According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Emergent Spectrum of Evangelicalism


Below I have provided a copy of Baker's Book review of the book, The Spectrum of Evangelicalism. One of its authors, Dr. Roger Olson, whom we follow regularly on this site, was a contributor and had notated the absence of an important evangelical position missing in this book, that of paleo-orthodoxy, which he then further explains below in two subsequent articles here copied and wishes that it would have been included. For without it there is a serious gap in the completeness of understanding what evangelicalism is, a completeness that the book misses.

To that observation I would add a sixth, crucial, evangelical view that is also missing... that of Emergent Christianity, which may at first seem more akin to Dr. Olson's post-conservative moniker but is fast outgrowing the old wineskin's of Evangelicalism's theologic boundary markers and ideological sets of containment. Thus stretching it beyond its breaking point with the new wines of its promise from its earlier days of infancy and forwarned by Christ. Let me explain....

Where once the Emergent Church movement was evangelically birthed and considered the unwanted step-child of Evangelicalism (consider its missing chapter in this most recent book), it has now gained a more rapid series of expansion in the hearts and minds of its adherents seeking for a more serious, more rounded form of fellowship that is less restrictive, less dogmatic, less vocal in its evangelical assurances of the faith. To the point of breaking ranks with Evangelicalism altogether by pushing back beyond its defining Reformational theologies begun 500 years ago unto the Early Church era itself. Rebirthing itself as it goes into the studied awareness and conviction of expanding without limit God's Word to all of mankind who are now shunned by Evangelicalism's off-setting dogmas and traditions that go beyond "Jesus as Savior and Lord" beliefs. Causing the Emergent movement to become no longer known as an outgrowth from Evangelicalism but a different kind of movement altogether. Hopefully one more biblical in its diversity and less reliant on dogmatic Christian traditions.

And though at first it felt like a movement that was pushing itself between Protestantism, on the one hand, and Roman Catholicism on the other, declaring itself as an alternative-form of Protestantism more akin to Anabaptism. Now, in reflection, this observation seems to be both inaccurate and not far reaching enough.  Rather, it seems more true that Emergent Christianity is more than a simple outgrowth from modernistic Evangelicalism. More than a movement of believers wishing to delineate themselves from select Reformational Calvinisms and Reformed doctrines (where and when those dogmas remove the Church from careful biblical scholarship and observance). Wishing to reach even further back, reaching all the way beyond the Reformation 500 years ago, beyond pre-Reformational medieval scholarship of a 1000 years ago, beyond even the careful councils of the Early Church Fathers, to the very historic era of the early church itself 2000 years ago. To hear afresh the Word of God in its native constructs and propositions rather than adhering to a set of denominational (and cultural) distinctives and theologies far removed from the Bible's historical settings (cf. sidebar "Pauline Theology").

Statedly, all of biblical scholarship from all over the world - in its universities and seminaries, in its churches and fellowships - is seeking to hear the Bible in its original compositions through newer post-Enlightenment discoveries about ourselves, our epistemologies and philosophies, our form of symbolic communications and forensic language development, our reasoning and psychological makeup, our forms of societal constitutions and conventions. Bringing to bear all the tools of accumulated knowledge at our disposal, amassed over the past many hundreds of years, to create a more complete, a more accurate reflection upon who God is in his cosmogony, who we are in our societies, and what our future can look like when less divided by a multitude of restrictive customs and heritages.

So that Emergent Christianity is not so much a fifth (or even a sixth) view of Evangelicalism but a completely new outgrowth from the pedantic isolationisms of Evangelicalism in its Westernized form unto a new entity globally birthed unformed and pregnant with possibilities. Something which may set a new pace for the entire spectrum of Christianity - whether Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodoxy, etc., - in its promise that all religious barriers may be removed in light of a rigorous desire to return to the Scriptures themselves (sola scriptura). Where the only barriers that could refuse it would be religious fear, uncertainty and pride; denominational money, media and fiefdom; and personal greed, avarice and deceit.

Where, in the process of collaboration and unity, individualism is retained, cultural identity applauded, diversity openly regarded. Where the Church may become strong within the fractals of its faith fellowships; within its very-necessary chaotic quantum environments; and, within its infinite colours and compositions. Swirling around as one living organism complete within its spectrums of regional diversities. The Church is not a call to conform, to blend in, to leaven our institutional and belief structures, but to communicate better with one another, to listen and share our faiths with one another in a richer tapestry of fellowship that only the human spirit can bear out. We are not seeking evangelic, denomination unity but a unity of spirit bent on preserving the varieties of biblical (not cultic) faith-expressions flowing from the Church's ancient Christological heritage unto the wider spectrum of global mankind. In short, diversity is God's gift to us and we should praise Him for it.

And within this evolutionary birthing process, perhaps be more able to reach-out and bring-in those non-Christian, monotheistic religions of Judaism and Muslimism which stand alongside the fold of God's divine flock. For Jesus is both prophet and significant historical personage to both these Eastern religions. And through the promise of Emergent Christianity's broader scope and sense of God's salvation to all men, in all times and places, the barriers to reaching these belief systems seem more possible, more sure. For the focus is on Jesus, the Good Shepherd of man, the Holy Lamb of God, the Incarnate One who makes covenant and by His own covenant cuts it by His blood. Who would be King and Lord, Alpha and Omega, and not simply a historical personage some consider but mere prophet or revolutionary. In Him is the distillation of the Ten Commandments. In Him does Israel find its exilic summation, its exilic rebirth, its flesh-and-blood Messiah who bears the sins of the nation.

And not only Israel, but all nations, be that blood brothers, or half-brothers, or brothers at enmity with one another. Specifically, Islam. In Jesus is there found Peace. For He Himself is that Peace of the New Covenant made with all men; that removes enmity between men and God, between men with each other, and men with themselves, their families and their friends. Jesus is THE Peace Covenant and this is the message of Emergent Christianity and the promise of its message.

