The Air We Breathe: How We All Came to Believe in Freedom, Kindness, Progress, and Equality, Glen Scrivener. Charlotte: The Good Book Company, 2022. Softcover, 232 pages.
This book was the winner of Christianity Today’s 2022 Book Award in Evangelism and Apologetics. It’s easy to see why. It’s a unique form of apology or defence for the Christian faith. As such, this is the book you would want to hand to your unbelieving friends or family members.
Glen Scrivener is an Anglican clergyman. Born and raised in Australia, he now lives in the United Kingdom where he directs the evangelism charity Speak Life. Judging from this book, Scrivener is on the evangelical side of the Anglican spectrum.
The main argument of The Air We Breathe is this:
The extraordinary impact of Christianity is seen in the fact that you don’t notice it. You already hold particularly ‘Christian-ish’ views, and the fact that you think of these as natural, obvious, or universal shows how profoundly the Christian revolution has shaped you (p.13).
Scrivener argues that the values of our Western cultures are Christian values, even when they have been hijacked and turned in the wrong direction. He dedicates a chapter to each of these values: equality, compassion, consent, enlightenment, science, freedom, and progress. None of these would be held in high regard in the West apart from Christianity’s impact. Furthermore, none of these have any absolute demand on us apart from the absolute truth and authority of the Bible.
Scrivener is writing for three Western audiences: the “nones” (those claiming no religious affiliation), the “dones” (those who’ve rejected Christianity), and the “wons” (Christians). For the first two groups, the book concludes with the gospel message, encouraging unbelievers to read the Bible for themselves to encounter the person and work of Christ. For the last group, The Air We Breathe is a powerful reminder that Christians are on solid ground. Christianity expanded to have the influence it did because Christ rose from the dead as a fact of history. This is a miracle. And: “To embrace the miracle is not to embrace nonsense. In fact, it’s a way to make sense of life” (p.218).
Having praised the book so much so far, I regret having to point out a few cautions. Scrivener casually throws in several references to Darwinian macro-evolution, as if it’s a self-evident truth accepted by all. In Chapter 9, he assumes that all readers view George Floyd as a heroic martyr. In fact, he even suggests that Floyd could be seen as a “Christ figure” (p.189). What happened to him was tragic and wrong, but it’s difficult to see how he might be regarded as a picture of the perfectly innocent Lamb of God. Finally, in a similar vein Scrivener has an overly high estimation of Martin Luther King Jr.. His life was “expended in sacrificial love” and he had “an unashamedly biblical vision” (pp.184-185). Sadly, MLK was unfaithful to his wife and also theologically a gospel-denying liberal. It’s true that biblical ideas influenced his civil rights activism, but we should also be honest about who he was as a man and what he believed.
Those points notwithstanding, The Air We Breathe takes a distinctive approach to apologetics, but one that can still be said to hew biblically. Of course, there’s no silver bullet in Christian apologetics. Persuasion is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, he works through means, including well-written books like this one.
Originally published in Clarion 72.11 (September 1, 2023)