Monday, October 18, 2004

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 1

During Summer 2003, on the old United Church of Christ forums (which are supposed to reappear in a new version and a different format) we had a second online book discussion about living in mission; this time we talked about Bishop Lesslie Newbigin's Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, which was full of challenges and replete with hope for the church's redemptively engaging the world. In his preface the author describes the chapters in this book as "a somewhat expanded version of the Warfield Lectures" he gave at Princeton Theological Seminary in March 1984.

foolishness to the greeks coverChapter 1: Post-Enlightenment Culture as a Missionary Problem

Here are a pair of great questions a couple of discussion participants asked forthwith:
  • "Is it possible…we have actually surrendered the claim of Jesus Christ to be Lord of the world? Does he truly reign for us only over the realm of the personal?"
  • "Is it not possible for our personal choices to effect changes in the public world?"
Yes, our personal, individual choices frequently effect changes in the more-public arenas of the world – sometimes as the result of a long process and at times almost immediately. It's also clear that the sum of those small, private choices and decisions often is synergistic, with the outcome being far, far greater than the simple addition of the discrete inputs. But the Bible challenges and – I would hope – compels us to consider and claim for ourselves Jesus' assertion he is Lord of all. Because of this, as we are baptized into Jesus Christ's death and resurrection and henceforth live under the cross in judgment and also in grace, the Incarnate Word challenges and obliges each of us to take the extremely scary, open-ended risk of going beyond the comfort of "Jesus, Lover of my soul…my Jesus, I love Thee, because Thou art mine." Really! That uncomfortable (to say the least) action potentially can transform not only us but also the world outside of us and beyond the safe perimeters of our comfort zones.

Next I'll ask if "we" is the corporate, royal and deferential "we?" I'll dare assume it's the "you and me" we. I wonder if I'm too tame and cautious in confessing Jesus Lord of all even with other Christians. Bishop Newbigin mentions several Christ-icons, including Christus Pantocratur / Christus Cosmocratur. He says we're living in a pagan rather than a secular culture, and though I'd never considered that fact, I believe he's correct. It's a sure thing that here in year 2003 [fast-forwarding to 2004, same thing] Jesus Christ has become one of a plethora of possible choices and very few mainline-type Christians are into being thought of as exclusive and particular Christians.

Among the cautions and counsels Bishop Newbigin gave to all of us missionary-evangelists are warnings I know I need to begin taking more seriously:
  • my version of Christianity is an "adapted gospel," shaped by my total life experiences;
  • a person's Muttersprach is "the language of the home and heart" and the Word that transformed Paul of Tarsus' life - and heart - was a vernacular word!
  • We must learn to speak not only the formal language but the dialect, speak the culture of those we evangelize.
And from what Newbigin says, it looks as if...
  • I need to learn to speak "pagan" rather than the "Christianese" most of us theologian-types speak so fluently!
  • Finally, I need to become much more aware of the syncretic elements in my own Christianity, and I say that especially as a person who has lived in and who's (literally) conversant with the symbols of a fairly broad range of cultures and styles.

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