...At least that is the promise in light of Inauguration Eschatology's New Testament hope of seeing the Kingdom of God renewed and restored among men. It is a legitimate promise, until that Day when Christ shall come fully in his Parousia. For it is not a day that can come apart from Christ's return lest in its coming man may deceive himself and rise up and call himself g/od almighty to discover himself prophetically within the early days of Revelation so declared.

The Church is not called to remake another temple of Babel in its own image. But it does mean that we can begin to hear God in his Word and seek his holy Being until that Day when in a shout of triumph Christ Jesus shall descend over the kingdoms and fiefdoms of mankind, and bring all men to His final peace. To rule in the hearts and minds of all men everywhere committed to a renewed earth where sin and death have been cast into the fiery lake and His glory and presence rules forth forever more. Amen and Amen.

This then would be the true spectrum of Christianity: one without boundaries and barriers, stateless and universal, color-blind, gender-neutral, disavowing all human limitations to its mission and charter.

RE Slater
September 29, 2011

**********

“Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism”

Baker Book House
September 23, 2011

Yesterday we received our first copies of the latest multiple-views book from Zondervan. It is the Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism. The contributors and positions are:

Kevin T. Bauder – Fundamentalism

R. Albert Mohler – Confessional Evangelicalism

John G. Stackhouse – Generic Evangelical

Roger Olson – Postconservative Evangelical

It may appear there is quite a spectrum but Roger Olson has said on his blog that he feels the positions between Bauder and Mohler Stackhouse. With those observations aside he believes the “book is very good as it is.”

As I scanned through it quickly I was struck by Bauder’s comments on Roman Catholicism. He writes:
“Fundamentalists believe that Roman Catholicism also denies the gospel. Catholicism attacks the gospel in at least two ways. First, it undercuts biblical authority by subjecting the Scriptures to an authoritative tradition and magisterium, not to mention an infallible papacy. Second, by confounding justification with progressive sanctification, it attacks the root of a gracious gospel and denies that salvation can be applied through faith alone. The result is a system of religion that mixes faith with works in the application of salvation.

Granted, Roman Catholicism, unlike Arianism or Mormonism, affirms Trinitarian orthodoxy. The Roman gospel, however is false. Catholicism represents an apostate, rather than a Christian, system of religion. Christians cannot rightly extend Christian recognition or fellowship to those who endorse and proclaim the Roman Catholic gospel.” (31-32)
Readers of this blog know how much I have learned and enjoy reading Catholic scholars. This kind of fundamentalism is hard to understand yet I encountered it first hand this week. I had a customer remark that he was just about to buy a book on exegesis but then he noticed the author taught at a Catholic seminary. He said to me, “Catholics are wrong on so much what could they possibly teach us about exegesis? Clearly their exegesis is wrong.” He didn’t purchase the book. I offered a couple of thoughts which he simply brushed aside as mindless gibberish.

I look forward to reading this book. I was once very comfortable with calling myself an Evangelical. I’m wondering if I’ll still be as comfortable after finishing the book.

Four Views on The Spectrum of Evangelicalism is from Zondervan. It is a paperback with 224 pages and sells for $16.99.

**********

Announcement of a new book on evangelicalism
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2011/09/announcement-of-a-new-book-on-evangelicalism/

by Roger Olson
September 4, 2011

It’s just out: Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism published by Zondervan. Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen in the series Counterpoints edited by Stanley Gundry. The authors of the four views are:

Kevin T. Bauder (Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Minneapolis)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

John G. Stackhouse, Jr. (Regents College)

Roger E. Olson (Baylor University)

Bauder writes on Fundamentalism; Mohler writes on Confessional Evangelicalism; Stackhouse writes on Generic Evangelicalism; Olson writes on Postconservative Evangelicalism. Each author responds to the others.

Fireworks.

After participating in this project for the past two years and now reading the entire book (including all the responses) I can only say that this book proves there is no one “evangelicalism.” The continental divide is between Bauder and Mohler, on the one hand, and Stackhouse and Olson, on the other hand.

Yes, of course, there are differences between Bauder (who represents separatistic fundamentalism) and Mohler (who does not push “biblical separationism” as strongly as Bauder). But overall and in general, Bauder and Mohler represent a narrow, exclusivistic brand of evangelicalism that highlights correct doctrine as the essence of what it means to be evangelical.

Stackhouse and I find it difficult to locate our differences. I’m sure we have them, but like Bauder and Mohler, it’s somewhat difficult to see how our visions of evangelicalism are very different. I’m sure John thinks of himself as more conservative than I, but I don’t really think so. I’m pretty conservative; I just don’t think you have to be as conservative as I am (e.g., premillennial) to be an evangelical. John’s evangelical “tent” is just as broad as mine, so far as I can tell.

My biggest complaint is that Mohler just doesn’t get it. And I can’t for the life of me figure out why. He continues to insist that evangelicalism has boundaries. Really? Who sets them? Oh, of course, he does! (Excuse the sarcasm.) He refuses to acknowledge the obvious fact that evangelicalism is a movement and movements CANNOT have boundaries. Yes, of course, we can talk about who’s “in” and who’s “out,” but not in terms of firm, recognizable boundaries. Without a magisterium there cannot be boundaries. All we can do is appeal to the historical center of common conviction and experience and ask whether a person is moving away from it or towards it. I fear if Mohler has his way evangelicalism will be narrowed down to people who believe in a literal six day creation (twenty-four hour days) about six thousand years ago. (Oh, and of course, people who don’t practice yoga in any form!)

