Newbigin's Gospel in a Pluralist Society: Summary

A while back I was invited to speak to a group called Theology on Tap about "The Gospel in a Post-Christian World.  The topic, it seemed to me, begged two questions.  The first is “What is the gospel?” and the second is “Where are we? What is this post-Christian world in which we live?”  Of course, putting those two questions next to each other raises a third:  Does when and where you are affect what the gospel is?  Does context matter for an understanding of the gospel?  Is the gospel different now than it used to be?  If so, how?  Or is the gospel something fixed, maybe a permanent set of doctrinal propositions or a universal set of ethical norms?

I’m going to approach each of these important questions through the work of Lesslie Newbigin who spent decades thinking and writing about each of them.  For some background on Lesslie Newbigin--missionary, bishop, and ecumenist--check out this biography and legacy post

Several scholars, including his authoritative biographer, have suggested that Newbigin’s most important legacy was in his call for a true “missionary encounter with Western culture,” which brings us back to the three questions I began with.  What is the gospel?  Where are we? And does context matter for our understanding of the gospel?  Most of what I will share can be found in a book Newbigin published in 1989 titled, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.

Where are we?

We are going to begin where Newbigin does, with that second question: Where are we?  And by “we,” I mean those who live in the West--Europe, the U.S. Canada, Australia.  What kind of cultural context are we present-day Westerners in?
The first thing to say is that we are in a cultural context, and with that cultural context comes a set of assumptions about the way the world is.  Each culture has its own way of seeing the world.  Newbigin borrows a phrase from sociologist Peter Berger: “plausibility structure” (8).  A plausibility structure is more or less a worldview shared by a society which lets everyone know, pre-cognitavely, what is plausible, and what is not, it is the unspoken rules and assumptions about what is real.  The important thing about a plausibility structure is that every society has their own, but it is basically invisible to the insider.  It is like a pair of lenses—when I am wearing them I do not see them.  In fact, am basically unaware that I am even wearing anything at all.  What I see through them seems to me to be simply what is.  What I do not see, I easily believe, simply does not exist. 

Of course, you would be able to see that I am wearing glasses.  This is how it is with plausibility structures. It is precisely in the encounter between different cultures, between different plausibility structures and lenses that it becomes apparent that neither of us is merely seeing things as they are—free from interpretive lenses; we are both seeing things in a way indelibly shaped by the culture and traditions of which we are a part. 

For Newbigin, one of the key things to know about the culture of contemporary Western world is that it is “pluralist.”  By “pluralist” he means not only that in our context there is a great variety of cultures, religions and lifestlyes which are included, but that this plurality is deliberately celebrated, approved and cherished (1). 

But Newbigin also notices that we are not thorough-going pluralists.  We are all for diversity on some matters, but not on others.  We are pluralists when it comes to religion, but not when it comes to science.  Science, we say, is the domain of facts.  Religion, well, that’s a matter of values and beliefs.  We do not celebrate it when people have a diversity of views on the truth of Boyle’s law.  Everyone, we believe, ought to agree, since it is a fact.  Disagreement on this fact is not beautiful diversity, but ignorance.  Scientific truth is absolute.

When it comes to religion, however, that is a matter of opinion and the more diversity of opinion on the matter the better.  They can not be proven scientifically, therefore all religious claims are taken to be equally true—and equally untrue.  There is no need to try to resolve differences between them, because when we’re talking about values—what’s true for you may not be true for me.  Religious truth, we say, is relative.  It is subjective—what really matters is the sincerity with which we believe it.  In fact, we say, if you believe it deeply enough, then for you it is true. 

What Newbigin observes is that in the West, we live in a plausibility structure that is unique in the way that it that separates truth into these two types—what we call “facts” from what we call “beliefs.”  Of course, since we live within this plausibility structure, this seems not only like a perfectly good way to see the world of ideas, but, in fact, the way things are.  We can scarcely imagine any other way of thinking about ideas.  But Newbigin points out that throughout most of human history (and in much of the world today), “it has been thought that all knowledge was one and that theology was as much a part of human knowledge as astronomy or history” (27-28). 

