Christians, they used it in a tribal way to make sure my block, my group won socially. Both things happen as a result of Constantine.

Andy Stanley: And you have two really good examples of specific bishops. Let's talk about that because they both had influence pretty much the same time period, but their response to this freedom and this power diverged, just as we see today.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah, yeah, indeed. So Basil of Caesarea and Ambrose of Milan. So Basil is from Central Turkey, and Ambrose obviously from Milan. And they're both bishops at the same time. So they're kind of, they're the pastors of pastors. And they are the pastoral leaders of hundreds of thousands of Christians. Really influential people. And the interesting thing is both of them are from the elite class of Roman society. Basil went to the greatest academic school, the Academy of Athens. He went to school with a future emperor. He was wealthy from a great family, but he used his influence to, among other things, establish what we think is the first public hospital in world history. There was no such thing as public healthcare. And he thought, "Let's take the best Greek medicine" 'cause the Greeks had made some strides in medicine. And let's buy facilities and employ nurses and doctors, which is exactly what he did. This became a hit because they went round collecting people who were sick and lepers and caring for them. They'd worked out, they couldn't quite do the same miracles as Jesus, though they prayed for miracles.

Andy Stanley: But they can show the same compassion as Jesus, right.

Dr. John Dickson: But they could try and mend the way that Jesus mended. And he used his power for good. Ambrose, he's a mixed character. He was a Roman governor. He was a senator as well. And then the people of Milan begged him to become their bishop. So he took a step down and became bishop. He was a pious Christian, devout Christian. But he was also, he took that mentality of governor into being a bishop, to the point where he started to boss the emperor around. We're now toward the end of the fourth century, and the emperors are Christians. And Theodosius I was a devout Christian. And there was this one occasion, this just gives you an example of Ambrose, there's this one occasion where the Christians of a town called Callinicum in Syria burnt down a synagogue, a Jewish synagogue. Anti-Semitism was growing. And Theodosius quite rightly said, "Those Christians".

Andy Stanley: The emperor.

Dr. John Dickson: The emperor said those Christians have to rebuild the synagogue. Ambrose heard, jumped in, rebuked the emperor publicly. Wrote a letter that we still have saying, "How dare you tell the Christians to rebuild that temple to impiety". And Theodosius, the emperor, backed down. Many scholars think Ambrose is the turning point, not Constantine two generations earlier, but Ambrose where now bishops think of themselves as mayors of a town, as governors. And for me, these two characters tell you, the problem isn't power. The problem is what you do with power. Whether you use it for the sake of the other or whether you use it for my team.

Andy Stanley: There's a, and again, this is again, the negatives get the press. The positives, not so much. But there's always, again, there was always somebody calling the church back to what, really, what would Jesus do? What did Jesus do? What did Jesus teach? The other interesting thing is, it's not just a bunch of men either. There were some extraordinarily powerful wealthy women who, once they became believers, just adopted the teaching and the methodology of Jesus. You talk about one I'd never heard of in the book. Can you tell us a little bit about her story?

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah, well, I mean, there's a whole lecture in women in early Christianity and the influence they had, but one of them is Fabiola, and she's around the same time as Ambrose and Basil. Now this woman, this woman, Fabiola, was from one of the founding seven families of Rome. Like the...

Andy Stanley: Wow.

Dr. John Dickson: You know, I don't know, like the Jackie Onassis of... Does that make sense? Like, maybe not. Okay, I'll shut up. I won't try and make American references. But she's from one of the elite seven families that founded Rome, and so she is probably the wealthiest woman in Rome. She has a conversion experience out of quite a... Her husband was quite abusive and she was able to leave her husband. She becomes a Christian. And she, in reading the Gospels, thinks, "I have to use my gifts for the sake of others". And we are told in sources written at the same time as she was alive, she sold all of her properties, a vast property portfolio and gave all the money to establish charities throughout Italy and the second hospital in world history. Based on the model of Basil the Great, but this is the first in the West. If you think of Turkey as the Eastern Church, she establishes it in Rome. And as a result of her work, literally hundreds of hospitals over the next couple of hundred years spring up all over Western Europe, and we have this wonderful woman to thank for it.