This book demonstrates quite conclusively that there are now at least two evangelicalisms (in terms of theology). They are separated by:

1) whether or not biblical inerrancy is necessary for authentic evangelical faith (which even Carl Henry denied!),

2) whether a foundationalist epistemology is necessary for authentic evangelical theology (there would go Calvin!),

3) whether theology’s constructive task is ever ongoing until Christ returns (I might mention here an excellent article by Mohler’s associate dean Bruce Ware in JETS some years ago arguing for a revision of the traditional idea of God’s immutability [but apparently that kind of creative thinking isn't allowed others]) and,

4) whether doctrine or experience (conversional piety) is the sine qua non of authentic evangelical faith and life.

Buy the book. Read it. Decide which evangelicalism you belong to. I don’t think it’s possible to belong to both and I don’t see any middle ground between them.

NOTICE! I am not arguing that Bauder and Mohler and their ilk are not evangelicals! I’m arguing that, demonstrably, there are now two evangelicalisms (at least). Bauder and Mohler and those who agree with them are evangelicals–just of a different kind. John and I are evangelicals of a different order (I won’t even say “higher”). All of us (both types) can trace historical, theological and sociological roots back to the Reformation. But apparently we can’t get along. How sad.

**********

A final comment on Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2011/09/a-final-comment-on-four-views-on-the-spectrum-of-evangelicalism/

by Roger Olson
September 19, 2011

Quick review: Zondervan has just published an excellent new book entitled Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism edited by Andy Nasselli and Collin Hansen. The four authors are:

Kevin Bauder (fundamentalism)

Al Mohler (confessional evangelicalism)

John Stackhouse (generic evangelicalism)

Roger Olson (postconservative evangelicalism)

I hope you will purchase the book and read it; it reveals much about the current state of evangelicalism in America.

Long before the book was written, my editor at Zondervan contacted me about the idea. I gave her some advice and later gave the same advice to the editors. I think the final product is fine, but I think it could be better had they taken my advice.

My advice was to include a chapter by an evangelical proponent of paleo-orthodoxy. Here I use that term to describe theologians such as Thomas Oden (who, I think, coined the term), D. H. Williams and Christopher Hall–all men I highly respect even thought we have our differences of opinion about authority for theology.

Personally, I think their perspective is better called “confessional evangelicalism” than Mohler’s. At least it is different and I think leaving their view of evangelicalism out of the book was a mistake. (However, I admit that it’s possible they asked one or more of these paleo-orthodox theologians to contribute and they declined. So I’m not criticizing the editors or publisher; I’m just saying the book lacks a perspective that I think is a very powerful one among evangelicals today.)

I think Bauder’s view and Mohler’s are too much alike to really represent fundamentally different approaches to defining evangelicalism. I think the same of Stackhouse’s and mine (with apologies to John if he disagrees!). IF you want to fill in the gap, read one of Dan (D. H.) Williams’ books on tradition. Then read my critique of his approach (and Oden’s) in "Reformed and Always Reforming (by Roger Olson)."

Williams, Oden, Hall and company wish to point evangelicals to the ancient Christian consensus as an authority for belief. (I could mention the late Robert Webber as a proponent of this approach as well.) These evangelical theologians think contemporary evangelicalism is doctrinally and liturgically shallow and needs enrichment from the church fathers. For them, this is more than a mere suggestion (as it would be from me). They treat the ancient Christian consensus as THE authoritative lens through which Scripture must be interpreted. For them, we have no right to read Scripture apart from that.

One thing these traditionalists (I use that term in a neutral or positive and not a negative sense) have in common with Mohler is appeal to tradition as authoritative. But the difference is that for Mohler the authoritative tradition is a received evangelical tradition stemming mainly from the Reformation.

The paleo-orthodox theologians reach further back to the church fathers and like to argue that the mainline Protestant (read “magisterial”) reformers did not fundamentally disagree with the church fathers and even relied heavily on them (especially Augustine).

Now, both Mohler and company and the paleo-orthodox theologians seem to me to agree that the constructive task of theology is finished. All that remains is to express the tradition in ways that make it relevant to contemporary culture without in any way accommodating it to contemporary culture. I argue that in matters of theological controversy among evangelicals tradition gets a vote but never a veto. I think they give it a veto.

However, there is a richness and depth to Oden’s, Williams’, Hall’s and Webber’s approach to evangelical theology that I find missing in Mohler’s. Mohler seems to me to be a simple biblicist who interprets the Bible through the lens of, say, Charles Hodge (and his student Boyce who founded SBTS and wrote its Abstract of Principles). The paleo-orthodox traditionalists, on the other hand, plumb the depths and riches of the ancient church fathers and bring those riches to us today. The only area where I disagree with them is the level of authority they invest in them.

One thing that bothers me about these paleo-orthodox evangelicals is a certain inconsistency that I think I recognize in them. For example, in my reading of Augustine’s theology (e.g., his doctrine of predestination), it departs radically from anything that went before. When did the constructive task of theology end? Some would say with the seventh or eighth ecumenical council. But why? That seems so arbitrary. The magisterial reformers seemed to end it with the Council of Chalcedon (the fourth ecumenical council).

I regard the church fathers as guides rather than guards (e.g., of a chain gang).

Anyway, the book is very good as it is, but I think it would be better with a chapter by one of these paleo-orthodox evangelicals. But then it would be “Five Views” and maybe that’s too many for most people; it might hurt sales of the book. If I were given the opportunity to change it, I would combine Bauder’s and Mohler’s chapters into one and add a chapter by Williams.

