Listening In: Vishal Mangalwadi


WARREN SMITH, HOST: I’m Warren Smith, and today you’re listening in on my conversation with author and Indian intellectual Vishal Mangalwadi.

At first glance, author and speaker Vishal Mangalwadi might be mistaken for a bookish college professor. And, indeed, he has filled that role in his more than 40-year career. But his life is also something of an adventure story, that has included time in an Indian jail for his commitment to the Gospel as well as travel around the world teaching Westerners—Europeans and Americans—that the gift they gave to India and the world—Christianity—is a gift they are now squandering.

Vishal Mangalwadi was educated both in India and in the United States. In 1974, Mangalwadi co-founded The Theological Research and Communication Institute (TRACI) in India and quickly became a public figure. His first book, The World of Gurus, published in 1977 and serialized in the weekly magazine, Sunday, became a best-seller. Since then, dozens of books have followed, as have close associations with Francis Schaeffer, Chuck Colson, and other American and European Christian intellectuals.

His latest book, the one we are talking about today, is “The Book That Changed Everything: The Bible’s Amazing Impact On The World,” though before we started talking about his book, we talked a bit about his fascinating life and some of the people he’s encountered through the years, including Frances Schaeffer.

Your biography says that you wrote a book with Francis Shaffer called Corruption Versus True Spirituality

VISHAL MANGALWADI, GUEST: It was Dr. Schaeffer’s book True Spirituality to which I added 75 pages with Mrs. Schaeffer’s permission and the original publisher’s permission to have an Indian edition, which is called Corruption Versus True Spirituality

SMITH: Well, now it makes sense because I was looking at that book and it said it had a publication date of 1998 and I was thinking, wait a minute, I thought Francis Schaeffer died back in the ‘80s. I didn’t remember exactly what year he died, but I thought it was before 1998. Did you know Dr. Schaeffer? 

MANGALWADI: Oh, yes, yes. I knew him. And Mrs. Schaeffer was very kind and allowing me, and I think original publisher of that was book was Eerdmans and they allowed me to print because I have to revisit that because corruption is the number one issue in most of our countries. So how true spirituality is the answer to corruption, not dictatorship. India wants dictatorship to deal with our corruption, but it is in fact true spirituality which sees the sin as the problem and blood of Jesus Christ as the solution to the problem of sin. That’s what India needs to deal with corruption. 

SMITH: I want to ask you another question as well. Darryl Miller, do you do a lot of work with Darryl Miller? He’s a friend and a friend of our ministry.

MANGALWADI: Darryl and I used to quite a few things. We didn’t work together because I wasn’t in America for many years, so we didn’t work for many years. But in March of this year, we were together in Panama where I was the guest speaker for Discipling Nation Alliance and I gave four lectures on the book of Revelation and I’m hoping that we will have—particularly study eschatology in Revelation together again because if reforming America will require reforming American eschatology.

SMITH: Yeah, no, I totally understand that. How would you describe yourself, by the way? You talked about maybe being a postmillennialist. I thought you said though that you said you were not a postmillennialist. Is that what you said? 

MANGALWADI: No, no, I—

SMITH Are you an a-millennialist?

MANGALWADI: My most favorite book these days in the Bible is the book of Revelation. And I see that in the book of Revelation, there is no second coming. Jesus comes many times. The most important coming is in Revelation 3:20-21, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man opens the door, I will come in and sup with him and he with me. And if you let me sit on the throne of your heart, I will let you sit on my throne just as I have sat down on my father’s throne.” So Christ’s coming, he comes many times. He comes, just in chapter 14 of Revelation he comes twice—first as the lamp on Mount Zion—and then at the end of the chapter as Son of Man on white cloud with a sickle to harvest the saints. So I’m a premillennialist in the sense that the most important coming of Christ is Revelation 3:20. He comes in our hearts, makes us sit on God’s throne, and through us, then he establishes his kingdom on earth. 

SMITH: So how do you respond to the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene creed, which you quote the full version in your book it says, “He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” Are you comfortable affirming that? 

