This past week marked the start of a course I am teaching at Tyndale Seminary called “Integrative Seminar II.” Don’t let the nondescript title fool you; this course may very well be the most enthralling course that I’ve had the privilege to be involved with at Tyndale. There’s a variety of reasons for this, including the fact that the course occurs near the end of the MDiv In-Ministry program and provides an opportunity for the students to bring together what they have learned and the skills they have developed over the course of the entire program. Probably the biggest factor, though, is the compelling character of the subject matter itself. “Integrative Seminar II” is shaped around exploring the life and thought of six twentieth century Christian pastor-leader-theologians: Lesslie Newbigin, John Perkins, Vinay Samuel, Dorothy Day, Desmond Tutu, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
In the first class, we considered the witness of Lesslie Newbigin. The primary reading was the book which emerged from a series of lectures Newbigin delivered at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1984, entitled Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture. As in many of his books, it is Newbigin the master genealogist who is on prominent display for a significant portion of the work, wrestling with the cultural questions, “Where are we? “ and “How did we get here?” In his characteristic “swash-buckling” style Newbigin unveils and dismantles the reigning “plausibility structures” within which modern Western men and women live their lives.1 However, it is Newbigin the ecclesiologist that I would like to consider further. The final chapter, entitled, “What must we be? The Call to the Church” is an ecclesiological proposal that sounds just as fresh and relevant today, some thirty years on, as it must have when Newbigin first presented it. In the days ahead, I’ll be offering a series of short posts on what Newbigin presents as the seven essential conditions “for the recovery by the church of its proper distinction from, and its proper responsibility for, this secular culture.”2 As a profoundly missional thinker, this recovery is for the sake of cultivating “a genuinely missionary encounter between the gospel and this whole way of perceiving, thinking, and living that we call ‘modern Western culture’.”3
- I am indebted to one of my former students, Trevor Garrett, who introduced the term “swash-buckling” to describe Newbigin’s fearless and far-ranging intellectual adventures in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1989). ↩
- Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1986), 134. ↩
- Ibid., 1. ↩