The Minds of the Millenium
Calvary Quarterly, Spring 1999
Recently I stumbled upon a book I recommend that everyone own: 1,000 Years, 1,000 People, by Agnes Hooper Gottlieb, Henry Gottlieb, Barbara Bowers, and Brent Bowers.
This group of scholars and authors list those whom they believe to be the 1,000 most influential men and women of the last millennium. With a system they call the BioGraph, they rank people using five criteria: lasting influence, effect on the sum total of wisdom and beauty in the world, influence on contemporaries, singularity of composition, and charisma.
The results are fascinating.
Although we may disagree about who made the list and who didn't, the work of this team reveals to us the "power of ideas." Whether communicated through the spoken or printed word or through the medium of art or music, creative thought certainly has been the driving force in many of the great leaps forward of the last 1,000 years.
In reviewing the 1,000 people listed, it's noteworthy that 312 were involved with the creative pursuits mentioned above--—the largest of any single category. There were 107 philosophers/religious figures, and 219 scientists or inventors.
What became evident as I began to pore over the biographies was how influential Christians had been during this time, particularly in those fields we often label as secular.
Blaise Pascal (#144), a French scientist and mathematics prodigy, is a great example. Although he's famous for the invention of the first calculating machine and "Pascal's principle," most people don't realize that he founded the modern theory of probability. This became a stimulus to prove the existence of God and the accuracy of Bible prophecy.
Christopher Columbus (#2), as an explorer, opened up the West and gave much of the credit to God, whom he claimed he sought diligently during his journey. Martin Luther (#3), Thomas Aquinas (#8), and St. Francis of Assisi (#39) all made the top forty, over the likes of great inventors and innovators such as Henry Ford, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell, and John Eckert, inventor of the modern-day computer.
Other prominent Christians on the list were John Calvin (#69), John Wycliffe (#337), Jan Hus (#387), John Knox (#547), George Frederick Handel (#565), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (#636), Dr. David Livingstone (#724), and Dwight L. Moody (#954).
Each of these men was not only a beacon of light and hope to the dark world of his day, but his work and ideas have reached across time to touch generations. For example, one would be hard-pressed to imagine the conditions that would exist on the continent of Africa today if not for the work and commitment of Dr. Livingstone.
The lesson we can learn from these great individuals is that though they had varied backgrounds and made their contributions through different fields of study, all possessed the ability to influence culture at large because they held strong convictions and understood calling.
As we approach a new millennium, we must learn that as Christians we need not relegate our gifts, talents, and ideas to a dissident subculture. If we can learn one thing from those who've gone before us, it's that we can affect society tremendously if only we would speak through the mediums it is using.
It must be noted that although many great advancements were made through these various fields of study, no discipline, regardless of how intriguing it is, can answer life's ultimate question: "Why?"
Tolstoy, writing about the field of science, said this: "Science is meaningless because it gives no answer to our questions, the only questions important to us, 'What shall we do and how shall we live?' ''That answer is found only in God's calling upon our lives.
That's what each of these men found.
Os Guinness, in his book The Call, explains: "Calling is the truth that God calls us to Himself so decisively that everywhere we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and [dynamism] lived out as a response to His summons and service."
Johannes Guttenberg became "the Man of the Millennium," #1 on the list, not because the printing press was the greatest invention but because it unleashed the power of so many ideas. The authors note, Guttenberg's printing press "made possible the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the scientific revolution."
Not bad for an ordinary man--—one whose first copies off his printing press have survived to this day: the Bible!
I'm reminded of the admonition Jesus gave us concerning the abilities and gifts the Lord has so graciously bestowed upon each one of us. In his parable of the talents, Jesus--—speaking to the man who did nothing with his talent--—said this, "For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away" (Matt. 25:29).
It is encouraging in our day to see so many people embracing the problems of our day and having the courage to believe God for solutions.
May we be people who have the courage to grapple with the problems of this new millennium, and believe God for solutions.