**********

September 28, 2011 at 11:00 am
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2011/09/a-final-comment-on-four-views-on-the-spectrum-of-evangelicalism/#comments

Russ says,

[Dr Olson,] I love your humor! Thanks for the insights. One question I have is over something I recently read… It relates to Sanders, Dunn, Wright’s discussions on the New Perspectives of Paul (NPP) vs. the Reformational Church’s apprehension of Augustine by Lutheran and Reformed theologians who saw Paul in legal justification terms. When comparing the two (one a biblical approach, the other a Church Fathers approach) it seemed to me that Augustine’s understanding of the New Covenant (NC) in Christ was hijacked by the Reformers. That is, his doctrines of grace and love were re-interpreted into doctrines of sin and depravity. That the NC was extrapolated into terms of man first, not God first… so that it bent all previous theistic interpretations (such as Augustine's) of the NC into terms of anthropology and harmatology. And thus words like election and foreordination are revised away from their covenantal understanding to a soteriological understanding. And it seemed that this all began for the Reformers from their revisionism of Augustine’s conceptions of God’s love to man.

As reference, see Scot McKnight’s review in vanguard under Section V (Augustinian Anthropology and Criticism of New Perspective) – http://www.vanguardchurch.com/mcknight_npp.pdf. If correct, I found this early example of paleo-Orthodox revisionism by the early Reformational Fathers quite formative in their impact on Church History over the last 500 years. Which gives subsequent need for theologians to examine the original biblical texts through early extant Jewish sources (and other tools) to re-right popular mis-understandings of the “Gospel of Paul” as presented by the evangelical church today, as is being done through the NPP. Thanks.




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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Difficulties in Translating the Bible: ESV Video Session


I too would ask the same question as Kyle does when reviewing this video. Parsing the Bible by committee vote is never sexy and the overall conclusion we should draw from this example is that the reader of the Bible must try to get to the original source AND the intent of the manuscript as much as possible. And then make the hard choices as to how to extrapolate what the Bible says with what is being observed within society and the culture around us. It would look like this -


examination -->
                          text redaction -->
                                                       translation -->
                                                                              exposition -->
                                                                                                     relevancy (personal / societal)


(Ya gotta luv how I got to relevancy!)


...but humor aside, it is a difficult task to interpret the Bible requiring knowledge in hermeneutics, epistemology (languages, symbolism), theology (both biblical and systematic), philosophy, ancient textual sources and archaelogy, church history (the early Church Fathers, relevant Contemporary Theologians, etc), and a reasoned awareness of the practical concerns of life. While discerning various ecclesiastical interpretations favored by denominational traditions and preferences as well as redacting and elucidating corporate and individual regional-understandings. And then, over and above all this, to be able to speak street-wise to those around you in a personally directive, challenging, encouraging and motivating fashion offering hope, love, counsel, compassion and assistance. There's a lot more to speaking the gospel than simply speaking one's mind and biases, prejudices and judgments in cliche-like wisdoms bundled in cultural fluff and folklored-proverbs based upon popular hearsay and loudly acclaimed rhetoric.

That said, enjoy this snippet of information....

R.E. Slater
September 28, 2011

**********

Biblical Literalists Doing Dynamic Equivalence?
http://kylearoberts.com/wordpress/?p=520

by Kyle Roberts
September 21, 2011




This is a interesting look (filmed by the BBC) into the work of a Bible translation committee (the English Standard Version). What fascinates me here, though, is that the translators of this non gender-inclusive, “literal” version are using, in this clip (unless I’m misunderstanding), the same rationale for choosing “servant” or “bond-servant” rather than “slave” that the gender inclusive TNIV (and, in cases, NIV 2011) used for replacing “man” or “men” with gender inclusive pronouns. Or am I missing something?

So, I guess my question is this - what is fundamentally different between the rationale here employed to translate “servant” or “bondservant” instead of “slave” and that of responsible “dynamic equivalent” translations that render masculine pronouns as gender inclusive, when such rendering would be both better understood/received by contemporary readers and likely originally “intended” anyway (as gender inclusive)?

* * * * * * * * * *

[Moreover,] Wayne Grudem’s rationale [for a literal bible] stood out for me, because he has said things like:

I cannot teach theology or ethics from a dynamic equivalent Bible. I tried the NIV for one semester, and I gave it up after a few weeks. Time and again I would try to use a verse to make a point and find that the specific detail I was looking for, a detail of wording that I knew was there in the original Hebrew or Greek, was missing from the verse in the NIV.

Nor can I preach from a dynamic equivalent translation. I would end up explaining in verse after verse that the words on the page are not really what the Bible says, and the whole experience would be confusing and would lead people to distrust the Bible in English.

Nor would I want to memorize passages from a dynamic equivalent translation. I would be fixing in my brain verses that were partly God’s words and partly some added ideas, and I would be leaving out of my brain some words that belonged to those verses as God inspired them but were simply missing from the dynamic equivalent translation.

“But I could readily use any essentially literal translation to teach, study, preach from, and memorize.”

end of article

* * * * * * * * * * * * *


*To view a historical timeline of the biblical texts
and bible translations -

http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/11/king-james-bible-historical-timeline.html







Biography & Review: Lesslie Newbigin


The Missionary Who Wouldn't Retire

Lesslie Newbigin, born 100 years ago today, launched a new career at age 66 by calling Western churches to act like they were in the mission field.

Krish Kandiah | posted 12/08/2009 10:07AM

It was an unlikely adventure to launch a global ministry—a tediously long bus journey from Madras, India, to Birmingham, England. It was an unlikely background for a champion of the gospel to emerge from—the theologically liberal Student Christian Movement. It was an unlikely age at which to unintentionally initiate the emergent and missional church movements—age 66 after 35 years of cross-cultural missionary service. But Bishop Lesslie Newbigin made his most important contribution and did his most profound thinking in his 70s and 80s. Can this man, whose birth centenary was celebrated in December, help today's church navigate a critical period of change?

American Christianity is a long way from disappearing, but it is embattled. Newsweek magazine, bus placards, and best-selling books are all proclaiming the death of Christian America. Over the past 35 years, American confidence in religious leaders has dropped significantly—and dropped farther and faster than confidence in leaders of other institutions. Of those under age 30, only 3 percent hold a favorable view of evangelicals, compared with 33 percent who hold a favorable view of gays and lesbians. The 2009 American Religious Identification Survey showed a 10 percent dip in the number of self-identified Christians while also reporting that the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990, rising from 8 to 15 percent.