MANGALWADI: I prefer the phrase “final coming” to “second coming.” There is a final coming, which is the final judgment. But that is different than second coming. There is no phrase in the Bible which just second coming. 

SMITH: No, I understand that. But let me ask you this—

MANGALWADI: In Hebrews 9 there is one reference to his coming a second time. 

SMITH: When you go to church, do you—if you go to a church that recites the Apostle’s Creed, would you say that? Would you be comfortable saying that? 

MANGALWADI: Oh, yes.

SMITH: Okay. I was just curious. 

MANGALWADI: Yeah. I believe in a final coming, but the phrase second coming has become a box which has created a lot of theological problems. 

SMITH: Well, Vishal, I think I first became aware of your work some years ago. Chuck Colson, who of course was one of my mentors and the namesake of the Colson Center was a big fan of your work. He called you, I think, you know, one of the foremost thinkers on Christian worldview. And coming from someone like Chuck Colson, that really means a lot. And I think it was partly through Chuck’s influence that I discovered your video series Must the Sun Set on the West. And in some ways that idea is what you’re picking up on in this new book of yours, This Book Changed Everything, which of course is a book about the Bible. You’re coming at this topic as an Indian who is looking at the West and seeing—if I may put it this way—that we’ve sort of squandered our Christian heritage. We sort of squandered our birthright. Do I have your message right? 

MANGALWADI: Yes. That is indeed my thesis that the Bible built the Western civilization and as the West has turned away from the Bible, the tree is drying up and the fruits are withering and the West is heading towards disaster.

SMITH: Well, in fact, you begin your book with a really interesting story and I’d like for you to briefly recount that story if you would that in some ways it’s kind of a metaphor for this idea that we’ve already been talking about, that the West was built on the Bible and there’s been great fruit from that. But we’re cutting ourselves off from the root, the Bible. And as a consequence, we’re seeing many negative things show up in our culture. That story or that idea showed up at the very beginning of your book when you went on a trip to St. Gallen, Switzerland. Can you talk about that trip and what you learned there? 

MANGALWADI: Yes. It was in January when I started writing this book, 2018, in the city of St. Gallen in Switzerland, and I was struck by a massive statue of the city father Vadian and I was intrigued by this man. He was not wearing a crown or a sword and he was not sitting on a throne, not on a horse, but was standing with a Bible in his left hand. I’d never heard of him. So I asked the people who were passing by and the people who live there, what book he was holding, and nobody could tell me. In fact, two men in their thirties, they were very embarrassed. They said, we grew up here. No one ever told us what book he’s holding. One elderly gentleman guessed that this was perhaps the Bible. So why was he holding the Bible? Was he a preacher? Nobody knew. So I researched him and found that no, he was a city physician who became the city historian and mayor and had led the debates before he became mayor in that city, adopting that the Bible will be its foundation, its light in all the civic and personal and public models and guidance. So, that was 1524. 1526 he became the mayor and the city was reformed after a Zurich had been reformed. And then Bern and Geneva went on to get reformed. And many of the cantons in Switzerland became reformed. So, he was one of the leaders. But as a city mayor who was a Renaissance humanist, a poet who turned historian.

SMITH: Well, not only did Vadian, this town father—based on what he knew of the Bible, based on his understanding of the Bible, build this town in Switzerland the contention of your book is that the Bible made possible all or the vast majority of the great achievements of the West. You talk about the Bible, it’s teaching us the importance of the word, of covenants, of our loving our neighbors as ourselves and so on caused there to be great breakthroughs in technology, agriculture, medicine, the legal arena and the economy. Can you say a little more about that? 