In order to understand how these two types of truth came to be separated from one another, Newbigin points to a key moment in the development of Western culture, the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The Enlightenment was a period in which thinkers in the West began to place increased confidence in human reason.  Reason, it was believed, would lead humanity ever forward.  It would free us from oppressive traditions and superstitious religions.  Reliance on reason alone was promised to lead to unending human progress—scientific progress and moral progress. 

One of the most enduring theorems of this period was Lessing’s assertion that “accidental truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason.”  In other words, truth is directly accessible to everyone, regardless of their location in time or space.  As we will see, this kind of thinking assumes a very individualistic understanding of the human person which finds offensive the suggestion that anyone should have to depend on another person to know truth of any kind. 

In response to this new confidence in reason, thinkers began, really for the first time, to defend Christianity as reasonable (3).  The most famous example of this, of course, comes from Rene Descartes.  He undertook to establish all knowledge by a pure use of reason.  To do this, he doubted everything: maybe the world does not exist, maybe it is a figment of my imagination.  And he doubted everything all the way down to his own existence until he came upon what he felt was one indubitable fact: “I am thinking.”  From this he concluded, “I must exist.”  “I think, therefore I am.”  Cogito ergo sum.  From this foundational fact, Descartes proceeded to reconstruct all that could be known through use of reason, including the existence of the world and the truth of Christianity.  

What is not necessarily easy for us to see, as Newbigin points out, is that when Christianity began defending its truth on the basis of reason, it was appealing to something outside of itself, looking to a universal arbiter of truth.  This was implicitly consenting to the modern idea that reason was the final authority regarding what was real and true.  It was in this context that there began to be debates about the authoritative sources of Christian theology.  Roman Catholics emphasized the authority of church tradition; Protestants stressed the authoritative revelation of scripture.  Anglicans, you may know, ever striving for a middle way said, “Look, it is Scripture and Tradition…and Reason.”  Later John Wesley, an Anglican priest, under the influence of late 18th century Romanticism, came along with what is now called the “Wesleyan quadrilateral,” which says that Christians look to four sources for theology: Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience.  Newbigin deals directly with the Anglican triad and its particularly fitting for this occasion, being as you’re Episcopalians, so we’ll stay there. 

Newbigin finds the whole project problematic.  First, he says, the long standing debate between Protestants and Catholics about scripture vs. tradition came to a fitting resolution in a Vatican II document which he summarizes as saying, “Tradition is not an independent source of divine truth but that it is that “continuing activity” in which “the Church’s full canon of the sacred books is known, and the sacred writings themselves are more profoundly understood and unceasingly made active in her” (52-53).  In other words, Scripture, is the source of truth, but it only comes to us through tradition.  Scripture only comes to us through tradition.   

But more importantly, Newbigin protests the idea that there is some independent source for knowledge to set alongside of tradition and revelation called “reason.”  This, he believes, is a confusion of categories.  Reason, Newbigin suggests, is not a source of information, it is a way of processing information.  This way of processing, is actually a tradition.  Reason, it turns out is a tradition. Furthermore, there is not one single “reason” but rather numerous “traditions of rationality.”  Even These traditions of rationality, these ways of making sense of the world, are embodied, in the first place, in languages (55).  Indeed, “No one can grasp and make sense of what is given in Scripture except by the use of reason” and reason alone is totally unable to operate” except within a continuing tradition of speech which is the speech of a community whose language embodies a shared way of understanding” also known as a tradition (53).  The confusion, Newbigin asserts is that reason is not a source of information but a human faculty (53).  Thus, the debate between modernity and Christianity is not rightly understood as one between reason and revelation, as it was believed to be, but between two traditions of rationality, each equally unable to serve as an “impartial umpire between the rival claims” (57). 

Of course, during the Enlightenment (and even up to today), most people did see the conflict as one between revelation and reason or religion vs. science.  In this atmosphere in which reason was regarded as a universal arbiter and source of truth, the Bible began to be held up to scrutiny.  When it appeared that it could not justify itself as reasonable, some Christian leaders, hoping to secure an ongoing position for the Bible in modern society, suggested that the Bible wasn’t measuring up to standards of reasonableness and factuality because it was ultimately a book about religion, not fact—about religious experience, not universal historical truth.  It is here, Newbigin suggests, that a divide began to open up between the so called world of facts and the world of values.  Religion, of course, was relegated to the later.  The Bible could still be called “true” so long as we qualified it as “religious truth.”      

