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The Gospel in a Pluralist Society Paperback – 23 Jul 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: SPCK Publishing; New edition edition (23 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0281057028
  • ISBN-13: 978-0281057023
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 1.9 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 399,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Christianity Today, "Number 9 Readers Choice"(1991)
Christianity Today, "Top 100 Books of the 20th Century"(2000)"

Christianity Today, "Number 9 Readers Choice"(1991)Christianity Today, "Top 100 Books of the 20th Century"(2000)" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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.

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Format: Paperback
How can the message of the Christian gospel make sense in the modern pluralistic world?
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.
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Format: Paperback
Bishop James Edward Lesslie Newbigin (8 December 1909 – 30 January 1998) was a British theologian, missiologist, missionary and author. Though originally ordained within the Church of Scotland, Newbigin spent much of his career serving as a missionary in India and became affiliated with the Church of South India and the United Reformed Church, becoming one of the Church of South India's first bishops. These lectures were given to theological students in Glasgow in 1988 but have lost none of their relevance.

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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars 53 reviews
96 of 99 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extremely valuable read 23 Feb. 2002
By Patrick O - Published on
Format: Paperback
When I initially picked up this book, I thought, "oh, another one of these books." There seems to be a new book on pluralism and postmodernism coming out every day. I had read bits of Newbiggin before, and knew that a missionary in India for forty years would have something to say worthwhile. I was not mistaken. Newbiggin's clear voice and wise, yet succinct, observations make this an extremely valuable book to read. I was greatly influenced by this book, and found new insights and confirmation of my own undeveloped thoughts which encouraged and challenged my thinking.
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.
46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Penetrating Analysis of Gospel and Culture 5 May 2000
By John C. Tittle - Published on
Format: Paperback
Lesslie Newbigin has written a penetrating analysis of the gospel in our western, pluralistic society. Although this book is over a decade old, it will remain a standard on issues of gospel, culture, contextualization, and postmodernism for quite some time. Newbigin presents with such clarity the pitfalls of many assumptions from Enlightenment and contemporary postmodern thought. With a "baptized" postmodern approach, Newbigin urges for the harmony of private and public life and thought. The church's application of this in faith and practice will be her most effective apologetic for the 21st century. The author makes a strong case that no one (including scientists or historians) can completely stand outside the influences of their particular culture and tradition. All understanding,whether religious/moral values or scientific information, involves faith and tradition. Other helpful aspects of the book reveal that we need a more wholistic approach to understand ourselves and the goal of history. Christ is the Truth embodied who is the universal clue for all men and women from every culture and age to break through this subjectivity to find their destiny and hope in this life and beyond. Newbigin beckons the church to continually reshape the unchanging gospel message in a culturally relevant way in order to most effectively impact the unreached locally and globally. We must clear away all stumbling blocks to Christ, except for one. The stumbling block of the cross. This attitude demands a willingness to reform traditions to connect with changing perspectives in society. My copy of this book is well marked and is an oft used resource for my ministry.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Look Into Christianity and Modern Culture 10 Dec. 2002
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I first read this book for my History and Theology of Mission class in college. Leslie Newbigin's book was a treat to read. He offers a very good look into the Gospel and modern culture and tries to offer a solution to the question of where Christianity fits in a pluralistic world. In an age where no one can claim to know the whole truth anymore, how can Christians go around proclaiming that we know the only way? In modern culture, this makes us seem arrogant and prideful and causes more and more modern people to view the Church in an increasingly harsh light.
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.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book 11 Dec. 2002
By Holly - Published on
Format: Paperback
Lesslie Newbigin offers an insightful look at Christianity today in his book, Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Serving as a Christian missionary in India for almost 40 years has given this author a unique and authoritative perspective on the Christian's response to a society full of so many different faith systems. He is ready and willing to ask the tough questions that Christians are afraid to ask. He turns the reader to the logic of mission and election, the authority of the gospel, the difference between knowing and believing, and finally the call of the church to be the vessel of the Christian mission. Understanding that Christians today have lost their confidence to boldly proclaim the uniqueness and authority of Christ, he calls the Church to remember its calling in light of a pluralistic culture. Rather than focusing on apologetics or forcing adherents of other faiths to "see the light," Newbigin calls for open dialogue between Christians and people who work within other faith systems or have no religion at all. The focus, then, is not on evangelism, but on developing open, trusting conversation where the Christian can boldly and lovingly proclaim the gospel. Once engaged in such conversation, the Christian can follow Newbigin's example of looking at Christianity in history. On the premise that God exists, He has revealed himself through creation and history. Christ is the unique revelation of God in history, and it is faith in this revelation, which lays the foundation for Christianity. This is a book, which requires slow and steady reading to grasp the depth and insight within it. But, even in a quick reading, it is both challenging and encouraging for the Christian living in a society full of so many other religions.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Truth" and Missions 27 Jan. 2006
By Rev. Thomas Scarborough - Published on
Format: Paperback
Lesslie Newbigin was (and is, through his writings) a celebrated missiologist. While on the surface of it, this book gives the impression of being an eclectic mix of ideas, there is a fundamental cohesion to the book. In fact it represents a fundamentally new approach to missiology.

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.
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