Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Gospel in a pluralist society

Lesslie Newbigin was a bishop in India who then moved to England to help with a church. This culture shock that he experienced caused him to re-think missionary strategies for that culture. What Newbigin came up with was different to what the actual church in England was doing, for they were unaware of all their cultural shortcomings they had bought into. While this book was written in 1989, I think Newbigin was and still is right in his assessment of Western culture and the Churches shortcomings on mission. We no longer live in Christendom, the church has been demoted to be just one of many voices to be heard, without it's preeminence.

In this book Newbigin assesses pluralism and looks at it's dogmas and beliefs, how we (and society) believe and know things, plausibility structures and things like that. Essentially it starts with a look at our cultural epistemology and if you think that sounds a bit philosophical, it was. In the end Newbigin "welcomes some measure of plurality but reject[s] pluralism".

Next Newbigin tries to show how the Biblical story can fit into our culture. Primarily, he sees that it can give meaning to people and history, this is because it shows there is a purpose to life. He also points out that those who are saved, those who are elect, are not elite but are privy to a secret that they are to tell everyone else. This secret contains the true meaning of this world has been disclosed and now must be shared with everyone else. For someone to buy into this it involves faith, because it can be disbelieved and so therefore there should be no coercive proof that they are right. However there are pointers throughout Israels history that help "prove" this secret. The church should have confidence in speaking about historical events that have happened. However, the best apologetic is a community that actually believes and lives by this open/revealed secret.

The church is to confront or speak into issues facing the contemporary world, by earning the right to be heard because of their love for others and demonstration of how to be a loving community. For a modern example, just last night it ticked over 100 Christians arrested in this country for protesting refuge children in offsite detention centers. I hope that actions like this will grant the church space to be heard in our society, even if they disagree on the reasons why they are doing it.

Throughout this book Newbigin puts forward the strongest arguments for secularism and pluralism and then responses against them, pointing out their own presumptions. He also demonstrates a high view of the Bible, God and the Church's mission for the world. His writing is academic, but confident that the Gospel is the true story of the world.

I must be honest with this book. I started reading it some time early this year, put it down and didn't look at it for months. I think it was only shear determination that I got to the end. The chapters in here are longish. I thought the book moved quite slowly with each chapter only gradually building upon each other. If it wasn't for Newbigin's reputation, I probably wouldn't have finished. Having said this, I think Newbigin was pretty smart, and reading some of this arguments (for example his ones against the myth of the secular society) made me also feel smarter for reading them.

So read this book, if you have the time...


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