The Gospel in a Pluralist Society Paperback – 23 Jul 2004
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From the Back Cover
How does the gospel relate to a pluralist society? What is the Christian message in a society marked by religious pluralism, ethnic diversity, and cultural relativism? Should Christians encountering today's pluralist society concentrate on evangelism or on dialogue? How does the prevailing climate of opinion affect, perhaps infect, Christians faith? --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
From his vast experience in leading his Church in the culturally and spiritually diverse Indian subcontinent, the late Bishop Newbigin, helps to clarify the key issues of faith, and helpfully enables his reader to apply the messages learned to their context throughout the world.
This book is a must for anyone who is interested in seriously engaging with the work of Christian mission at home and abroad in this significant time of transition for the whole world.
He tried to communicate the serious need for the church to once again take the Gospel to post-Christian Western culture, which he viewed not as a secular society without gods but as a pagan society with false gods] From Newbigin's perspective, western cultures, particularly modern scientific cultures, have uncritically come to believe in objective knowledge that was unaffected by faith-based axiomatic presuppositions. Newbigin challenges this ideas of neutrality and also the closely related discussion concerning the distinction between facts and values, both of which emerged from the Enlightenment.
He emphasises that it is the corporate task of the church to bear witness to all concerning the gospel. Jesus Christ is the absolute truth and only hope for mankind. There is no dualism between gospel witness and cultural transformation. This book is both intellectualy stimulating and heart warming for a Christian.
I have given only four stars because there are points where I think he is weak. We have a chapter on election but it not an election to personal salvation. It seems that all are elect in Christ. This leads to an agnostic view on the fate of those who do not hear or respond to the gospel. Both these weaknesses show a denial of penal substitutionary atonement.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Newbiggin develops his thoughts by showing why and how a Christian message can be conveyed and understood in a pluralist society. He first shows how a pluralistic understanding views religion in general. Coming from an Indian perspective he has an excellent understanding of this. Pluralist societies tend to be religious, accepting the transcendent as something which is greater than one single philosophy can grasp hold of. Yet, Newbiggin approaches this directly, asking "why?" What makes a person know that the transcendent is greater than one religion? He challenges the view by showing that those who claim this are asserting a source of knowledge on their own, establishing for themselves a point of reference which they deny to others. In addition, Newbiggin shows the now common fallacies which are involved in a true pluralistic view. A person can not be a pluralist in a math class. Thus, there are accepted areas in which Truth can be established. The role now before us is to show, and proclaim, that religion can be this area, and that Christianity is this truth.
Along with the claims of truth that must be continually asserted, Newbiggin has several chapters on missions and evangelism which I found very interesting. He points out that the New Testament epistles are virtually devoid of references, exhortations, or instructions to evangelism and missions. This is an unusual observation in respect to the modern emphasis on such activities. Newbiggin points out that these were not referred to for one main reason. It is that the role of evangelism was never thought of as the responsibility for the believer. Rather, evangelism was a result of the power of the Holy Spirit acting in such a way that people were drawn to see and inquire what this new power was. "The mission of the Church in the pages of the New Testament is more like the fallout from a vast explosion, a radioactive fallout which is not lethal but life-giving." Thus, we understand why Paul exhorted his churches to mature, growing in their faith and understanding of the Triune God. It would be through this maturity that the Spirit would naturally move in the lives of believers to reach out to the community around them. When a church loses this focus, ministry becomes difficult and impossible, especially in an age of pluralism.
Overall this is a tremendously valuable book, which continues to spark new thought and approaches to how exactly Christianity can speak to this current era.
However, evangelism can best be served, he argues, by the living witness of a community of Christians and by the activism of ordained ministers to help guide and teach this community. Jesus formed a community, he says, and the best way to witness is simply by being an active part of a flourishing community that praises, has truth, is involved with the neighborhood, where people are sustained to minister to the world, that is responsible, and that has hope. We are not called to defend the faith but instead to simply witness.
