One of my favorite books is Lesslie Newbigin’s Foolishness to the Greeks. In it he asks this question: if we are willing to expend so much effort contextualizing the gospel for other cultures, shouldn’t we do the same for our own? It’s a great question the answer to which could help the western church be good news to the West. Here is a thought experiment. If the Apostle Paul were preaching to the West versus to Athens, how would he frame the case for Christ? I’d like to walk through Newbigin’s book in a series of posts toward answering this question.
I’ll start here directly with Chapter 1, entitled “Post-Enlightenment Culture as a Missionary Problem“. Newbigin describes the missionary problem this way. Modernity is a new global culture controlled by universities, media, and multi-nationals. (As this blog is media, albeit new media, I suppose I’ve wrested just a bit of this control from old media. One small step for man.) By culture Newbigin means the transmission of a sum-total way of living for a given group of people.
In the Post-Enlightenment (or Secular) West, the reigning plausibility structure (or worldview) is that there is no true truth except for that which is both material and can be verified by science. Everything else is relegated to private preference. People in the West thus live their lives within a dichotomy comprised of a public sphere controlled by secularism and a private sphere controlled by their own personal preferences. So, for example, my three boys go to a public school in which religion is not to be discussed.
The problem with this worldview is that it leaves two key questions largely unanswered: Where did we come from? Where are we going? One might object that the Secular West has answered these questions. We came from a cosmic soup that was somehow brought to life in a lightning strike and we will return to it when we die. Yet accept for the ardent Nihilist these answers don’t really satisfy.
These are questions to be wrestled with further in future posts.