Andy Stanley: And then when she dies, talk about her funeral procession. It was...

Dr. John Dickson: We're told...

Andy Stanley: She was so well known for what she had done.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah, and not just because she was this elite woman. What was more striking is, she wouldn't wear elite clothes. She would herself go out and find beggars and people who were dying and assist them, which no Roman woman would do. No Roman woman would touch a lower class person. She touched people who were sick and dying. And they so loved her that when she died, we're told that Rome came out to her funeral and that it was the largest public event in Roman history since the great triumph of General Pompey early in Roman history.

Andy Stanley: Wow.

Dr. John Dickson: Where, you know, the General came in having won a great battle. But it was not because of a battle, it was because-

Andy Stanley: Of her compassion.

Dr. John Dickson: Of her compassion.

Andy Stanley: And her generosity. So sort of bringing this home to us, I wanna read a quote from the book again where you answered the question, essentially, based on what the, you know, first three centuries of Christianity did, what should we do? Because the church has power. I mean, in our nation, our church, the church is very powerful in terms of influence and wealth. And so again, power can corrupt or power can be used for good. So in the book, you write this. You said, "What made Christians good, even cheerful losers was the thought that they had already won". We talked about that. And then this. "Their role, the way they viewed their role in society, their role was simply to remain true to the way of Christ, seeking to transform the world". So they were ambitious. I mean, they pushed hard, they argued hard. "Transformed the world through these four things, prayer, service, persuasion, and suffering". Prayer, service, persuasion, and suffering. Talk a little bit about that. And then you've got a great example of somebody who did just that. Because on the surface, and I get this, we get this, this seems so passive. It's like, no, if we're gonna make a difference, if Christians are gonna do whatever they're gonna do, you can't just pray your way there. You can't just serve your way there. You can't appropriately just be persuasive with words and compassion. You're never gonna get anything done that way. But the reason we're sitting here is because that's exactly what they did.

Dr. John Dickson: Absolutely. I mean, sure, if Jesus did not rise again and God has not poured out His Spirit, then prayer, persuasion, service, and suffering are not enough. But if Christ is on the throne and He's poured out His Spirit, then prayer, persuasion, service, and suffering are more than enough. They're the only tools Christ gave His people to change the world. And those early Christians took hold of them and exercised them in the power of God's Spirit, knowing that Christ had already won. And yeah, they overturned the world with those four things. Now, in the course of time, they then added things like legislation.

Andy Stanley: Yeah, yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: Armies. Yeah, the armies. That'd be good. Torture.

Andy Stanley: Forced conversion, yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: But the four, the real four tools are those four. And it's not passive because God is in those four tools.

Andy Stanley: Mm, that's so powerful...

Dr. John Dickson: And even in that period, you know, where the church started to have loads of power, there were many who just said, "No, I'm just staying with those four tools, thanks very much". And yeah, one of my favorite examples is this guy we know as Bishop Eligius who was a pastor of pastors for Northern France in the 600s AD but he didn't start out a bishop. He started out the chief jewelry maker of Europe and super wealthy. He made all the crowns, gold crowns for the kings of Europe. But he had a conversion experience. And we're told in the very close reports we have close in time to his life that he'd be reading the Gospels and Augustine and good Christian literature while he's making crowns, right? And he decided to use his vast wealth to go and help people in need. And what he became famous for was going out dressed in his finest robes with gold belts, gold sashes, gold headwear, I mean, obscene wealth at one level. But he would go to every town he heard there was a slave sale. He would buy every slave. Regardless of culture, religion, sex, he'd buy every one of them and free them all. There were no obligations. And he would give them money. If they were from way up in Saxony, he'd give them money to get there. God bless you. And as a result, we are told that thousands of people flocked to Christianity. He even convinced the elites to get rid of their slaves. So in the middle of the 600s, there is a full-blown abolitionist movement from this guy who simply prayed, persuaded, served, and suffered for it.

