Blog Post

Review: "God and Churchill" by Jonathan Sandys and Wallace Henley

Books on Sir Winston Churchill hit the shelf with such frequency that it is difficult to keep up with them all, even for Churchill devotees like myself. Yet, the new God & Churchill by Jonathan Sandys and Wallace Henley caught my attention because of its title. Reading it did not disappoint.

I’ve long been intrigued by Churchill’s Christian worldview; how it shaped his leadership and the extent to which his Christianity was an experiential one. Other biographers have taken up the topic of Churchill’s Christianity as well.

Stephen Mansfield’s Never Give In offers an optimistic assessment of Churchill’s faith, suggesting the famed statesman embraced more than the trappings of Anglicanism.

On the other hand, The Last Lion, by William Manchester and Paul Reid, downplays Churchill’s Christianity. In fact, Reid’s third volume argues Churchill was an agnostic. In subsequent interviews, he suggested Churchill was, in fact, an atheist.

If Churchill was an atheist, he was a dishonest one. As Sandys and Wallace point out, Churchill spoke too often of God and too approvingly of Christianity not to have at least been appreciative of the two.

In God & Churchill the authors acknowledge Churchill “was neither an engaged churchman nor a pious religious devotee,”[1] but they compellingly argue Churchill possessed a self-conscious Christian identity, which framed his distinctly Christian worldview and that prompted him to advocate for and defend Christian civilization.

Churchill’s Christian inclinations came early in life, under the watchful care of Elizabeth Everest, his beloved nanny. Everest was a devoted follower of Christ, and she instilled within the boy Churchill a love for the King James Bible and an appreciation for Christian virtue and culture.[2]

Under Everest’s care, the Bible filled Churchill’s young mind, and, as an adult, the Bible and biblical imagery would fill his speeches. From his ubiquitous references to good versus evil, divine providence, the will of God, and most notably, his “Be Ye Men of Valour” speech, Churchill repeatedly summoned biblical imagery and articulated Christian tradition and worldview. [3]

In his immortal speech, “Their Finest Hour,” Churchill movingly called his people to personal fortitude and national resolve, saying, “I expect that the battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian Civilization.”

Sandys and Henley review Churchill’s many speeches as a politician and public figure, wherein he espoused the superiority and urgency of defending Christian civilization. For within it one found principles—such as objective morality, social stability, personal ethics, human liberty, and self-restraint—which made life worth living.[4]

Moreover, Churchill enjoyed a keen sense of divine providence throughout his life. Multiple near-death episodes in theaters of conflict, and his improbable escape from his captors in the Boer War, all strengthened Churchill’s sense of destiny.

Churchill, like the prophet Daniel, sensed, “[God] removes rulers and establishes rulers; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.”[5]

Perhaps Churchill had that verse in mind the evening King George VI asked him to form a government—thus tapping him to succeed Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister—after which he penned in his journal, “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and this trial.”[6]

For Churchill, providence was not an impersonal force. It flowed from the sovereign hand of the God of the Bible. In his first speech as Prime Minister, he announced his government’s policy of waging war against Hitler, “With all our might and with all the strength that God can give us…. As the will of God is in Heaven, even so let it be.”[7]

More specifically, Churchill once reflected with his secretary, John Colville, on Jesus’ uniqueness among the great men of history, saying, “Christ’s story was unequalled and his death to save sinners unsurpassed.”[8]

Christianity framed Churchill’s understanding of the struggle between good and evil. As William Manchester observed, Churchill was a Manichean, through and through. He saw World War II through the prism of good and evil, and he believed Hitler to be devilish—even demonic—and that Christian civilization was both summoned and destined to defeat the Fuhrer and his evil regime.

Perhaps no scene more vividly depicts Churchill’s reverence for God than the joint Anglo-American worship service he held, with President Roosevelt, on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales in August of 1941. The hymns, Scripture, and prayers—all choreographed by Churchill—were intended to project the justness of the Allies’ holy cause and summon God’s aid for ultimate victory.

Churchill was a realist, but he was also a romantic. His quixotic view of the British Empire, and all that it represented, shaped him as a man and as a leader.  He romanticized his role in British history, embodying his favorite lines of Thomas Macaulay’s, The Lays of Ancient Rome:

Then out spake brave Horatius,

The captain of the Gate:

“To every man upon this earth,

Death cometh soon or late.

And how can man die better

Than facing fearful odds,

For the ashes of his fathers,

And for the temples of his Gods.”

During the throes of World War II, Churchill mused of his willingness to die facing the fearful odds of the Nazi regime, finding death in defense of Christian civilization preferable to surrendering it.

How well Churchill knew God remains debatable, but what is less debatable is how well God knew Churchill. God providently spared, equipped, and divinely appointed him Prime Minister during Christian civilization’s most dire hour.  Only the most spiritually obtuse fail to see God’s hand on Churchill, and Churchill’s hand reaching for God.


[1] 91.

[2] Xvii, 7.

[3] 86.

[4] 91.

[5] Daniel 2:21.

[6] 82.

[7] 197.

[8] 197.

topicsBook ReviewsWinston Churchill

Comments are closed.