MANGALWADI: Well, it is amazing that people don’t realize that your belief that you exist as a person different than a robot is because of the Bible. There is no logical way to prove that you exist as a permanent individual soul, self-thinking subject. Descartes tried to prove that I think therefore I am. But a David Hume and other philosophers quickly pointed out the fallacy that when you doubt that God exists, the world exists, what you’re proving is that the doubting exists, the thinker exists. You’re not proving that the thinking exists, but that the thinker or the doubter exists, that cannot be proven logically. So, all the rationalists who decided that, well the infant knowledge of truth comes to us through our senses, eyes and ears, and touch and smell and taste. Well, we can’t see, smell, touch taste your soul, yourself, your person. So, yes, thinking exists. Doubting exists. It’s like a computer, a robot who can play chess and beat you in chess. Answer lots of your questions. Solve mathematical problems. Thinking is existing in a robot. Is he a person? Does a self exist? No. This is to say that every human person is endowed by their creator with inalienable rights. Does a sex doll, a robot, if she’s violated, can she complain that I’m raped? I have some inalienable rights. I cannot be kept locked up in a house. I should be free to roam around. Are you robbing her of her liberty if she’s not allowed to go outside of your house and sleep with other men? So, you are a person different than a robot because you have a self or a soul. That’s foundation to believing that human beings have unique dignity and rights and that all human beings are created equal. If we are not created in God’s image, then did we evolve equal? Obviously we didn’t. So, every high school student in public high schools in America no longer believes that all men are created, let alone created equal. So, the very foundation of the Declaration of Independence that people are all created equal, all are made in God’s image, all have unique dignity and inalienable rights. These foundational assumptions come from the Bible. You reject the Bible, America as a civilization has no basis for existing.

SMITH: You’re listening in on my conversation with Vishal Mangalwadi, author of The Book That Changed Everything: The Bible’s Amazing Impact On The World.

I’m Warren Smith. More in a moment.

Welcome back. I’m Warren Smith, and today you’re listening in on my interview with Vishal Mangalwadi. When we left off, he was describing how the West was squandering its Christian birthright to secularism, materialism, and postmodernism. Mangalwadi says that an Indian Christian is uniquely positioned to see the decline because India has been a Christian country since the first century, when St. Thomas evangelized the sub-continent, and India is also the birthplace of Hinduism, which he says is responsible for the birth of postmodernism.

MANGALWADI: That is correct. My wife and I were married in 1975 and in ‘76 we started serving the poor in a very backward area of North India. And our service appeared to be a threat to the rich and the powerful who wanted to keep the oppressive caste system, which suppressors and exploits 75% of India. They wanted to keep it intact and they realized that we were changing it. So if the children have the lowest caste can sit and study with the children of the upper caste then when it comes to employment, if they do well, they might beat in competitions the children of the upper caste. So, our service was a threat to them and they wanted to kill me. The superintendent of police, the highest police officer, he was put under pressure to eliminate me and to stop my service. And he came, invited me to his home, made me sit on a easy chair, offered me tea and biscuits and he said that you are doing what no one has done in our district and I highly respect you. You are a published author. Your books are being taught in the university. But I am asking you to cancel the prayer meeting in which you are calling the farmers to pray for relief from those who were victims of a hailstorm. And he said, if you don’t stop that prayer meeting, I will personally kill you. I don’t need to arrest you. I don’t need a warrant. I’ll just take you from your home into the jungle, shoot you, throw your body there at night, hyenas will eat you. 

So they finally, thankfully didn’t kill me because the press was supporting what I was doing. So that threw me in jail. And that’s when I began to raise this question that here is a highest police officer who has taken an oath to uphold the constitution of India, which guarantees my freedom and guarantees my right to pray and lead other others in prayer. But he is threatening to kill me if I don’t cancel a prayer meeting. So, how do you build a society where freedoms and justice are in fact institutionalized and the government exists to defend your freedoms and rights to enable you to flourish according to your understanding of God’s will? So, in prison, I began studying the Bible afresh to see why when Jesus is healing the sick and serving the needy, why is this establishment getting so angry at him they wanted to kill him? Why is Paul always being thrown in prison when he’s preaching the good news? And that that helped me both to study how the Bible built modern India—including our judiciary, our police system, our democracy—and what the Bible has done to create the modern world in building nations where there is relative freedom, justice, prosperity, rights, etcetera. 

So I wrote three or four books on the Bible’s impact in creating the modern India. And in fact my last book was called India: The Grand Experiment published in 1997 because of which in reviewing that book, Christianity Today called me “India’s foremost Christian intellectual.” And that is what attracted Chuck Colson to begin to look at what I was writing. 