These figures come as no surprise to someone from the other side of the Atlantic. The European church has long struggled with plummeting attendance. The most optimistic reading of our latest church attendance statistics describes the U.K. as "pulling out of the nosedive." Penn State's Philip Jenkins sees Europe taking the lead as the "acids of modernity" (journalist Walter Lippmann's term) dissolve the Christian foundations of a continent.

Others, like sociologist Grace Davie, see Europe as the exception, the only place on the planet where the church is in decline and facing increasing marginalization. Despite the best efforts of the militant New Atheists, we have ended up not with secularism but with religious pluralism.

In the face of alarming statistics, secularist attacks, and media scaremongering, the church has an important ally in Lesslie Newbigin. His writings continue to call the church to its missionary vocation in the midst of cultural change and ideological pluralism.

Newbigin was born 100 years ago on December 8, 1909. After completing theological studies at Cambridge University and working briefly for the Student Christian Movement, he left for India in 1936 to labor as a missionary, evangelist, and apologist. There he was instrumental in bringing together the Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed, Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, and Pentecostal churches from India, Pakistan, and Burma into one ecumenical denomination: the Church of South India. On his return to England, he was shocked to find that the West was as urgent a mission field as the East. Refusing to settle into retirement, he wrote prolifically, issuing a clarion call to the Western church to rediscover its missionary mandate.

This was not merely a response to the declining state of the church, but the result of Newbigin's wrestling with the interplay of such enormous ideas as election, modernity, contextualization, the end of Christendom, and missional ecclesiology. Seeing the bigger picture of the gospel has inspired many of Newbigin's readers to grasp more fully the interaction between gospel, church, and culture. Three major themes stand out as particularly pertinent to our time.

Bigger than we think

When I speak with students around the world, I find them confident in their ability to present the gospel. They tell me that God loves me, that I have sinned, that Christ died for me, and that I need to believe in Jesus to get to heaven. Their confidence is reassuring, but their content is worrying. Doctoral students and seminarians often seem to have no deeper grasp of the gospel than do Sunday school children. The gospel they present has been reduced to a personalized product that offers the ultimate bargain—exchanging spiritual poverty for eternal riches. The problem with much of our evangelism is not what we include but what we omit: the Holy Spirit, the church, persecution, obedience, mission, reconciliation, resurrection, and new creation.

The gospel according to Newbigin challenges this thinking in two distinct ways. First, he calls us back to a gospel that brings personal reconciliation with God, but also a gospel that connects us with God's reconciling purposes in conscience, culture, church, creation, and cosmos. Second, he calls us back to a gospel that is more than a series of bullet points, a story that centers on the flesh-and-blood character of the divine Christ.

Newbigin's call is earthed in his careful exposition of John's gospel, but it draws as well on thinkers such as Martin Buber, Michael Polanyi, Hans Frei, and Alasdair MacIntyre, synthesizing their reflections into a powerful, unwittingly postmodern-friendly apologetic. Newbigin encourages us to tell the stories of the gospel as part of the grand sweep of the biblical drama. This is vital if an increasingly biblically illiterate generation is going to hear the gospel for the first time. We must explain that the stories of Jesus, true both historically and experientially, are the only way to understand how our individual stories make sense, and we must demand a personal decision to follow the Lord of all history.

As Newbigin explained in 1994, "The true understanding of the Bible is that it tells a story of which my life is a part, the story of God's tireless, loving, wrathful, inexhaustible patience with the human family, and of our unbelief, blindness, disobedience. To accept this story as the truth of the human story (and so of my story) commits me personally to a life of discernment and obedience in the new circumstances of each day."

As we tell the Jesus story, we draw people to him as a person worthy of allegiance rather than as a proposition to be evaluated.

The gospel as public truth

In God Is Back, Economist editors John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge cite economics as the reason Christianity has fared better in the United States than in Europe. They argue that the disestablishment of the American church opened a free market in which religious ideas flourished while their European state-backed religious counterparts disintegrated along with other politically enforced institutions. This insight offers us hope that European-style decline is not the future of global Christianity, and that the American model may hold the key to the re-evangelization of Europe.

But there is a danger in free-market spirituality. Christianity becomes just another lifestyle option. As we become more aware of the multiplicity of worldviews and religions, and as we rightly value diversity, we can grow increasingly reluctant to commend the truthfulness of the Christian message. Privatized relativism is a real danger for the church. We are tempted to vacate the public square, avoid evangelism out of fear of offending others, and retreat into ghettos. The only alternative seems to be to try to impose Christian values on the wider culture by exerting moral muscle [(as seen in the current state of evangelicalism - skinhead)].

Newbigin offers a third way. He challenges the post-Enlightenment separation between so-called objective facts in the public realm (taught at school and presented without the need for the preface "I believe") and the subjective values of the private world of religion and ethics. He argues that the church needs to humbly yet boldly enter the public sphere with a persuasive retelling of the Christian story—not as personal spirituality, but as public truth. He takes the logic for this public dialogue from the scientific community. A scientist does not present research findings as a personal preference, but with hope for universal agreement if the findings stand up to investigation. In the marketplace of ideas, we should likewise present the gospel not as personal preference but as truth that should gain universal acceptance. This allows us to commend the faith with the humble admission that we might not have exhaustively grasped the truth, but that we have truth that needs to be investigated and seriously engaged.

