Contextualizing, Adapting, Translating, Explaining

The Newbigin Reader is a great introduction to the life and thought of Lesslie Newbigin (d. 1998).  I’ve benefited in many ways from his perspective on missions and epistemology.  I highly recommend him as a solid resource in these areas.  Here’s one emphasis he repeats in several places – an emphasis that has really challenged me in a lot of “churchly” ways.

“One can speak of the path which the church must take as lying between two opposite dangers.  The first danger is that the church may so conform in life and teaching to the culture that it no longer functions as the bearer of God’s judgment and promise.  It becomes simply the guardian and guarantor of the culture and fails to challenge it.”

“The other [danger] is that the language and the life-style of the church should be such that they make no contact with the culture and become the language and life-style of a ghetto.”

Newbigin then discusses a good balance between the two dangers by asking and answering the following question.

“How, in seeking to preach the gospel to a people of another culture, does the church find the proper path between a kind of accommodation which robs the gospel of its power to challenge traditional ways of life, and a kind of intransigence [stubbornness] which either fails to communicate altogether or else alienates the converts from their culture?”

This is certainly a discussion that churches need to have – evem churches in the U.S. since America is truly a cultural melting pot.  Of course the church cannot just capitulate to the culture around  her.  However, we also have to resist the urge, as Newbigin noted, to become a ghetto or Anabaptistic sect that refuses to interact with and speak to the cultures around us.  There is a balance between the two extremes, and for the most part I think Newbigin nails the balance in this essay (and others).  But you’ll have to read him yourself and wrestle through his explanations and then come to your own conclusion.  I’m quite sure that many of our readers who are interested in these things will be challenged and taught well by interacting with Newbigin.  In fact, if you’re a church planter, missionary – or if you’re interested in evangelism – I would say Newbigin’s works are a “must” for your studies and training.

The above quotes were taken from page 96 of Lesslie Newbigin, Missionary Theologian: A Reader.

shane lems