SMITH: Now, Vishal, this idea of divine revelation is an important idea. It’s an idea that runs throughout your book. And obviously of course as Christians we believe that it is what makes the Bible unique. That it is not just another book. It is the word of God. Can you say more about that and why it’s so important? 

MANGALWADI: Well Tom Wolfe wrote a book on the the problem of speech, What Is Language. What the evolutionists are telling us is that we were apes in the jungle and our ancestors were apes in the jungles of Africa. We were fighting each other for mating and for food and we were making angry noises as the lions and all the animals do. And those angry sounds suddenly evolved into language with grammar and aesthetics and logic and models, etcetera. Is language animal sound or is language the created word that in the beginning was the word? This word created everything. We are made in the image of that rational person, self, soul, eternal soul that created everything. And he made us with the gift of language so that just as we reveal ourselves to one another, God could reveal himself to us, and he gave us minds to explore and understand the universe to establish our dominion over it.

SMITH: You’re listening in today on my conversation with Vishal Mangalwadi.  He’s written nearly two dozen books, some with co-authors who have included Frances Schaeffer and Darrow Miller.  His wife Ruth—to whom he has been married for more than 40 years, is also a frequent co-author.   

I’m Warren Smith. We’ll have a few final thoughts from Vishal Mangalwadi after this short break.

You’re listening in on my interview with Vishal Mangalwadi.  His new book is The Book That Changed Everything: The Bible’s Amazing Impact On Our World. 

Let’s get right back to our conversation.

Vishal, let me pivot in our conversation just a bit. You have had a lifelong fascination with William Carey. You’ve written a couple of books about him. He is mentioned numerous times in your new book, the one you and I are talking about The Book That Changed Everything: The Bible’s Amazing Impact On Our World. Why are you so fascinated with William Carey? What can he teach us today? 

MANGALWADI: Well, William Carey is the father of modern India. It’s not Mahatma Gandhi as we were told for 50, 60 years. Of course, Mahatma Gandhi, the ideology that killed Mahatma Gandhi is now ruling India. So, Gandhi’s image in India will be destroyed, is being destroyed right now, and will be destroyed. But we’ve not had for 60, 70 years a Christian studying Indian history and teaching Indian history. But once you begin to actually look at the question, how was modern India created, you realize that this cobbler, English cobbler, who could not go to university—Oxford and Cambridge wouldn’t take him because he was a Baptist, he was not an Anglican—had to sit on his workbench in a cobbler’s workshop, teaching himself Greek and Latin and world history and geography and theology, etcetera. He goes to India as a missionary and begins the revolution. He begins his linguistic revolution first. No Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim scholar has any interest in oral dialects. They are for the demons and women. Scholars speak Sanskrit, Arabic, or Persian. These were the three classical languages in India. And Persian was the court language of the Mughal empire when William Carey went there. But he began to do what Tyndale had done, what Luther had done, what Michael Agricola had done, who translated the Finnish Bible for example. He began to translate the Bible into the oral dialects of the people.

And from that, the idea of India as a nation comes. India never had the idea of a nation. India never had an idea of rule law. India never had an idea of agriculture. In fact, the Times of India—our newspaper—now acknowledges that William Carey was the self-appointed minister of agriculture. No Muslim, no British, no Buddhist ruler had ever appointed a minister for agriculture in India. So this vision for agriculture, which here, president George Washington repeatedly talked about why are we fighting the British? So that every man may sit under his own wine and fig tree, which was a strong motif in the Old Testament—economic freedom of every man sitting under his own wine and fig tree, not serving a Pharaoh, but serving his own children and grandchildren and contributing to nation’s economy. That was the agricultural vision that William Carey began. His garden was the second best botanical garden in India, and he taught agriculture, botany, forestry, etcetera. 

But he also built Asia’s first vernacular college. The modern press came with him, etcetera. So he was part of the biblical worldview, which had created America and England. 

