Newbigin: Plausibility Structures and the Empty Tomb

I just started reading this older but very significant work by Newbigin: The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989).  So far, it is more than intriguing!  I haven’t read much Newbigin, so I cannot yet offer a fuller critique/evaluation, but I’ll post a few parts that I thought were helpful (taken from the first chapter).  In the future, I also hope to blog a little bit more on the contents of this book.

“It is obvious that the story of the empty tomb cannot be fitted into our contemporary worldview, or indeed into any worldview except one of which it is the starting point.  That is, indeed, the whole point.  What happened on that day is, according to the Christian tradition, only to be understood by analogy with what happened on the day the cosmos came into being.  It is a boundary event, at the point where (as cosmologists tell us) the laws of physics ceased to apply.  It is the beginning of a new creation – as mysterious to human reason as the creation itself.”

He goes on:

“But, and this is the whole point, accepted in faith it becomes the starting point for a wholly new way of understanding our human experience, a way which – in the long run – makes more sense of human experience as a whole than does the reigning plausibility structure.  That the crucified Jesus was raised from death to be the firstfruit of creation is – in the proper sense – dogma.  It is something given, offered for acceptance in faith, providing the starting point for a new way of understanding which, instead of being finally defined by the impassable boundary of death (our personal deaths and the final death of the cosmos), moves from death outward to an open world of infinite possibilities beckoning us into ever fresh regions of joy.”

This is the main point of his paragraph: “One does not defend this new perspective by trying to demonstrate its compatibility with the old.  One challenges the old with the demand and the offer of a death and a new birth.”

In other words, we cannot try to cram the resurrection into the “plausibility structures” (that is, patterns of belief and practice accepted within a given society) in which we find ourselves.  Typically, in our cultures, plausibility structures help determine which beliefs are plausible and which are not.  The Christian faith is different; it doesn’t fit within one plausibility structure, but gives rise to a “radically different” one.  Now, because of the faith-creating resurrection of Jesus, we have a “dogma,” a new epistemological starting point, a new way of thinking.

The world and its way of thinking says: “What is dead stays dead!”

The church and its way of thinking says: “He is not here, he is risen, just like he said; the sting of death is gone!  I see all things through the empty tomb.”

shane lems

sunnyside wa

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