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Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture Paperback – 4 Sep 1986

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: SPCK Publishing (4 Sept. 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0281042322
  • ISBN-13: 978-0281042326
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 0.9 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 219,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Myron S. Augsburger--in Mission Focus"This is an extraordinary book on contemporary missiology. Writing from four decades of experience in Christian mission, Lesslie Newbigin applies the same discernment involved in contextualizing the gospel in another culture to the issues involved in contextualizing the gospel in our Western culture. He lays bare the pervasive and subtle synergism that alters the gospel, and he calls us to a thorough critique of our culture and of the way in which we understand or misunderstand the gospel of Christ. . . Important reading for a stimulating perspective on the gospel and Western culture."Tim Stafford--in Christianity Today"Newbigin's analysis is the best part of this stimulating book. I do not know of another such brilliantly comprehensive treatment of Western society."Gottfried Oosterwal--in Missiology"The central question posed by Bishop Newbigin in this stimulating book is: What would be involved in a genuinely missionary encounter between the gospel and Western culture? . . . The result is a very profound study. . . Newbigin has given us a masterful analysis of the essential features of Western culture and has pointed the way for an effective missionary encounter."David Heim--in The Christian Century"Newbigin's missionary enthusiasm and his experience in cross-cultural missions make this book far more invigorating than the usual disquisition on the problems of belief in the modern age. . . With his vast learning worn very lightly and, above all, with a deep commitment to the gospel, Newbigin pierces some holes in the secular plausibility structure that Christians have come in large part to accept." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

The late Lesslie Newbigin, a highly respected Christian leader and ecumenical figure, served for nearly forty years as a missionary in India. He died in 1998 at the age of 88.

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By bradley j embry on 29 April 2002
Format: Paperback
I found Newbigin's work most stimulating. His approach to the Christian worldview is, of course, colored by his 40 years as a missionary to India. Perhaps tempered is a better word, because his insights into Western Christianity are profound.
His main point is that the most resistent culture to Christian evangelism is the very culture that sends most missionaries into the world, namely the West. This resistence is a result of an acculturation which pits a reality based on the now defunct dualism of Newton against the Gospel message. This serves as a most resistent barrier to the Gospel message, but one that is, in Newbigin's view, fundamentally flawed.
In short, Newbigin details the rise and fall of Enlightenmental dualism as a valid critique for social sciences. As a result, he shows that it is methodologically flawed to divorce purpose and intent from observable phenomena. Newbigin then goes on to construct the meeting grounds for historical theology, showing that it is in the classrooms, marketplaces and political platforms of the Western world that this resistence will be overcome.
His argument does not, however, revolve around a revolution of the existing man-made edifices just mentioned. Nor does it encourage radical methods which intend to upset the structures detrimentally. Rather, Newbigin challenges the reader to adjust his own, personal spectacles in order to view the Gospel in the light of a contemporary Man living in a dynamic universe; a universe defined by Relativity theory and quantum mechanics on the scientific side and by love and mutuality on the Christian side. Thus, the challenge of Newbigin is to revolutionize the person who in turn will revolutionize the world. For Newbigin, the greatest challenge to these changes comes from the West.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 14 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Solid and creative thinking 24 Oct. 2005
By Peter L. Edman - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent resource that presents a fresh approach to its topics and offers a creative and effective presentation of the role of theology in public life and discourse. I would say that its minor weakness would be an incomplete understanding of economics and an (understandable, given the time of its writing) preoccupation with the polarity between capitalism and communism. The result is that Newbigin's economic critique is a bit off-target. There are legitimate critiques of capitalism to make from his perspective but they require a better appreciation of the virtues of capitalism than he demonstrates. One hopes a latter day disciple will issue a fresh edition with a new foreword that could address this minor shortcoming in an otherwise superb small volume.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Searching honesty 11 Aug. 2005
By John Pittard - Published on
Format: Paperback
In this work, Newbigin explores the relationship of Christianity to power with a searching honesty that few others have matched. While appreciative of Christendom's accomplishments, Newbigin suggests that the power granted the church in Christendom overestimates Christians' grasp of the truth and underestimates the tendency for power to corrupt the church. But the failures of Christendom do not thereby justify completely abandoning the attempt to influence the powers of secular society. Newbigin forcefully argues that Christians cannot simply set aside efforts to influence worldly powers in favor of "sectarian protest" against those powers. Society and it institutions will be guided by some vision of the good life (they cannot be neutral in this regard), and if that vision is the wrong one, much needless harm and spiritual suffering will result. In service to the world, then, Christians must offer their vision of the good life as the truth which should guide individuals and their institutions. Newbigin attempts to articulate an intermediate position (along the lines suggested by Abraham Kuyper) that falls somewhere between Christendom and sectarian protest. Serious questions may be raised about Newbigin's proposal, but his unwillingness to settle for the extremes makes this work a wonderful launching point for further reflection. Whatever model one adopts for Christian activity in the secular sphere, Newbigin suggests that for any engagement with secular culture to be successful Christians will have to first grapple with postmodern pessimism towards the concepts of truth and knowledge. Newbigin considers postmodernity's legitimate insights into the relationship between knowledge and power but moves beyond postmodern skepticism to sketch an epistemology that is appropriately humble yet also hopeful about the possibility of gaining insight into the truth.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Classic by a missionary statesman 31 Mar. 2010
By Darren Cronshaw - Published on
Format: Paperback
Lesslie Newbigin Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986).

