Newbigin, Modernity, Biblical-Criticism and the Christian Witness to the Modern (Western) World

Thanks again to Shane to sent me a copy of  Lesslie Newbigin’s Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture a few months back.  Now that I’m on break (hence the reason you see me blogging again!), I’ve had some time to dive back into this.

Here are a couple of great quotes regarding how the scientific-method has affected biblical studies and missionary proclamation in the western world:

How does or can the Bible function in the confrontation of modern Western culture with the gospel?  In the next chapter I have to examine in some depth the nature of this culture that we share, but at this stage it is necessary to anticipate a little.  Since the time of the Enlightenment, which – as I shall argue – is the point at which our modern culture emerges into full consciousness of itself, it has been impossible to speak of the Bible simply as the word of God in the way earlier ages did.  The Bible has been intensively studied during the past 250 years as part of the culture history of humankind.  We have been taught to recognize its immense diversity, the complexity of the processes through which it came to its present form, and the culturally conditioned character of its views of the world and the human person.  If a Christian who is part of modern Western culture says, “I accept Scripture as God’s word,” it will be seen as a personal decision, one of a number of possible decisions among which those of the Muslim, the Buddhist, the positivest, and many others must be counted and one that must be supported by arguments a modern person can accept.

Foolishness to the Greeks, pg. 10.

Newbigin notes that due to developments in our understanding of the Bible since pre-englightenment times, we have found a number of phenomena in scripture that make unbelievers see our decision to accept the Bible as being as arbitrary as the Muslim’s acceptance of the Qur’an or the Hindu’s acceptance of the Bhagavad Gita.

Is it the case that acceptance of the “finds” of historical-criticism completely undermines our gospel witness to the western world?  Not if one questions the “canonization” of the scientific method, the sacred cow of post-enlightenment cultures, and the claim that it alone is the final arbiter of any discussion of truth or plausibility.

[T]wo things are here simply taken for granted, without argument: first, that the essence of Christianity is the same as that of the other world religions, and second, that all the religions have to submit their truth-claims to the discipline of the scientific method.  At this point we are all required to be orthodox with respect to the plausibility structure that is called the modern scientific method.  We are not allowed to be heretics.  The claim that is massively presented in the Fourth Gospel, that in the man Jesus there was actually present the one who is the Creator and Sustainer and Lord of the entire universe, that he is the light of the world, and that it is only in that light that both the world religions and the whole structure of modern science will ultimately be seen for what they truly are – this belief is excluded.  It would not, of course, be labeled heresy.  It would have to be called invincible ignorance.  But it is nonetheless excluded from the discussion.  My concern in these chapters is to ask, How can that claim – in all its winsomeness and awefulness – be heard by this world of which we Western Christians are so much a part?

Foolishness to the Greeks, pg. 18 (bold emphasis mine)

It seems to me that there are transcendental proofs enabling us to demonstrate that in spite of the fact that this Bible can be (and is) often explained without recourse to the divine inspiration of prophetic writing and editing, to situate the truth of the Christian faith as simply one arbitrary and personal choice among many is impossible.  Still, the modern western world will never be convinced – even if we try to “prove” that the Bible coheres with utterly pristine consistency and deny the truly problematic passages it contains – that this book is not simply “one human religious book among many.”  Even if we “tear the roof off” of our opponents, it is the work of the Holy Spirit that allows us to hear in this text, the voice of the Triune God.

I’ll look forward to more details from Newbigin on how this claim (of the lordship and deity of Christ) can indeed be heard by this world.


2 Replies to “Newbigin, Modernity, Biblical-Criticism and the Christian Witness to the Modern (Western) World”

  1. Great stuff! Inspired by this blog I’ve begun dipping into Newbigin. In some alternate universe it would be neat to get him in the same room with Machen, Van Til and Barth.


  2. Thanks for the comment, Stephen. I’m absolutely new to this guy but I’m really enjoying his writing. Agreed on the hypothetical meeting … it would be great to see a book published about their discussion!!!


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