This division which isolated religion to the private sphere, Newbigin believes, amounted to the domestication of Christianity by modernity’s hostile plausibility structure.  He offers an illuminating insight from his experience as a missionary:

When I was a young missionary I used to spend one evening each week in the monastery of the Ramakrishna Mission in the town where I lived, sitting on the floor with the monks and studying with them the Upanishads and the Gospels.  In the great hall of the monastery, as in all the premises of the Ramakrishna Mission, there is a gallery of portraits of the great religious leaders of humankind.  Among them, of course, is a portrait of Jesus.  Each year on Christmas Day worship was offered before this picture.  Jesus was honored and worshipped, as one of the many manifestations of deity in the course of human history.  To me, as a foreign missionary, it was obvious that this was not a step toward the conversion of India.  It was the co-option of  Jesus into the Hindu worldview.  Jesus had become just one figure in the endless cycle of karma and samsara, the wheel of being in which we are caught up.  He had been domesticated into the Hindu worldview.  That view remained unchallenged.  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 “reasonable Christianity,” a 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 (3).

Where are we?  According to Newbigin, we Westerners are in a pluralist society that has domesticated the gospel, along with all other religious truth claims, by imaging a dichotomy in which there are two different kinds of “truths.”  Modernity literally constructed a plausibility structure in which this division was taken for granted as natural and true to reality.  Scientific truths are universal facts, but religious truths are relative.  Scientific truth can be universally and directly accessed through reason and divine truth can be universally and directly accessed through religious experience.  In this environment, to evangelize or to assert a religious view as a fact with bearing on others is not only to violate the parameters of the plausibility structure, it is to be immediately judged as arrogant and narrow-minded.  And there is, perhaps, nothing more anathema in our culture than this kind of arrogant dogmatism.

Newbigin defines religious pluralism as “the belief that the differences between the religions are not a matter of truth and falsehood, but of different perceptions of the one truth; that to speak of religious beliefs as true or false is inadmissible” (14).  One of the most well-known defenses for religious pluralism is the Hindu parable of the blind men and the elephant.  Each blind man has hold of a different part of the elephant and make their own conclusions, but none knows the full truth, so we ought to be humble about our religious views and not arrogantly assume that what is true for us is true for others.  We are, in the end, all experiencing different aspects of the same divine reality which is bigger than any of us.  But Newbigin points out brilliantly that this popular interpretation of the parable misses its central (albeit implicit) point: 

The story is told from the point of view of the king and his courtiers, who are not blind but can see that the blind men are unable to grasp the full reality of the elephant and are only able to get hold of part of the truth. The story is constantly told in order to neutralize the affirmation of the great religions, to suggest that they learn humility and recognize that none of them can have more than one aspect of truth.  But, of course, the real point of the story is exactly the opposite. I
f the king were also blind, there would be no story.  The story is told by the king and it is the immensely arrogant claim of one who sees the full truth which all the world’s religions are only groping after.  It embodies the claim to know the full reality which relativizes all the claims of the religions and philosophies (9-10).

In precisely the same way, suggests Newbigin, while the plausibility structure which reigns in our pluralistic society calls all religions, including Christianity to humility, it does so only by arrogantly claiming for itself a vantage point from which to judge them all.  The truth of the matter, Newbigin says, is that there is no such vantage point.  There is no way to see the world without lenses.  There is no way to see the world purely as it is so that one might judge the truthfulness of rival plausibility structures.  All plausibility systems are founded on beliefs that can not be proven by some authoritative source.  In making this argument, Newbigin is following closely the groundbreaking work of Alistair MacIntyre.

Importantly, this means that even Christianity has to admit that it sees the world through a particular set of lenses, from within a distinct plausibility structure.  This, I believe, is the only truly humble posture.  Humility is not found in asserting that all religions are just groping in the darkness, but neither does humility demand that Christians acquiesce to the dominant ways of seeing the world.  Indeed, according to Newbigin, “the church as the bearer of the gospel, inhabits a plausibility structure which is at variance with, and which calls in question, those that govern all human cultures without exception”(9).  Being a Christian, Newbigin believes, means seeing the world from within different plausibility structure.  Namely a plausibility structure which is grounded in the biblical story.  Christians, in other words, see a different world because they see the world through a corporate imagination formed by the narrative of Scripture.  This begins to bring us to the question of what the gospel is, but first a summary.

