Lesslie Newbigin is a leading thinker in the Emergent conversation, and his Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, which I finished last night, is a book still worth reading (published 1986). [The link will take you to a abebooks.com and there are plenty of used copies available.] In the next few weeks I’ll be working my way through a couple more of his books, some of them more recent.
Here’s a prefatory word to his proposals, but which are related significantly to his proposals: evangelism takes place through the Church, and that means through Christians. In conversion theory this is called the “advocate.” Evangelism needs to concentrate more on “who we are as Church” and less on “what we say,” for until “who we are” embodies “what we say” we have little chance of being heard. Jesus didn’t offer a four-point outline; he offered himself as the Embodiment/Incarnation of God and he calls his followers into his Embodiment and as such they witness to the saving grace of the gospel and bring into the world the kingdom conditions.
For now, though, here are the seven proposals for what will occur if the the gospel will impact Western Culture. His major category for understanding Western Culture is the division of scientific knowledge from religious knowledge, which corresponds to the public spectrum and the private spectrum. Overall, he is concerned with the relationship of the Church to the World.
#1: Recovery of eschatology as the orientation point for all truth.
#2: A Christian doctrine of freedom that takes a stand on Christian truth but which also is genuinely in dialogue with culture.
#3: A requirement of a “declericalized” theology, where every vocation works its out its own theology. This is essentially a recovery of a robust and local ecclesiology.
#4: A radical critique of the theory and practice of denominationalism, and here Newbigin is uniquely postured to work out a gospel-based but genuine ecumenical endeavor. He wants to restore, in the words of the Reformers, “the face of the Catholic Church.”
#5: The necessity for help in seeing our own culture through Christian minds shaped in other cultures. I tire, perhaps with you, with Europe’s ceaseless criticisms of our government, but we should all be listening — and if you’d like to listen, read The London Review of Books for a year. There are other voices, and we need to hear them, for in hearing them we may hear how we have trapped the gospel in our culture.
#6: The courage to proclaim a belief that cannot be proved to be true in terms of the axioms of our society. Let me comment more here: Newbigin operates with a chastened epistemology, and he anticipates Emergent leaders like Brian McLaren or Stanley Grenz. While Carson has been hard on McLaren and Grenz, he has been correspondingly soft on Newbigin (perhaps his Anglophilism?) even though when I read Newbigin I see a very similar epistemology and ecclesiology to that of Grenz especially [links here are to Carson’s treatments of McLaren, Grenz, and Newbigin].
#7: The humble boldness and expectant patience are not heroism but the spontaneous praise that erupts from the ecclesial community.
I look forward to reading more of Newbigin.