Posted by: Ken Brown | February 29, 2008

Newbigin on The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society:

The Christian believer is using the same faculty of reason as his unbelieving neighbor and he is using it in dealing with the same realities, which are those which every human being has to deal. But he is seeing them in a new light, in a new perspective. They fall for him into a different pattern. He cannot justify the new pattern in terms of the old; he can only say to his unbelieving neighbor, stand here with me and see if you don’t see the same pattern as I do. (pg. 11)


  1. Fascinating. I think the invitaion to “stand here with me…” is a good one, but then I wonder what “justify[ing] the new pattern in terms of the old”, which apparently can’t be done, is supposed to mean. There are going to be points of contact and overlap with unbelieving views of the world, because I don’t think anybody has everything wrong.

    Apparently, Lesslie Newbigin was once asked whether or not he was optimistic about some situation, and he replied: “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead”. It hardly gets better than that.

  2. LOL, I hadn’t heard that quote. I think his point about the impossibility of “justigy[ing] the new patter in terms of the old” is mainly to say that the Gospel is not merely a conclusion that one might reach from objective analysis, but rather the starting point which reshapes all our other knowledge. He puts it well earlier in the same chapter:

    “What is striking about the books which were written, especially during the eighteenth century, to defend Christianity against these [humanistic and rationalistic] attacks, is the degree to which they accept the assumptions of their assailants….

    “It was only slowly, through many experiences, that I began to see that something of this domestication had taken place in my own Christianity, that I too had been more ready to seek a ‘reasonble Christianity,’ Christianity that could be defended on the terms of my whole intellectual formation as a twentieth-century Englishman, rather than something which placed my whole intellectual formation under a new and critical light. I, too, had been guilty of domesticating the gospel.” (pg. 3)

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