Is Christianity no longer relevant? New Atheist Christopher Hitchens thinks so. His and other new atheists' stance that religion is at the root of all the world's ills begs a very serious question--what would the world look like without "deluded" Christians who still believe in the person of Jesus? Who believe in the God of grace, mercy, and judgment?
This is the question historian and Christian apologist Larry Alex Taunton poses in The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief. In a friendly round table debate at a local diner among Taunton, Hitchens, and Oxford Math Professor John Lennox, Hitchens asks, "What does Christianity give us now?...Yes, it has given us science and universities. Yes, it has given us great art and literature. But that was a long time ago, and we can get along very well without it" (12).
It is here where the author initially wonders what society would look like without "common grace...the idea that when there is a significant Christian presence in a given society, it brings tangible benefits not just to the Christian, but to the society as a whole" (10-11).
The remainder of the novel takes the reader through the looking glass to the world of the former European Bloc where atheistic unbelief enforced on an entire society from the top down has resulted in, literally, a world without Christianity...a world without the concept of "hope" and "common grace."
A combination of autobiography and history of socialism/communism in that area of the globe, Taunton takes the reader through his family's personal quest to adopt a ten year old girl, Sasha, from a Ukranian orphanage. One critic has said this is a "must read for anyone pondering adoption from the former Eastern European Bloc." I'd say that is an fair statement, as Taunton details the frustrations that await those seeking to maneuver through the labyrinth of government corruption in a country seemingly devoid of Christian morals.
While I found myself skimming through the yawn-worthy history chapters of how socialism destroyed a society with its rejection of belief, Christian morality, and grace, the bulk of the book gripped me with the personal story of one little Ukranian orphan girl's first glimpse of Christian grace.
The struggles Taunton presents may make a reader ask why anyone would put themselves through the chaos of even trying to adopt from former Russia. Yet, the answer becomes obvious when reviewing the Russian Interior Ministry's own data, which show that "30 percent [of orphanage 'graduates'] will enter a life of crime, 40 percent will become addicted to drugs or alcohol, 60 percent of girls will become prostitutes, and 10 percent of these children will commit suicide." Of those who with severe disabilities who don't "graduate"? "In Ukraine, 30 percent...will be dead by the age of eighteen." (99-100).
Does Christianity make a difference? Definitely. As Taunton summarizes, "common grace does much more than negate the evil impulses of mankind; it is a positive force for good. As one experiences grace in his own life, he extends grace to others. Through the inward transformation of the individual, there is a corresponding outward transformation of society...the 'grace effect'" (22).
Christianity's common grace is strong enough to reach around the globe and provide the healing power of God's grace, one individual at a time.