Thursday, June 15, 2006

newbigin and western missiology

allelon.jpg From June 25-29 I am participating in a International Think Tank on Mission to Western Culture. This involves a multi-year think tank re-applying the work of Lesslie Newbigin to denominational, seminary and other church systems regarding missional engagement with western culture(s). In preparation I was asked to answer 2 questions.

Question 1: What are the primary contributions of Lesslie Newbigin to this conversation?

For me, the primary contribution is summed in the sentence; “[T]he only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.” Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 1989, 227.

newbigin.jpg This suggests the following:

a) A new window. The sentence assumes that the gospel task is unfinished. Mission needs to remain on the agenda of the West.

b) A new hermeneutic. The sentence foregrounds the church as the interpretive performer in the task of Western re-missionalisation. This opens a space for mission to be driven not by the essential pragmatism of declining numbers, nor the dehumanizing practices of church growth, but from a vision of the gospel as human, communal and Incarnational. It offers a hermeneutic in which the gospel can be embodied as the concrete hands and feet and ears of the Body of Christ.

c) A humble confidence. A congregational hermeneutic suggests a public, visible missionality. This theme appears throughout Newbigin’s work, where he wrote tirelessly of the place of theology in the public arena. Newbigin ceaselessly called the church to the kingdoms that are economic and educational and artistic. His congregational hermeneutic refused to accept modernist binary opposites of private and public, of subjective experience and detached observation.

Instead, a congregational hermeneutic offers knowledge as occurring amid the participation of human lives in the becoming of God’s mission future. This both refuses a privatized faith and offers a public place to stand based not on the epistemelogy of the Enlightenment project, but upon the embodied gospel. Or in the words of Paul Fiddes;

The Christian strategy is not to imagine that we have a point of vantage above or beyond culture, from which to survey other stories. Is it rather … the persuasive power of our story that will judge other stories. And it is not just telling; we are to out-perform others by living by a better story.

(My response to Question 2: What would you identify as the primary themes/questions that need to be addressed regarding mission to western culture at this point in time? is here.)

Posted by steve at 11:11 PM


  1. I love the quote from Fiddes. Can I ask where yuo sourced it? The reason I ask is that I’m doing some post-grad work on him.

    Comment by Andrew — June 16, 2006 @ 7:43 pm

  2. thanks for these reminders. Even we in the east need to hear this.

    Comment by Sivin — June 17, 2006 @ 4:32 am

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