Where are we?  
According to Newbigin, we live in a world in which pluralism claims the high ground and pompously scolds all religions of dogma—by asserting a dogma of its own.  We live in a pluralistic culture whose plausibility structure is fundamentally incompatible and inimical to Christianity, as well as other non-pluralistic religions.

What is the Gospel?
The second question which we are going to ask Newbigin is: What is the gospel?  I assume you all know that gospel means “good news.”  So what is this news that is good? 

For Newbigin, it is important to clarify that the gospel is not that one can join Christianity, and it is not that one can have a fulfilling religious experience.  It is not even that you can go to heaven when you die.  The gospel is “personal, concrete and historical”; it is the fact of Christ, which he describes like this:

The gospel is a…factual statement.  Namely, that at a certain point in history, the history of this world, God who is the author, the sustainer, the goal of all that exists, of all being and all meaning and all truth, has become present in our human history as the man Jesus, who we can know and who we can love and serve; and that by His incarnation, His ministry, His death and resurrection, He has finally broken the powers that oppress us and has created a space and a time in which we who are unholy can nevertheless live in fellowship with a God who is holy
(Signs Amid the Rubble, 113).

As Newbigin’s critique of the modern plausibility structure would suggest, Newbigin is not willing to offer this statement as a “religious belief” or a “personal opinion.”  While Newbigin was willing to acknowledge that Christians speak from within a plausibility structure just like everyone one else, he does not conclude that all truth claims, such as those of the gospel, must be eliminated.  Rather he asserts that the gospel is “the truth which is true for all.  It must therefore be publically affirmed, and opened to public interrogation and debate” (50).  The gospel, he insists, is public truth.

But, the question comes, if there is no impartial umpire, how can rival truth claims be judged?  Newbigin seems happy to acknowledge with MacIntyre that with no umpire, the relative strength of rivals will, in the short term, be a factor of the “comparative vigor and integrity of the two traditions” but in the long term “the ultimate outcome is at the end when the one who alone is judge sums up and gives the verdict” (65).  Christianity, like its crucified Lord, cannot be vindicated until the End breaks into history; it can only be faithful.  

Does context shape the gospel?

Newbigin has more to say about the gospel, and it will become clearer as we move to the third question I identified at the outset: Does context shape the gospel?  In one sense, as you can tell from what Newbigin has said the gospel is, the answer for him is a resounding  “no.”  After all, he says in one place the “content of the gospel is Jesus Christ in the fullness of his ministry, death, and resurrection” and “not anything else” (153).  The gospel, as the historical fact of God’s mighty work through Jesus, does not change—it is the same for every time and place.  But in another important sense, Newbigin would say that context does matter for the gospel.  In order to explain why this is, we will have to understand how Newbigin understands salvation, and how he believes the gospel’s salvation presents itself.

In defining salvation, first, Newbigin takes issue with the modern, individualistic attitude that presumes it is basically an interaction that takes place privately between an individual and God.  This, he suggests is, historically speaking, a new idea that goes hand in hand with Lessing’s rejection of history as a necessary source of truth.  Reason alone, it was believed, granted direct access to truth, unsullied by the particulars of history.  Similarly, moderns, Newbigin observes, believe that saving truth must be immediately available to the individual through religious experience, free from the trappings of human culture and tradition.  Certainly, they say “I ought not have to depend on another for that which is necessary for my salvation” (81). 

Behind this attitude, Newbigin detects a serious flaw in anthropology—a misunderstanding about what it means to be human that is characteristic of our age.  For, in fact, to be human is to be intrinsically dependent upon others.  From the moment of our birth we rely on others not only for sustenance but even for our identity and the language through which we become able to make sense of the world.  For humans, life is always received from others.  This, Newbigin believes, is how God designed humankind; it is an essential part of what it means to be human.  And receiving salvation is no different than receiving life.

