Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What I'm reading...

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, by Lesslie Newbigin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989).

Newbigin, who died in 1998, was a Scottish Presbyterian minister, missionary, and theologian who encouraged the Church to have a vibrant gospel witness in the postmodern world.

In chapter 18, Newbigin has some outstanding things to say about what a vibrant Christian congregation looks like. He says it's marked by six things. I'll list them for you, using Newbigin's own words:
  1. It is a community of praise. We live together reverently and thankfully toward God.
  2. It is a community of truth. We hold onto the Scriptures as God's authoritative revelation.
  3. It is a community that does not live for itself but is deeply involved in the concerns of its neighborhood. (I like Newbigin's analogy: the Church is "God's embassy in a specific place.")
  4. It is a community where men and women are prepared for and sustained in the exercise of the priesthood in the world. ("It is in the ordinary secular business of the world that the sacrifices of love and obedience are to be offered to God." So to Newbigin, the church needs to be "a place where its members are trained, supported, and nourished in the exercise of their parts of the priestly ministry in the world.")
  5. It is a community of mutual responsibility. (Newbigin calls the church "a new social order . . . where God's justice and God's peace are already an experienced treasure.")
  6. It is a community of hope. ("The gospel offers an understanding of the human situation which makes it possible to be filled with a hope which is both eager and patient even in the most hopeless situations.")
By striving toward these ideals, says Newbigin, the church can take the "high ground" in our pluralist society, and both challenge and change public life.


Matthaeus Flexibilis said...

I've been wanting to read something by Newbigin, and coincidentally, his Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship has recently percolated to the top of my reading list . (An Amazon reviewer's summary: "Newbigin's little text from the final years of his life is a brilliant analysis of the history of religious epistemology. He critiques the spectres of Enlightenment rationalism that still dominates theological discussions today and offers an alternative form of knowing [using the insights of Michael Polanyi] that withstands the scepticism of postmodernity." Thrilling for theologically inclined nerds like me.).

sometimessane said...

I read this book in Seminary and never really appreciated Newbigin's insights until out "in ministry." I would also recommend his book The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. My copy is very much dogeared and marked up. Thanks again Mike for putting us onto solid biblical and missional thinkers.

Phil Henry said...


Thanks for posting about Newbigin's convictions on Christian community. I noticed also you recently discovered Nate Larkin's stuff on Samson Societies. This movement from what I know also emphasizes community as essential to our experience of the Gospel.

Its great to read what you're writing, brother. Keep up the good work.

Phil Henry