Reviewed by Darren Cronshaw

Newbigin was a missionary in India for nearly 40 years and when he returned to England analysed modern Western culture from the perspective of an outsider using tools of cross-cultural communication. He urged treating the West as a mission field; 'a pagan society ... far more resistant to the gospel than the pre-Christian paganism with which cross-cultural missions have been familiar. ... the most challenging missionary frontier of our time.' (p.20).

Central to his discussion is how biblical authority can be a reality for those who are shaped by Western culture, and he goes on to consider the interaction of the gospel with science, politics, and economics. Since Newbigin the world has moved on, but he understood how the world had changed because of modernity and foresaw how it was changing with new trends. He articulated how the world is seen from a scientific framework, but also recognised the influence of new science. He commented on Augustine's relevance and Thomas Kuhn's theory of scientific revolutions and paradigm shifts which are important to understand for our modern/postmodern transition. He argued the church should not be relegated to the private sphere, but neither is it a new political order. Although written twenty years ago and with only glimpses of postmodern thought, his conclusions are still worth hearing about the need for freedom, dialogue, "declericalized" theology, local ecumenical efforts, looking at cultures with the help of outside perspectives, and learning to proclaim truth with categories that ultimately can't be proved within modern frameworks. His other books, especially The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), are also worthwhile contributions, and George Hunsberger interprets Newbigin as he relates to gospel, church and culture in Bearing the Witness of the Spirit: Lesslie Newbigin's Theology of Cultural Plurality (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).

Originally appeared in Darren Cronshaw, `The Emerging Church: Introductory Reading Guide', Zadok Papers, S143 (Summer 2005).
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Incredible Work 21 Sept. 2013
By Sam Creagar - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of the greatest works of philosophy and Christian theology I have ever read. Newbigin's exegesis of American Culture and misunderstanding of true, biblical freedom has impacted the way I interact with my faith, Scripture, and the world around me. Read this book. Read it often. It can be a difficult read (his flow is a bit circular at times), but the content is WELL worth the effort.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Compelling and Nuanced Christian Apologetic for the West 8 Feb. 2014
By Shawn Woo - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
Much like Hellenistic civilization at the zenith of its influence, modern Western civilization is the most pervasive and persuasive contemporary culture in the world today. While there has been much discussion on “contextualization” in missiological writings, argues Lesslie Newbigin, the problems of contextualization in this predominate, Western culture has been largely ignored–mainly due to the fact that most of the missiological perspectives are themselves saturated with Western culture. To this situation, Newbigin, the Church of Scotland missionary who was one of the first bishops in the Church of South India, brings fresh cross-cultural lens through which he casts a vision of a genuine missionary encounter between the Gospel of Christ and modern Western culture.