According to Newbigin, in the Bible

there can be no private salvation, no salvation which does not involve us with one another…God’s saving revelation does not come to us straight down from above—through the skylight…In order to receive God’s saving revelation we have to open the door to the neighbor whom he sends as his appointed messenger, and—moreover—to receive that messenger not as a temporary teacher or guide whom we can dispense with when we ourselves have learned what is needed…There is no salvation except one in which we are saved together through the one whom God sends to be the bearer of salvation (82-3).

One of the clearest examples of this process of receiving salvation from others, for Newbigin is the transmission of the Bible.  In contrast to those invested in the historical quests for Jesus, Newbigin does not consider it an “unfortunate accident” that we have no record of exactly what Jesus said, but instead have only reports from those who heard it and endeavored to live by his teaching.  Indeed, if indubitable records is what we most needed for salvation, surely Jesus would have written a book himself.  Instead, what Jesus left behind was not a book, but a community which was then sent by His Spirit into the “world to carry the secret into the life of the world, always reappropriating and reinterpreting it in the light of new circumstances” (95).  For an illustration of this, check out how Newbigin reflects on the conversion of Peter and Cornelius (p. 167-168).

The point here is that, for Newbigin, the salvation to which the Christian gospel testifies has scandalously particular origins.  It does not come from God out of nowhere; it is rooted in a time and place and a people.  Salvation, as Jesus himself told the woman at the well in John 4, is “from the Jews.”  The gospel is not the terms of an agreement whereby you can make a private exchange with God to receive passage into an eternal bliss after you die.  The good news is not: you can make Jesus your personal Lord and Savior and go to heaven.  The good news, according to Newbigin, is that God came to earth in Jesus and conquered sin, Satan and death.  It is a historical claim that can only be heard through another, through the passing on of this story.  Of equal importance, the gospel can only be believed when one witnesses a community of those who live in the light of its truth and the gospel can only be responded to with others who have also believed it.

This is why Newbigin describes the local congregation as the “hermeneutic of the gospel” (222).  This means that the gospel can only make sense when it is seen working in the life of a community who believes it.  The “gospel does not come as a disembodied message, but as the message of a community which claims to live by it and which invites others to adhere to it” (141).  In fact, if the church is healthy, the New Testament would suggest, the life of the community itself will provoke the questions to which the only answer is the gospel. 

In this sense, the context makes all the difference for the gospel because the gospel is only truly known through a specific congregation whose life will necessarily be shaped by its context.  The gospel does not come as some pure, culture-free message.  The gospel, because it comes through people—that is, through languages and communities with traditions—is always embodied in a culture (144). 

One of Newbigin’s stories from his early days as a missionary in India illustrates how the gospel necessarily is cultured.  He tells of how his mission had developed a book of Christian Kummies—songs that set Christian lyrics to traditional folk tunes.   They told Old and New testament stories, and stories from the lives of Jesus, St. Peter and St. Paul, creation, the Ten commandments and others.  Of course, the reason they did this is so that everyone could easily learn these stories, and a number of villagers had become quite skilled and singing and dancing to the Kummies.  One of the limitations, however, was that certain stories weren’t particularly suitable for dancing.  Can you imagine someone dancing as they sang about the betrayal of Jesus?  But Newbigin concludes: “But it is worth having a few occasional crudities for the sake of printing the Gospel story indelibly on the minds of people who will never learn in any other way” (South India Diary, 63).  Of course, such an example is innocent enough.  But you begin to see how the reality of a culture-laden gospel might pose some problems.

If the gospel is always enfleshed in a culture, how are we to know if we have gone beyond appropriate contextualization—like the Christian Kummies—and actually domesticated the gospel by accommodating it to our culture, allowing the values of the reigning plausibility structure of our society to silence the critique which the gospel rightly understood will inevitably level against it?  Think of the Crusades.  Think of American slavery.  These are two clear times when the Christian gospel was perverted and subordinated to prevailing cultural values.  How would we know if we were doing something similar today?  According to Newbigin,

The only way in which the gospel can challenge our culturally conditioned interpretations of it is through the witness of those who read the Bible with minds shaped by other cultures.  We have to listen to others.  This mutual correction is sometimes unwelcome, but it is necessary and it is fruitful (197). 