The gospel in community

I remember being in a crowded living room in Birmingham as a group of university evangelists and apologists sat at the feet of a very old man who needed a magnifying glass to read his tightly typed notes. He explained that the bottom line of his whole theological project was "the doctrine of election." That was my first encounter with Newbigin, and after immersing myself in his writings for five years, I discovered that his entire missiology revolved around that idea. God's people are elected to join in God's mission to call others to God in keeping with the Abrahamic calling, "blessed to be a blessing." There is therefore a dual purpose: God wants to reconcile people to himself, but also to reconcile people to each other. The election of individuals cannot be separated from God's election of the church: we are elected to be God's missionary people.The church is, by its very nature, missional.

This has two major implications. First, the church, not the individual, is the basic unit of evangelism. A community that lives out the truth of the gospel is the best context in which to understand its proclamation. This insight is at the heart of courses like Alpha and of the best examples of church planting and church growth.

Second, the unity of the church matters to the mission of the church. Disunity undercuts the gospel of reconciliation that we claim to bring to the world. Newbigin the evangelist's own lifelong commitment to church unity throws down the gauntlet. Whatever we need to do to help this generation to hear the gospel, we need to do together.

As Newbigin wrote, "I have been called and commissioned, through no merit of mine, to carry this message, to tell this story, to give this invitation. It is not my story or my invitation. It has no coercive intent. It is an invitation from the one who loved you and gave himself up for you. That invitation will come with winsomeness if it comes from a community in which the grace of the Redeemer is at work."

Over the past 100 years, the church has made a global impact, and God has proved faithful through every cultural shift. He can certainly be trusted for every new challenge the church faces today. Hearing Newbigin's call to present Christ publicly with courage and humility, in all his glory and with the integrity of a united church that lives his message before a watching world, should fill us with eagerness to prove God faithful in our day and over the next hundred years.

Krish Kandiah is executive director of churches in mission for the Evangelical Alliance U.K.

Related Elsewhere:

Today marks the centennial of Lesslie Newbigin's birthday, who was born December 8, 1909 and died January 30, 1998. Andy Rowell, a doctoral student at Duke University, wrote 10 things you probably did not know about Newbigin. Christianity Today also profiled Newbigin in 1996. Newbigin's The Gospel in a Pluralist Society was included in CT's "Books of the Century" and "The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals."

Other books by Newbigin include The Open Secret and Foolishness to the Greeks, which are available from ChristianBook.com and other book retailers.

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Lesslie Newbigin–a guide for the perplexed

by Roger Olson
September 21, 2011

I’m often asked for recommendations of good theologians to read. Usually the askers are not looking for academic theology; they are usually wanting to read something serious but relatively light. And more often than not they are looking for theology that will unconfuse them.

Over the years I have come especially to appreciate the theology of British missionary (to India) and theologian Lesslie Newbigin and I strongly recommend his books as guides for the theologically perplexed.

Newbigin is difficult to categorize, which is a good thing. He can’t simply be dismissed as “postmodern,” “liberal,” “conservative,” “evangelical” or anything else. I would label his basic approach to knowledge as critical realist, but that’s so broad as to be almost useless. He stood firmly within the broad, historic Christian tradition (“generous orthodoxy”), but its impossible to tell his denomination from his books.

Newbigin’s writing is exceptionally lucid; he explains what he means whenever he uses technical terms and his prose is crisp. He uses philosophy without giving it authority to determine theology’s content. He was culturally sensitive without being an accommodationist.

The place to begin is Proper Confidence–a brief expose of Enlightenment-based secularism as well as Enlightenment-based religion (both liberal and conservative). For him, the rage for absolute certainty through reason and the myth of the “view from nowhere” (pure objectivity) are major diseases infecting modern culture and religion. Sometimes he verges close to something like Wittgensteinian fideism, but he always pulls back and admits that there are criteria for validity in religious beliefs (and other beliefs). But the criteria are not neutral; all of them except possibly one are value laden and tied to particular perspectives. (I would call Newbigin a perspectivalist.) The one he seems to fall back on is something like “adequacy to experience.”

Another Newbigin book I strongly recommend is a bit longer: The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. It covers many topics of theology including very practical matters of evangelism and worship. It’s difficult to sum it up in a nutshell, but if I had to I’d say Newbigin believes in a humble but faithful Christian approach to life within a pluralistic society. He opposes all proud triumphalism–whether secular or religious–and advocates dialog and presence (i.e., being in the world but not of it) without compromise (of the gospel) or coercion (forceful attempts to evangelize people by overwhelming them with pseudo-philosophical apologetics or strong arm evangelism tactics).

Newbigin is at his best when criticizing two modern phenomena–rationalism and triumphalism (and the two often go together). And he spreads his criticism around evenly to secular and religious people who engage in these dead end approaches to answering life’s ultimate questions and dealing with those who disagree.

His solution to Christian life in a pluralistic society is a call back to the pre-Constantinian Christian posture–faithful presence among the others.

Newbigin touches on many topics of Christian theology, evangelism, worship, church life and ethics. He doesn’t delve too deeply into dogmatics (i.e., systematic theology and doctrines). He was mainly interested in questions that revolve around being Christian in a radically pluralistic cultural context still infected by the excesses of Enlightenment rationalism and postmodern relativism. He charts a path that emphasizes obedience to the gospel and Christian involvement in the problems of the city without compromise of the gospel message.

For those with a philosophical background or bent–Newbigin is strongly influenced by Michael Polanyi and Alasdair MacIntyre. If you want to see how a Christian thinker uses these giants of post-Enlightenment thought in the service of Christian thought and presence in a pluralistic culture, read Newbigin.


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10 Responses to Lesslie Newbigin
 
 

Hey Roger. Good to see a shout out to L. Newbigin. You said “Sometimes he verges close to something like Wittgensteinian fideism, but he always pulls back and admits that there are criteria for validity in religious beliefs (and other beliefs).”

