Newbigin’s Prophetic Insight

When I was teaching in Toronto, there was a period of several years in a row where I read Lesslie Newbigin’s Foolishness to the Greeks with my students.  I consider the book, written in 1986, to be something of a 20th century theological classic.  As evidence of that, I did try a few years ago to blog through Newbigin’s seven essentials for a church seeking a genuine missionary encounter with Western culture.  I only made it through the first four before other endeavors required my attention, but you can find links to those previous posts here.

We recently read Foolishness to the Greeks in my “The Church and the Mission of God” course at Providence.  It was the first time I had revisited the text in about four years.  I remain convinced that it is an essential ecclesiological and missiological text, but there were sections that read somewhat differently in 2020.  For instance, Newbigin’s discussion of the Enlightenment division of facts and values sounds somewhat different in a time when even the facts are now a matter of personal choice.  The following paragraph impacted me in a way that it had before in previous readings:

“When the ultimate explanation of things is found in the creating, sustaining, judging, and redeeming work of a personal God, then science can be the servant of humanity, not its master.  It is only this testimony that can save our culture from dissolving into the irrational fanaticism that is the child of total skepticism.  It will perhaps be the greatest task of the church in the twenty-first century to be the bastion of rationality in a world of unreason.  But for that, Christians will have to learn that conversion is a matter not only of the heart and the will but also of the mind.” 1

Have we arrived at a time of “irrational fanaticism that is the child of total skepticism” and is the church up to the task of being “the bastion of rationality in a world of unreason”?  I have my suspicions, but then I must remind myself that for Christians despair is a sin!

  1.   Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 94.

2 thoughts on “Newbigin’s Prophetic Insight”

  1. Wow … so good Rob! And how prophetically timely! Like you, I have my doubts about your question, but of all people we are those who should have HOPE! Lord have mercy.

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