Now that the center of gravity of Christianity has left the West and relocated to Africa and South America, I believe Newbigin would stress that it is time for us in the US and Europe to allow Christians in other cultures to help us see the ways in which our own idolatrous submission to prevailing sensibilities may have led us to betray the gospel.

Does context shape the gospel?  Yes and no.  No, because the gospel is, most basically, a historical event—the life, death and resurrection of Jesus which conquered the enemies of humanity and restored us to relationship with God.  The gospel doesn’t change because it is something that has happened once and for all.  But, Newbigin would say, yes, context shapes the gospel because the only way we ever encounter the meaning of the gospel is in a place and time, through a tradition and a people who live as if it is true.  The gospel is shaped by context because the only gospel that people will ever see or hear is an incarnated one—one that walks their streets and speaks their language. 

What is the meaning of the gospel today?  According to Newbigin, it is the public truth of what God has done in Jesus, as known through the life of actual communities that believe it is true.  One of the ways, Newbigin suggest, we can know if a Christian community actually believes the gospel is true, is to observe whether they are actively involved in sharing it with others.  If we believe the gospel is true—not just true for us, but universally true, a fact of history not merely a subjective, relative pseudo-truth—then it only makes sense that we would desire and seek for others to know this truth.

In fact, Newbigin suggests, believing the gospel goes hand-in-hand with joining the community who lives in the light of its truth.  And baptism, which marks our initiation into this fellowship is at the same time the moment that we are united with Christ is his death, his resurrection and, importantly, his mission.  For Newbigin, to join the church is not to join a social club centered on a shared religious experience of Jesus, but to join God’s community of witnesses.  To believe the gospel is true is also to believe that one has been called and chosen to be part of the community through whom God’s reconciling love and truth is to be known to God’s whole beloved creation.

On the other hand, if our primary frame of reference is not the Christian Story, but the modern one, bearing witness to the gospel will seem not only odd and unnecessary but offensive and narrow-minded.  According to Newbigin,

If what matters about religious beliefs is not the factual truth of what they affirm but the sincerity with which they are held; if religious belief is a matter of personal inward experience rather than an account of what is objectively the case, then there are certainly no grounds for thinking that Christians have any right—much less any duty—to seek the conversion of these neighbors to the Christian faith (25).

I suspect, that many of us—and most of our communities—are a mixture of the two.  We spend much of our time living within the modern Western plausibility structure, looking at the world just as everyone else does.  But every now and then, for a moment, we see the world through different eyes.  We see the world from within the Christian plausibility structure.  We believe the gospel and see everything in its light.  And then, the vision fades and that world again seems impossible.  It seems to me that what the Christian journey is about—and one of the things that Christian community is for—is extending these moments.  Until they become a lifetime.  Because we believe that what we see in these moments is not an illusion.  It is the truth which God desires for all to see.

One of the great fears that accompanies claims to divine truth, such as Newbigin makes, is that those who assert it will inevitably struggle to dominate and eliminate those who reject these claims.  Newbigin acknowledges this fear, particularly given that throughout Christian history the Church has been guilty of this.  But according to Newbigin these errors rest on a misconception.  Christians do not claim to possess absolute truth, rather “the claim of the Christian community is that in Jesus the absolute truth has been made present amid the relativities of human cultures, and that the form which this truth took was not that of dominance and imperial power but that of one who was without power, or—rather—whose power was manifest in weakness and suffering” (163). 

In conclusion, I offer these words from Newbigin which sum up much of what I think he might say to us regarding the gospel in our pluralist society:

…the gospel cannot be accommodated as one element in a society which has pluralism as its reigning ideology.  The Church cannot accept as its role simply the winning of individuals to a kind of Christian discipleship which concerns only the private and domestic aspects of life.  To be faithful to a message which concerns the kingdom of God, his rule over all things and peoples, the Church has to claim the high ground of public truth (222).

Find more Jesus Dust posts on Lesslie Newbigin here

8 comments:

  1. Chris, when I read this my head just about exploded. I had heard of Newbigin before but couldn't even spell his name. The idea that we moderns (yea, post-moderns??) have assimilated the gospel into our culture is, well, not a happy thought. Guess I've gotta repent.