SMITH: In your book, you talk about the fall of the Roman empire, it created a tremendous void and that there was chaos between, Oh, we’ll just say between the year 500 and 1000 AD just to make the math easy. But then the second millennium comes along and you say in your book that between the years 1000 and 2000, the highest achievement of that era was the rule of law. That it was the foundation of human flourishing and equality, justice, freedom, and progress. You quote Margaret Thatcher as saying that. You quote the historian Paul Johnson as saying that. And you say also that while the growth of the rule of law comes at least in part from the Justinian Code, which was not explicitly biblical, that the growth of the Justinian Code to become essentially the legal code of the West was a Christian achievement. First of all, do I have that bit of history right? Am I representing your position accurately? And can you say more about it? 

MANGALWADI: Yes. Rule of law is the greatest achievement of Western civilization. And the origin of it is an understanding of who is Jesus. There was Anian who became Bishop Anian, who taught that Jesus was not always God. He was a creature who became God. And the caesars—even caesars who were Christians—loved it because beginning with Augustus Caesar, caesars had made themselves God. Who is God? God has authority, power, glory, honor, wealth. That’s what caesars have. Jesus is ashamed, humiliated, and mocked, a victim. He cannot be God. But the church, although Arianism had the support and the backing of the bishops and the emperor, Christian emperors—caesars—the church as it was being faithful to the word of God began to say, no, this is wrong. Jesus is not a creature who became God, but he was God who became man. 

SMITH: If I may interrupt you, that was really the rejection of Arianism and the adherence to a biblical understanding of who Jesus was, was really a big part of the reason we had some of the early church councils. Isn’t that correct? 

MANGALWADI: Absolutely. The Council at Ephesus, Council at Chalcedon was special. But once the church decided that Jesus was God who became man, then caesar can never become God. Caesar has to be under Christ. Every knee must bow. Every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, including caesars must bow their knee. So what is Christ’s will? How should the earth be governed? That is why the Emperor Justin ordered creation of the Justinian Code and authorized bishops, theologians who were faithful to the scriptures and to the Chalcedon Creed. Chalcedon at that time, now is part of Istanbul. It was across the waters from Istanbul at that time—what we used to be Constantinople. So, the Justinian Code was created to bring all of the 400 years, 500 years of Roman laws that the first senate passed, then emperors had passed, kings had passed. And the laws that the church has passed, the Canon laws, they were are all organized into the Justinian Code. And of course the code was lost. It was rediscovered in about the ninth century out of which became the modern university movement. The first University of Bologna in Italy was a law university teaching the Justinian Code. And that then became the legal framework within which the Roman Catholic Church practiced law. 

SMITH: Vishal, thank you so much for your time. Whenever I have an opportunity to talk to someone like you, I like to kinda conclude with this question. I certainly of course hope that you have many years of fruitful ministry ahead of you. But you and I are both of an age where we likely have more years behind us than before us. How do you want people to remember this book? How do you want them to remember Vishal Mangalwadi and the work that you have left here. 

MANGALWADI: If the Bible became the book of the 21st century, if first the church and the seminary began to read the Bible afresh to see if it really is God’s word, if there is a God who is able to speak and reveal himself, and then if the secular universities realize that our epistemology of rationalism and empiricism, all of that is dead. And do we now turn to myths like Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung said that we should turn to stories. A myth is a story that is believed to be true. And that is what is capturing the American evangelical movement. A lot of evangelicals who called themselves biblical Christians, evangelical Christians are actually following Joseph Campbell that we believe the Bible is a story, but we believe it true. Well, a myth that is believed to be true—a story that is believed to be true is a myth. A parable is not a true story. When the gospel say that Jesus told his parable, the gospel writers wanted to understand that this event did not happen. It’s not a true story. It’s an analogy of something which is true. So, right now, the American church—evangelical movement, that is—has moved away from the nonsense of common sense, which is good, into the arms of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, into story. If I can ignite a debate that the Bible is not a story, it’s not a collection of stories. It is revelation. It is God’s word. It is truth. And this is the word of life. If you abide in God’s word, you will know the truth, not the story. You will know the truth and it will set you free. Well, I would be content that my mission in life has been successful.


(Photo/Vishal Mangalwadi)

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