Isnt this the best place to stand for Christians? I think for those in North America we are often too accomodating to the cultural forms of Christianity and need to chart paths that contain something which possesses more internal or existential integrity. However, we must be careful not to swallow the whole pill of post-liberal or post-modern philosophy. I absolutely loved the post-liberals in grad school but often wondered if the cultural–linguistic model of Lindbeck was too fideistic, perhaps to the point of being anti-rational.

However with that said, I believe the post-librals still have something good to say if not over-stated. Maybe Newbigin is some sort of mediating figure between traditional evangelical theology and the post-liberals? I read these two books mentioned above on my way to reading lindbeck and frei and they helped me along the way.


Me, too. I came back to Newbigin. I would classify him loosely as postliberal. He does mention Hans Frei approvingly and I think Frei is the real father of postliberalism. But Newbigin strikes me as more confident of the historical truth of at least the major events of salvation history including especially the incarnation and resurrection. I think “generous orthodoxy” really describes his theology well.


At your prior suggestion, I read Proper Confidence by Lesslie Newbigin and came away totally impressed with his implementation of Michael Polanyi’s approach to discovering knowledge. Newbigin showed how this approach could work in the service of creating Christian maturity. Usually I am happy if a book gives me one idea worth keeping — one idea that changes my mind. This book gave me far more than that!


“If you want to see….post-enlightenment thought in the service of Christian thought and presence in a pluralistic culture, read Newbigin”. So very well said by Dr. Roger Olson. It is refreshing to hear of a theology that will unconfuse me. I would like to add, and I have no reason other than I thoroughly believe it, Dr. Olson fits this description as well.


Wow! I’m almost impressed with myself. Don’t worry; my wife will keep me humble!


Newbigin is difficult to categorize…” Newbigin’s biographer Geoffrey Wainwright (at Duke), for lack of a clear category within which he fits, calls Newbigin a 20th century church father. I think it’s appropriate: Newbigin engages with the sophisticated philosophies of the day and carves out an appropriate and articulate Christian way.


Thanks for mentioning Wainwright. He’s another theologian I’ve met and read and like very much. When I was studying in Munich with Pannenberg, Wainwright came to guest lecture in one of P’s classes. Two other American students (including Phil Clayton) and I took Wainwright to lunch and discussed Doxology with him. (The book had been published not long before that.) I was pleased that he heartily agreed with me, a lowly Ph.D. student, that Christology is the real heart of Doxology.


Thank you Dr. Olson for this post! Newbigin has been a huge influence upon my studies at seminary, and I’m incredibly excited to take a course examining his writings next term. We’re going to be looking at how his theology of mission can help structure approaches to mission in the post-Christendom West. Exciting!

I can also highly recommend his autobiography, Unfinished Agenda. Powerful stuff in there.

6. Phil Mullins says: September 22, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Newbigen was, as you point out, a serious reader of Michael Polanyi. Because of his interest in and use of Polanyian ideas, Newbigen comes up from time to in the discussions on the Polanyi Society discussion list (polanyi_list@yahoogroups.com). There are also occasional articles about Newbigen’s theology and its incorporation of Polanyi’s postcritical philosophical perspective in Tradition and Discovery: The Polanyi Society Periodical which is online on the Polanyi Society web site. The archive of issues is indexed so anyone interested can easily locate articles treating Newbigen and Polanyi. There are also all sorts of other things (lectures, dialogs, essays, etc.) on the web site for anyone who wants to dig into Polanyi.

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Lesslie Newbigin

 
Bishop Lesslie Newbigin in 1996.

Bishop James Edward Lesslie Newbigin (8 December 1909 – 30 January 1998) was a Church of Scotland missionary serving in the former Madras State (now Tamil Nadu), India, who became a Christian theologian and bishop involved in missiology, ecumenism, and the Gospel and Our Culture Movement[1].

Biography

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, Newbigin's schooling largely took place in Leighton Park, the Quaker public boarding school in Reading, Berkshire. He went to Queens' College, Cambridge in 1928. On qualifying, he moved to Glasgow to work with the Student Christian Movement (SCM) in 1931. He returned to Cambridge in 1933 to train for the ministry at Westminster College, and in July 1936 he was ordained by the Presbytery of Edinburgh to work as a Church of Scotland missionary at the Madras Mission.[2]

He was married to Helen Henderson a month later, and they set off for India in September 1936. In time they had one son and three daughters. He also had a sister, Frances, who was a regular worshipper at Jesmond URC (formerly Presbyterian), Newcastle upon Tyne, in the late 1970s and into the 1980s.

In 1947, the fledgling Church of South India, an ecumenical church formed from several Protestant churches, appointed him as one of their first bishops in the Diocese of Madurai Ramnad – a surprising career path for a Presbyterian minister. In 1959 he became the General Secretary of the International Missionary Council and oversaw its integration with the World Council of Churches, of which he became Associate General Secretary. He remained in Geneva until 1965, when he returned to India as Bishop of Madras, where he stayed until he retired in 1974. He and his wife Helen then made their way overland back to the UK using local buses, carrying two suitcases and a rucksack.

They then settled in Birmingham, where Newbigin became a Lecturer in Mission at the Selly Oak Colleges for five years. Of the British denominations linked with the Church of South India, he chose to join the United Reformed Church (URC). In retirement he took on the pastorate of Winson Green URC, opposite the gates of HM Prison Birmingham. This small church provided support for people visiting prisoners. He was Moderator of the General Assembly of the URC for the year 1978-9. During this time, he preached at Balmoral and continued the prolific writing career that established him as one of the most respected and significant theologians of the twentieth century.

He is remembered especially for the period of his life when he had returned to England from his long missionary service and travels, and tried to communicate the need for the church to take the Gospel anew to the post-Christian Western culture, which he viewed not as a secular society with no gods but as a pagan society with false gods.[3] Newbigin believed that western cultures had unwisely come to believe they had access to an objective knowledge which did not require faith. As part of this critique, Newbigin challenged the ideas of neutrality and the distinction between facts and values that emerged from the Enlightenment. It was during this time that he wrote two of his most important works, Foolishness to the Greeks and The Gospel in a Pluralist Society[4] in which the strong influence of such thinkers as Alasdair MacIntyre and Michael Polanyi is apparent.

