Above: Lesslie Newbigin
Image in the Public Domain
JAMES EDWARD LESSLIE NEWBIGIN (DECEMBER 8, 1909-JANUARY 30, 1998)
Missionary and Theologian
I refer you, O reader, to the following links:
- An interview with Newbigin in 1991 (YouTube),
- Newbigin on Nihilism (YouTube),
- Paul Weston of Newbigin (YouTube),
- John H. Armstrong on Newbigin (YouTube),
- An obituary of Newbigin, and
- Another obituary of Newbigin.
Newbigin has challenged some of my foundational assumptions. Our most basic assumptions, an expert on critical thinking has said, are those we do not think of as being assumptions. We all carry these in our heads, of course, and we find identifying them in others easier than identifying them in ourselves. Reading Newbigin has helped me to think critically about some of my Enlightenment-based assumptions. One reason for this reassessment has been our saint’s gentle approach; he did not “raise his voice” on the page. Friendly persuasion is frequently more effective than shouting.
Newbigin argued for certain propositions, including the following:
- The Gospel of Jesus Christ is true.
- The truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not depend upon any human philosophy. The Gospel is, in fact, to quote St. Paul the Apostle, “foolishness to the Greeks” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
- Religious toleration is part and parcel of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Certainty cannot exist apart from faith. Each of us has faith that x, y, and z, are true and that reality functions in a certain way.
He was openly yet gently critical of elements of both liberal and conservative Christianity for seeking some certainty apart from faith. Both, he said, commit errors rooted in a negative aspect of the Enlightenment. For the same reason Newbigin was openly and gently critical of Christian apologetics that seek to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ reasonable, according to a human point of view. To do so, he insisted, is to make a given human philosophy more important than the Gospel itself. He concluded one book with the following paragraph:
The confidence proper to a Christian is not the confidence of one who claims possession of demonstrable and indubitable knowledge. It is the confidence of one who has heard and answered the call that comes from the God through whom and for all things were made: “Follow me.”
—Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), page 105
In other words, the Christian’s only proper basis of confidence is Jesus Christ.
Newbigin continues to inform and challenge my theology via his books. If he is correct that certainty cannot exit apart from faith, what am I to do with Thomistic theology, of which I am fond? St. Thomas Aquinas assumed that faith and reason were separate and compatible. But what if they are not separate? Such thoughts occupy my attention sometimes.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
NOVEMBER 25, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HILEY BATHHURST, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF JAMES OTIS SARGENT HUNTINGTON, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE HOLY CROSS
THE FEAST OF PETRUS NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN EDUCATOR AND COMPOSER; AND GEORG NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF SQUANTO, COMPASSIONATE HUMAN BEING
Grant, we beseech you, Almighty God, that following the teaching of Lesslie Newbigin,
we may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent,
that we may be counted worthy ever to be numbered among the sheep who hear his voice;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Nehemiah 8:1-8 or Wisdom of Solomon 7:7-14
1 Corinthians 2:6-16
–Adapted from The Book of Common Worship (The Church of South India, 1963), page 67
This is post #1500 of SUNDRY THOUGHTS.