Monday, December 6, 2010

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society - Review

Lesslie Newbigin's The Gospel in a Pluralist Society is one of the best ministry books I've read in a long time.  It starts out kind of heavy as he addresses epistemology and the deep philosophical issues of pluralism and multiculturalism.  However, once he lays the foundation, it really picks up steam about half-way through.
He has a few basic premises:
1. A pluralist society is a natural given - in terms of multicultural diversity.  We have lots of different cultures, religions, preferences, and perspectives.  This is just how it is, and it's probably never going to change.

2. Pluralism as a philosophy or religious perspective is illogical.  It is (and has been for 30-40 years) vogue to say that all religious belief is subjective.  "It may be true for you, but that doesn't mean it's true for me."  "All religions are equal or equally true."  The problem works back to the logical problem with relativism.  "All truth is relative - except of course the truth that all truth is relative."  It is impossible for mutually contradictory religions to be equally true.  Assuming the position of a pluralist is assuming a position of arrogance, one who stands above all conflicting truth claims from a superior moral or intellectual position.  This is making the biggest truth claim of all.  We always make truth claims.  We always advocate a non-relative truth (even if we are advocating relativism). 

3. All belief systems are founded upon some unprovable beliefs that are simply taken as assumed truths.  We have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is a point of faith.  Even the sciences take certain faith points as their beginning (for example, that the universe is logical and discoverable). 

4. Truth exceeds cultures, but all expression of truth is cultural.  We cannot think or communicate anything without culture.  Any use of words or ideas is embedded in a particular culture.  Therefore, there is no "truth" and no "gospel" that can be expressed in a culture-free fashion.  The gospel is always embedded in a culture.  There is no other way.  However, the gospel itself is able to root in any culture.  The gospel is not limited by our cultural wrappings.  It can be wrapped in any culture, and it equally challenges every culture to reform in the light of the gospel.

5.  Jesus provides the clue for history.  The unifying point that can make sense of all of our plurality.  This may seem deeply arrogant.  However, it only seems that way.  Actually, if we remember that all truth claims begin with a faith stance and move forward calling for total acceptance, then Christianity's quest to gather the world under Jesus is not so different.  Also, claiming Jesus as the center point of history cuts the legs out of all truth-related power moves.  The center of history is a crucified man.  His power comes through voluntary suffering for the benefit of others.

6. Christianity converts individuals as well as cultures.  We cannot neglect either of these and be faithful to the gospel.  The gospel challenges every part of our society and every individual in society to align with the Lord and Messiah Jesus.  The greatest difficulty for Christians is to become aware of how Jesus challenges those beliefs and attitudes which our culture blindly accepts as natural faith points (as just the way it is).   Becoming a Christian is the life-long process of reorienting our worldview around Jesus instead of the pivot points of our local culture.

7. The Church is the best proof and explanation of the gospel.  Because the gospel is so thorough, so permeating, so deeply challenging, so different from our normal way of life, there is only way people can really see and understand what the gospel truly is - and that is sustained contact with a community that both believes and lives the gospel thoroughly.  We prove the truth of the gospel by living it in our daily lives.  This is how the Church functions as "the priesthood of believers." 

8. The gospel must always be expressed through word and deed.  Jesus always taught and healed, preached and helped.  The gospel is not a set of truths but a way of life and the power for life.  We must always both preach and live the gospel.

I joyfully recommend this book.  Without reservation, I give it a strong JJJJJ!
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