Contributing to the Common Good

Contributing to the Common Good

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Used by permission of the original author, Martin Hanscamp

How do we speak with confidence into the public square? What contribution does Christianity make? Why should secular society listen to what they see as a dusty old manuscript? The relationship between Christian schools and broader society is caught up in the same questions.

Author Vishal Mangalwadi, an Indian Christian, tells a wonderful story in The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization.

He was heading to a conference in Holland, and on the plane he had a conversation with a man from India who bragged about his success as a businessman in Great Britain. Mangalwadi was perplexed by the comment that “business in England is easy because everyone trusts you there.”

He landed in Holland, and his host, Jan, invited him to go for a walk. They headed down the neatly organized lanes until Jan took a detour into a milking shed. Mangalwadi followed and watched Jan dip into the storage vat to draw out a beautiful mug of milk, then pay into the money jar on the ledge. He couldn’t believe his eyes; the honour pay system was non-existent in his homeland. In that instant, Mangalwadi understood what the businessman had been trying to say. In India, you’d need a cashier to ensure the customer paid, an inspector to check the milk wasn’t watered down, another bureaucrat to ensure the inspector wasn’t being bribed, and so on. Frustratingly and inefficiently, all the extra costs would have to be paid by the consumer.

So why the contrast between Holland and India? Why can a Dutch farmer leave his money jar out and get a fair return for his product? Mangalwadi points to the Global Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) that ranks 175 countries from the least corrupt to the most. In 2014, Canada came in at tenth, just topping Australia at eleventh. Mangalwadi goes on to say, “An important finding of the CPI is that the least corrupt countries are the Protestant countries – that is, secular nations whose cultures were shaped decisively by the Bible.” (p. 253)

Why is this form of honesty so easy within some societies? My heritage, in the Christian Reformed Church, will be familiar to some. As a child, I’d hear my Dad preach from the Heidelberg Catechism each Sunday night. This type of instruction has been going on for over four centuries in Holland and has had a profound influence. It has reached into the DNA of the country.

In the Heidelberg Catechism’s Lord’s Day 42,1  you’ll see an extended explanation that goes beyond theft. It goes so much further, covering areas like tricks, sneakiness, exorbitant interest, coveting, waste, and then on the positive side, seeking the betterment of your neighbour and caring for the needy. The Heidelberg illustrates the breadth of “thou shalt not steal”  explains it in the light of the rest of Scripture.


Throughout his brilliant book, Mangalwadi explores the idea that the Bible is the single most powerful force that has influenced the unique vision of western thought, western values and western institutions.

Why is it a big issue for Christian education?
  1. It helps us to understand and appreciate where our social values, legal values and institutions have come from. Where does good business trust in UK commerce come from? Where does paying when no one’s looking in Holland come from? Where does the freedom to teach from your faith perspective in Canada come from? Mangalwadi says these values and freedoms are founded in the Scriptures.
  2. It’s also a huge confidence booster. In a secular context where Christian schools are painted as being narrow, exclusivist, irrelevant, bigoted, intolerant, judgemental and so on, we can interrupt those false perceptions and point out that we stand for a wonderful set of values and attitudes that are steeped in the Scriptures and provide value to our society at large.
  3. It affirms the message of the Scripture’s relevance. By opening up the way the Scriptures speak into our everyday, we inspire our students to see how essential and relevant God’s Word is for their lives.
  4. It reminds us we’re making a contribution to the common good. If you were to brainstorm a list of core values that undergird Canadian society, you’d come up with quite a list, and the vast bulk would find their beginnings in the Scriptures. We’d say these are intrinsic to our lives and pivotal for a healthy society.

We could do the same for values in education. Would these be true?
  • education is geared to assisting students grow in confidence and competence for the purpose of contributing and developing culture
  • we stand for fairness and justice for all students; each is a gifted image-bearer who should have the  opportunity to grow
  • students need to work together in forging community, loving their neighbour as themselves