In his "theological/intellectual/spiritual biography" of Newbigin, theologian Geoffrey Wainwright assesses the bishop's influential writing, preaching, teaching, and church guidance, concluding that his stature and range is comparable to the "Fathers of the Church."[5]

He died at Herne Hill on 30 January 1998 and was cremated at West Norwood Cemetery. At Newbigin's funeral service on 7 February 1998 his close friend Dr. Dan Beeby said, "Not too long ago, some children in Selly Oak were helped to see the world upside down when the aged bishop stood on his head! Not a single one of his many doctorates or his CBE fell out of his pockets. His episcopacy was intact."

Religious titles
Preceded by
Hospet Sumitra[6]
1952-1954
P. Solomon[6]
1964-1966
Deputy ModeratorChurch of South India
1954-1960
1966-1974
Succeeded by
A. G. Jebaraj[6]
1960-1964
Solomon Doraiswamy[6]
1974-1980
Preceded by
-
Bishop in Madurai-RamnadChurch of South India
1947–1958
Succeeded by
George Devadoss[6]
1959-1978
Preceded by
D. Chellappa[6]
1955-1964
Bishop in Madras
Church of South India

1965–1974
Succeeded by
Sundar Clarke[6]
1974-1989
Other offices
Preceded by
-
General Secretary
International Missionary Council

1959-1961

Theology
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Bibliography

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See also
·         Missiology
Autobiography
·         Unfinished Agenda, St Andrew's Press, 1993, ISBN 978-0-7152-0679-9
Major works
·         A South India Diary, SCM, 1951 (revised 1960)
·         The Household of God: Lectures on the Nature of the Church, SCM, 1953 (reprinted Paternoster, 1998, ISBN 978-0-85364-935-9)
·         Sin and Salvation, 1956, SCM
·         Trinitarian Doctrine for Today's Mission, Edinburgh House Press, 1963, (reprinted Paternoster, 1998, ISBN 978-0-85364-797-3)
·         Honest Religion for Secular Man, SCM, 1966
·         The Finality of Christ, SCM, 1969
·         The Good Shepherd, Faith Press, 1977
·         The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, SPCK/Eerdmans, 1978, ISBN 978-2-8254-0784-4 [2nd Edition, Eerdmans, 1995, ISBN 978-0-8028-0829-8]
·         The Light Has Come, Eerdmans, 1982, ISBN 978-1-871828-31-3
·         The Other Side of 1984, World Council of Churches, 1983, ISBN 978-2-8254-0784-4
·         Foolishness to the Greeks: Gospel and Western Culture, Eerdmans/SPCK, 1986, ISBN 978-0-281-04232-6
·         The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, SPCK/Eerdmans/WCC, 1989, ISBN 978-0-281-04435-1
·         Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth, SPCK, 1991, ISBN 0-8028-0607-4
·         A Word in Season: Perspectives on Christian World Missions, edited by Eleanor Jackson, Saint Andrew Press/Eerdmans, 1994, ISBN 978-0-7152-0704-8
·         Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty in Christian Discipleship, SPCK, 1995, ISBN 978-0-281-04915-8
·         Truth and Authority in Modernity, Gracewing Publishing, 1996, ISBN 978-1-563-38168-3
·         Signs amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History, edited and introduced by Geoffrey Wainwright, Eerdmans, 2003, ISBN 978-0-802809-896
Popular works
·         A Walk Through the Bible, SPCK/Westminster John Knox Press, 2000, ISBN 9781573833578
·         Discovering truth in a changing world, Alpha International, 2003, ISBN 9781904074359
·         Living Hope in a changing world, Alpha International, 2003, ISBN 9781904074366
Secondary literature
·         Bearing the Witness of the Spirit: Lesslie Newbigin's Theology of Cultural Plurality, George R. Hunsberger, Eerdmans, 1998, ISBN 978-0-8028-4369-7
·         Lesslie Newbigin: A Theological Life, Geoffrey Wainwright, Oxford University Press, 2000, ISBN 978-0-19-510171-5
·         "As The Father Has Sent Me, I Am Sending You": J. E. Lesslie Newbigin's Missionary Ecclesiology, Michael W. Goheen, Boekencentrum, 2000, ISBN 978-0239-0976-3
·         Lesslie Newbigin: Missionary Theologian: a Reader, Paul Weston (ed.), SPCK/Eerdmans, 2006 ISBN 978-0802829825 (includes nearly 30 texts by Newbigin)
·         Grasping Truth and Reality: Lesslie Newbigin's Theology of Mission to the Western World, Donald LeRoy Stults, Wipf and Stock, 2008, ISBN 13: 978-1-55635-723-7
·         Christian Mission in Eschatological Perspective: Lesslie Newbigin's Contribution, Jürgen Schuster, VTR Publications, 2009, ISBN 13: 978-3-941750-15-9

References
2.      ^ Newbigin, JE Lesslie (1993). Unfinished Agenda. Edinburgh: St Andrews Press. ISBN 9780715206799.
4.      ^ ""Lesslie Newbigin"". The Ship of Fools magazine. 1998. http://www.shipoffools.com/Cargo/Features98/Newbigin/NewbiginMain.html. Retrieved 2007-02-01.
5.      ^ Wainwright, Geoffrey. Lesslie Newbigin: A Theological Life. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. 2000. page v.
6.      ^ a b c d e f g K. M. George, Church of South India: life in union, 1947-1997, Jointly published by Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Christava Sahitya Samithi, Tiruvalla, 1999. [1]