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  2. This is an excellent discussion of the way in which Christianity has "stood alone" in the midst of other religions, gods and philosophies about the Deity or, in this case, the Trinity (God the Creator, God the Son Jesus Christ, and God as the Holy Spirit). It is easy to see how early Catholicism evolved into practices which are not delineated in the Gospels (Holy Mary worship, confession to a human priest, indulgences, etc.)
    It is not quite as easy to see, through our Westernized eyes, how Christianity has evolved into various beliefs, practices and denominational priorities because of our cultural biases. Thus some
    Christian bodies worship on Saturday, Sunday, Saturday evening, etc. Some Christians believe in observing the Celebration of Mass, the Eucharist or communion once every weekend, once a month, on Holy Days, etc.
    We do not have time here to even delve into the various practices of The Holy Meal and what the bread represents, the wine and the spiritual reality or mysticism which has evolved around this event.
    Then we come to the nitty gritty subject, evangelism, or spreading the "good news" to all corners of the world, which is referred to as The Great Commission. "Go ye, therefore, into all the world . . ." Paul the disciple and first missionary certainly attempted to discuss the faith with non-believers by appealing to their knowledge and understanding of their current religion. North Americans, in particular, have tried to reach the masses through the wonder of media devices made possible by ever-evolving technology and electronics. Thus the Gospel is proclaimed by CD's, movies, our computers, streaming, YouTube, rock bands and music on the stage of theater-like sanctuaries, etc. In some sense, the "good news" is everywhere and in another distressing way, the Gospel is so common it is not heard or seen by non-believers. It is just another part of our western culture or society.

    I will comment more later. Sondra Sakala, Everett, WA

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  3. Thanks for the comments, Sondra and Collin! I'm convinced that Newbigin's missionary perspective is just what we Westerners need.

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  4. Thanks so much for this essay!

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  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  6. Why does everything have to turn out to be Christian, especially as it just aint true: see
    www.aboutadidam.org/readings/birthday_message/index.html

    First of all you do not live in a post-Christian society/culture - the USA is saturated with all kinds of perverse expressions of old-time Christian religiosity - much of which is an expression of a deeply puritanical sex and body paranoid double-mindedness.
    It could also be said that the current state of USA "culture", or whats left of it, has its roots in the two stark images found here:
    www.dartmouth.edu/~spanmod/mural/panel13.html
    www.dartmouth.edu/~spanmod/mural/panel21.html

    Meanwhile there are now more Christians in the world than ever before - both in total numbers and as a percentage of the human population.
    The world (particularly the USA) is saturated with Christian propaganda of all kinds in both paper & electronic forms. The "catholic" church alone runs the worlds largest propaganda factory, the tentacles of which reach into almost every village on the planet (especially those with a "catholic" church and parish school.
    There are countless thousands of Christian blogs and websites - again, particularly in the USA.
    There are now more Christian missionaries operating all over the planet than ever before.

    And yet the humanly created world is becoming more and more insane every day. Furthermore some/many of the "leading" edge vectors of this now universal insanity/psychosis are right-wing and/or "conservative Christians - basically any and every one who subscribes to the Manhattan Declaration put together by Robert George.

    That having been said please find some references which are related to the themes of your essay.
    Essays from the Aletheon (The Truth Book) which is introduced here:
    1. http://global.adidam.org/books/gift-of-truth-itself
    Essays:
    1. www.dabase.org/culturally_prescribed.htm on Culturally Prescribed God-Ideas
    2. www.dabase.org.Reality-Practice.htm The Reality Practice
    3. www.dabase.org/illusion-weather.htm Absolute Rain
    Adi Da's relationship to India, especially via Swami Vivekananda & Sri Ramakrishna
    1. www.adidam.in/vivekananda.asp
    2. www.adidam.in/eastwest.asp on the difference psycho-physical persuasions of the east & West
    Also Space-Time IS Love-Bliss + other essays on Quantum Reality
    1. http://spiralledlight.wordpress/com/2010/08/24/4068
    Plus multiple myth-busting essays on religion, science and culture via:
    1. www.beezone.com/AdiDa/ScientificProof/tableofcontents.html

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