Here in the U.S., we live in a culture (or cultures) where a person’s faith is OK as long as she keeps it private and is tolerant of other faiths. Objective knowledge is public and for the textbook (i.e. the moon is around 384,000 km from the earth), while subjective values and beliefs are personal and private (i.e. Jesus is Lord).
Of course this type of reasoning – upon which much of the US’s political, cultural, moral, and economical structures are built – can be torn apart; the poor logic isn’t too hard to spot. More on that at a later time (FYI: Newbigin is great when it comes to “public” vs “private” beliefs). For now, I want to use one of Bavinck’s quotes to deal with this private v public when it comes to the church in the world.
“The more the Christian faith [or the church – spl] retreats from dealing with every possible question, restricting its content, and the more it applies itself to building a rigorous foundation, deducing all else logically from these fundamental principles, the more it will become inwardly weak and divided.” Herman Bavinck, Certainty of Faith (St. Catharines: Paideia Press, 1980), 9.
I love this quote, and it it indicts me. History has proved Bavinck’s 100 year old words true. The tough questions liberals and/or unbelievers have thrown at the church have often been answered poorly or simply avoided. Instead of grappling with these questions publicly, the church has built trenches and walls around the fundamentals. In Bavinck’s terms, she has buried her head in the sand (Ibid.). She has focused her gaze within the trenches (privacy!), and “friendly” fire has resulted in a weak and divided church that can only give a blank stare to the world when it asks us tough questions.
In Newbigin’s terms, the gospel is public truth, not a belief we tuck away in our closets!