Newbigin identifies the plausibility structure, or the worldview, within which modern Western culture operates as Enlightenment rationalism: “Reason, so understood, is sovereign in this enterprise. It cannot bow before any authority than what it calls the facts. No alleged divine revelation, no tradition however ancient, and no dogma however hallowed has the right to veto its exercise” (25). Rationalism, and its offspring scientific naturalism, separate the public world of facts and the private world of values, and effectively exclude the possibility of divine revelation in human history and thus eliminate teleology altogether.

The brilliance of Newbigin’s critique of modern Western culture lies in his ability to subvert its plausibility structure from within. He concedes that it is impossible to prove the claim of Jesus’ resurrection from the plausibility structure of modernity, but he submits that the plausibility structure of Christianity offers a wider rationality that has a greater capacity to endow the whole of human experience with meaning (63). Newbigin engages two arenas of modern Western culture, namely science and politics, with the Christian Gospel in view. First, Newbigin embarks on a fascinating foray into intellectual history to show that the achievements of modern Western culture are perfectly sensible in a plausibility structure informed by the Bible. He argues that the modern scientific enterprise developed in the West, rather than in other highly-sophisticated cultures of Ancient China, India, Egypt, or Greece, because Western culture was beholden to the biblical idea of a rational and contingent universe. “For to put it briefly, if the world is not rational, science is not possible; if the world is not contingent, science is not necessary” (71). If the world is irrational and inherently unpredictable, scientific observation is futile, but if, as in the Indian worldview, the world is a part of an immanent, absolute reality within which humans directly participate, empirical experiments are superfluous.

On the other hand, Enlightenment rationalism and scientific naturalism offer no compelling outlook on human destiny and purpose. Reducing human life to a series of efficient, rather than final, causes leads to absurdity. For example, an exhaustive compositional analysis of a machine may adequately explain how it works, but unless one understands why the machine was created, the purpose of its design, the detailed analysis is wholly inadequate as an “explanation” of the machine. Similarly, examining all the physiological, psychological, and biographical traits of a person may lead to a vast knowledge about a person, but this “knowledge” can in no way approximate knowing a person relationally. This, contends Newbigin, is the break between natural theology and revealed theology. A purely rationalistic, and thus reductionist, view of the universe is ultimately unreasonable, and the testimony of the believing community that has encountered the living God constitutes the only viable alternative to this a-teleological, a-theistic worldview.

Likewise, Newbigin claims that prevailing political views fail to account for human teleology. Capitalism, founded on the freedom to pursue one’s desires, harbors gross inequalities, and socialism, founded on the principle of equality, sacrifices freedom and dignity, since the uniquely human need for love and respect rely on a differentiation of individual identities. The dated contrast between capitalism and socialism need not distract from this prescient volume. It remains true that other political varieties fall somewhere between the two paradigms and that they are all organized around the Enlightenment concept that human beings are autonomous individuals possessing equal rights to pursue their own happiness. The problem persists in that “happiness” cannot be properly defined without reference to a normative understanding of human purpose. Unlike the value-free science of economics, which has no answer to this conundrum, the Christian worldview suggests that this human purpose consists in partaking in the community of love and obedience inaugurated by the Triune, incarnate, God.

Newbigin’s proposal that the Church should apply the Gospel to every sphere of public life is ambitious. It calls for a nuanced eschatology that emphasizes the lasting, redeemable value of secular work, and a robust workplace theology that equips Christians to embody the Gospel in all of their waking hours. It calls for an intellectually rigorous apologetic that expounds the plausibility of the Biblical worldview, as well as an unapologetic witness to divine revelation through the vibrant life of the Church community. While it is not, nor does it pretend to be, a systematic interpretation of modern Western culture, Foolishness to the Greeks is an invaluable commentary on the dialectic between Christ and culture. Newbigin’s dual status as enlightened outsider and steeped insider to modern Western culture renders this volume much more insightful than other disquisitions on this subject.
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