Andy Stanley: And none of us have ever heard of him, and think of what he did.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah. And I think he'd be fine with that, having never heard of him, yeah.

Andy Stanley: So we have just a few minutes left so unfortunately we're gonna skip over some of this stuff. You should read the book or listen to the book. It's fabulous, but here's where I'd like to land. You have this incredible metaphor that there's a sense in which Christianity is a beautiful piece of music. And the problem isn't the music. The problem is the way sometimes it's been performed. So talk a little bit about that and then share with them how you, because in one of your documentaries, one of your films, you actually illustrated this in the most interesting way.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah, so I imagine the Gospel of Jesus, His teaching of, love your enemies, and the way He Himself gave His life for enemies, for us, as the beautiful tune. And many music scholars think one of the most sublime tunes ever recorded, ever written is Johann Sebastian Bach's Cello Suites, and particularly the prelude to the Cello Suites because it's mathematically sublime and it deliberately messes with your head and then gives you, you know, incredible release. It's wonderful, but I imagine the Gospel of Jesus like that tune. Now, if you heard me play the Cello Suites, you might wonder whether Bach could write a tune because I don't play cello, right? But you know to distinguish between the beautiful composition and the terrible performance.

Andy Stanley: Yeah.

Dr. John Dickson: And as I survey Christian history and as I speak with people who think Christianity has only damaged the world, I say, "Christians haven't performed the tune, but the tune is still beautiful". And in the documentary, yeah, I went and had two lessons on the cello and tried to play the Cello Suites.

Andy Stanley: And we have a recording of that.

Dr. John Dickson: Right.

Andy Stanley: So, but it's actually only two lessons. And so we're gonna play, this is Dr. John Dickson's rendition of Cello Suites. So let's just listen to this. It's not terrible. It's pretty, it's really, yeah, yeah. All right.

Dr. John Dickson: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, but every cellist in the audience died just while they...

Andy Stanley: But now we're going to play how it's supposed to sound.

Dr. John Dickson: Okay. That's not me. Isn't that amazing? And the thing I guess I want to say if I can is, if you have been hurt by the church or by an individual Christian, it's because Christians haven't played the melody. It's not because the melody isn't beautiful. And I reckon if you have been hurt by the church, every genuine Christian in this building and watching on would want to say to you straight, look you in the eye and say, "We are sorry. We are sorry that we haven't loved like Christ loved us, and we beg you, despite our poor performance, to see if you can hear the melody again". Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who mistreat you. A melody Jesus took all the way to His cross for us. And we're at that last bit of the prelude here right now. It's designed to take you away from the root note, the G. Huh, we could call it the Gospel. That just came to me, but it is the G note. Bach has taken you away so that you long to get back home. And he keeps hinting that you're coming back and then taking you away until this very last movement. And for me, this is the story of the church. Sometimes coming near, sometimes moving away. Tension, resolution, tension, resolution. But here we come back, and listen to this. Back to the Gospel.

Andy Stanley: Mm. Would you pray for us?

Dr. John Dickson: Mm-hmm, okay. Let me pray. Our Father, we praise You for the Gospel, for Jesus Himself who taught us love, but then gave His life for us in love. Father, we are sorry. We who believe are sorry that we have not lived in love. Oh Lord, help us to see the log in our own eye and take it out and come back to this beautiful Gospel. Lord, we are weak and we ask for the power of Your Spirit that we might live as You have called us to live. And we pray for everyone listening to us today who does not quite believe and who has been hurt by the church, be merciful and help them, Father, hear this beautiful melody, the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus in whose name we pray, amen.

Andy Stanley: Thank you.

Dr. John Dickson: Thank you.

Andy Stanley: Fabulous.

Dr. John Dickson: My pleasure.
Are you Human?:*