The Ten Most Influential Christians of the Twentieth Century: Introductory Timeline — Visionary Years

UNITED STATES poet laureate Robert Pinsky said in a recent interview, “The history of my century is a history in which the visionary has repeatedly collapsed into nightmare. . . . Pol Pot was a visionary. And Hitler was a visionary.”

The century seemed to be one large, visionary experiment in which people desperately sought, as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn put it, “to live without God.” Politics was to save us from injustice, science from disease, psychoanalysis from suffering, and literature from despair. When it worked, we benefited (civil rights, a cure for polio), but when it didn’t, it turned tragic (the Holocaust, chemical warfare).

And all the while, Christians lived out their faith. Some worked alongside the humanitarians, though with a slightly different agenda (e.g., John Mott, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr.), some opposed the utopians (Karl Barth, C. S. Lewis, Solzhenitsyn); some did an end-around, renewing the church (popes John XXIII and John Paul II) or nurturing the spirit (Billy Graham, William Seymour).

To be sure, the century produced more tragedy and suffering than all other centuries combined, but as the calendar begins a new millennium, the Christian church, though still under attack in many quarters, is larger and stronger than ever—thanks in part to the ten people profiled in the following pages.

—The editors

World Politics

1914–1918 The Great War

1917 Russian Revolution

1936 Joseph Stalin begins a bloody purge that would claim millions of lives

1939 Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland sparks World War II

1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor

1942 Nazi leaders decide on their “Final Solution": to kill all European Jews

1945 United States drops atomic bombs on Japan; the United Nations founded

1949 Communist Mao Tse-tung emerges as the leader of the People’s Republic of China; Western powers found NATO

1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution commits American troops to Vietnam (they would maintain a presence until 1973)

1989 The destruction of the Berlin Wall signals the end of the Cold War

Science/Technology

1905 Albert Einstein publishes his theory of relativity

1908 Ford rolls out the first mass-produced automobile, the Model T

1928 First all-electronic TV patented

1947 Transistor invented at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories

1949 U.S.S.R. detonates its first atomic bomb, initiating the Cold War nuclear arms race

1955 Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine released for use in the United States

1957 Russians launch Sputnik—and the “space race”

1961 Researchers discover the structure of DNA

1962 Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring kicks off environmental movement

1969 The United States lands a man on the moon

1971 Intel introduces the microprocessor

1981 Scientists identify Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS); IBM launches the first personal computer

1997 Chess master Garry Kasparov loses to the computer Deep Blue

Society

1900 Sigmund Freud publishes The Interpretation of Dreams

1919 Prohibition amendment passed

1925 Fundamentalists mocked nationally for the Scopes “Monkey” trial

1954 Segregation outlawed by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

1960 The FDA approves the birth control pill

1963 Feminism is born with the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique

1969 Woodstock celebrates youth counter-culture; California legalizes no-fault divorce

1973 Abortion is declared a woman’s “fundamental right” by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade

1981 MTV debuts with “Video Killed the Radio Star”

1993 Internet takes off with the creation of the Mosaic browser

Art/Literature

1900 Friedrich Nietzsche, who declared in The Gay Science (1882) that “God is dead,” dies

1910 The first abstract painting, “Improvisation XIV,” is unveiled by German artist Vasily Kandinsky

1922 Modernism makes a literary statement with the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and James Joyce’s Ulysses; logical positivism finds voice in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

1929 A. N. Whitehead expounds process philosophy in Process and Reality

1934 John Dewey advocates anti-supernatural humanism in A Common Faith

1956 French playwright Jean-Paul Sartre sounds existentialism’s hopeless note in Being and Nothingness

1961 Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization explores society’s power relations

1967 Jacques Derrida introduces deconstructionism in De la grammatologie

1981 Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue argues the failure of the Enlightenment’s liberal individualism

1987 Allen Bloom criticizes higher education in the U.S. in The Closing of the American Mind

By the Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #65 in 2000]

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