Another answer to the increasingly hostile view of many towards Christianity can be found in dialogue. New begin argues that true dialogue serves as a "starting point in our relation to people of other faiths." (180) All humans share the same need to answer the question "Why?" and he believes that dialogue can open the doors to a renewed sense of spirituality because it involves the telling of the story of Jesus. Of course to have true dialogue we must also listen to those we are conversing with, but instead of seeing this as something fearful that could possibly cause us to lose faith we should instead look upon it as an opportunity to check our own biases. No one is completely outside some kind of cultural background, he says, and to keep us from thinking that our own way is the only correct way and to keep us from truly becoming arrogant, he suggests that true dialogue can be used as a sort of diagnostic tool with which to clean the coloring from our lenses.
This book is an excellent apologetic for the twenty-first century; however it does have a few flaws. The first is his use of circular arguments. For example, in an early part of the book Newbigin's response to the attack on Christianity is to ask the unbeliever how he or she can know for sure that we are wrong because they have no outside frame of reference. No one can know the whole truth. However, what is stopping that from turning back on us? Can't one claim that we cannot know the whole truth either? It also raises some questions that it does not answer sufficiently, such as how we should deal with the problem of syncretism. Newbigin agrees with Rolland Allen that once a new church has a Bible, sacraments and apostolic tradition they should be left on their own to develop the gospel themselves. Yet earlier, on p. 96 he says, "...Jesus has been painlessly incorporated into the Hindu worldview. The foreign missionary knows that this is not the conversion of India but the co-option of Jesus, the domestication of the gospel into the Hindu worldview." How do we deal with problems like this? We had to discuss this in class because Newbigin does not provide a satisfactory answer.
This book is definitely a worthwhile buy for anyone interested in modern missiology. Newbigin lays out many good points and suggestions for how modern Christians can deal with witnessing their faith in the pluralistic world we inhabit. It does have several drawbacks, though, in that some parts of it are not fully developed or thought out. It would probably be best to read this at the same time with someone else you know in order to formulate a discussion on some of the issues Newbigin does not cover satisfactorily.
The book may arguably be said to have one underlying theme: epistemology, or the theory of knowledge. That is, how can we know? How can we have confidence in the gospel "in the midst of a plurality of cultures and religions"? Newbigin, in his own words, has "relied heavily on the work of Michael Polanyi." Polanyi's epic work "Personal Knowledge" was published nearly fifty years ago, and reveals what might be said to be a coherence theory of truth. That is, if one's beliefs should cohere as a whole, this should be a good indication of truth. Polanyi, however, adds a radical twist to this. He writes about "the coherence of commitment". That is, once one has formed a responsible opinion about "truth", one needs to commit to it passionately, and publish. Only in this way can one both display integrity, and submit one's "truth" to the scrutiny of others -- to be affirmed, modified, or perhaps even overturned. It is not hard to see how this relates to missiology. In terms of this view, the gospel requires commitment and proclamation. This in turn leads to a confirmation of its truth in various ways -- or it may lead to a revision of Christian beliefs and practices.
Newbigin further applies Polanyi's epistemology to virtually every aspect of Christianity. He undertakes a broad task of synthesis, or reconciliation, within the Church. He suggests "a third way of understanding Christian belief" -- a method which seeks to take Scripture on its own terms, and which (he hopes) would be acceptable to Christians of virtually every persuasion. This represents, arguably, much of the drawing power of Newbigin's ideas.
However, Newbigin's epistemology is not without its problems. Not least, Polanyi himself considered that there would be "absurdly remote chances" of successfully applying his philosophy to Christianity, and that even a witch doctor "may gain a limited justification within a society" (p. 318, Second Impression 1962). Further, it seems doubtful that Newbigin gives adequate account of how a living God might find a place within an (apparently) closed theory of truth.
All having been said, Newbigin is intellectually agile, he writes with conviction, and his ideas have a considerable reach. He also shares many interesting insights gained in missions over nearly forty years, as well as important observations on the Church in the West.