Peter & Kelly

on The Way

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Peter & Kelly + Lukas + Emmet + Danai

Going to Heaven: The concept of heaven in the Bible and Christian teaching
Research Paper (All Nations Christian College) 2 June 2004 — Peter Passchier

Is participation in Freemasonry wholesome for disciples of Jesus?
Advanced Religions Paper (All Nations Christian College) 7 May 2004 — Peter Passchier

Passages from Colossians and Hebrews compared
Assignment Christology (All Nations Christian College) 5 December 2003 — Peter Passchier

Is Israel's election related to any inherent qualities?
Assignment Old Testament Theology (All Nations Christian College) 28 November 2003 — Peter Passchier

The Gospel and the Religions
Reading Report Theology of Mission (All Nations Christian College) 11 November 2003 — Peter Passchier

Efforts towards unity within the church
Assignment Churchplanting (All Nations Christian College) 27 June 2003 — Peter Passchier

Jesus: transactional or transformational?
Assignment Leadership (All Nations Christian College) 20 June 2003 — Peter Passchier

Isaiah in crises
Assignment History and Literature of the Hebrew Bible (All Nations Christian College) 17 March 2003 — Peter Passchier

Do missionaries destroy cultures?
Assignment Social Anthropology (All Nations Christan College) 6 December 2002 — Peter Passchier

Temple Tumult
Assignment New Testament: Gospels and Acts (All Nations Christian College) 29 November 2002 — Peter Passchier

Acts
Initial Assignment (All Nations Christian College) 1 October 2002 — Peter Passchier

A Narrow Escape
A Narrow Escape (Creative writing) 13 September 2015 — Kelly Passchier



Reading Report Theology of Mission (All Nations Christian College) 11 November 2003 — Peter Passchier

The Gospel and the Religions

Reading Report on chapter 14 of Lesslie Newbigin's The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

In this chapter Newbigin focuses on the question "What attitude should believers in Jesus take towards adherents of other religions?", on the assumption that Jesus Christ is the unique and decisive revelation of God for the salvation of the world (p.171). The term 'religion' covers wide gamut of meanings, Macnicol (p.171) distinguishes historical religions where God reveals himself, and a-historical experience-oriented religions. Worldviews can be classified in: atomic (Greek individual-reductionist focus), oceanic (pantheistic unity) and relational (primal religions, Christianity) according to Turner (p.171) — the relational worldview of the Bible might account for its wider acceptance among so-called primitive peoples. The modern Western distinction between religion and secular life is incomprehensible to people who are unfamiliar with an atomic worldview. Religion is woven into the fabric of everyday life, like Jesus' parables mostly relate to secular experience, and the Light that came into the world shines on all people (John 1:9), not exclusively on religious people — even to the contrary, according to John's account!

There are three main positions on the relation of Christianity towards other religions (p.182), pluralism (Hick): the grace of God is manifest in all human beings and the uniqueness of Jesus is denied, exclusivism (Kraemer): Jesus is unique and there is no salvation of non-Christians, and inclusivism (Rahner): the non-Christian religions can also be vehicles of salvation. The exclusivist —eternal damnation— view humanly demands converting people by any means, and requires the ability to judge who is saved — while only God knows. Adherents of other religions have authentic religious experiences that should be used in communication of the Gospel, refuting a strict discontinuity between Christian faith and other religions. The inclusivist position is exemplified by Rahner (p.174): non-Christian religions are salvific —their faithful adherents are called anonymous Christians— until the Gospel has been proclaimed, after which their chances of salvation are greater when accepting Christ. Newbigin himself believes that everyone has responded —however feeble— to the ubiquitous witness of God's grace in their hearts or minds, but that Calvary revealed both God's amazing love and our darkest sin. No genuine dialogue is possible from either universalism —the Gospel is not vital— or strict exclusivism, where the asymmetric relationship makes a genuine dialogue inappropriate. Both pluralism and inclusivism are often spurred by the need for human unity in the face of ecological disaster — but this does not need to be religious unity; love unites where truth divides (Song, p.183), but love is only real when it is truthful.

The question "What happens with the non-Christian after death?" is very unhelpful, because only God can answer it, and it only considers the soul — apart from the human story as part of God's story, starting with man instead of God. Taking the glory of God as a starting point will lead to welcoming any signs of grace at work (like Jesus did with the faith of those outside Israel) instead of discounting and reproving them. Cooperation with people of other persuasions in projects that are in line with God's purposes should eagerly be sought; there may be disagreements about the end of 'the story', but agreements on what needs to be done in the world. This leads to true dialogue with co-workers — not primarily about religion, but arising from practical issues, about the meaning and goal of the unfolding human story, and at some point the story of Jesus will simply need to be told, because the Christian is appointed to do that — without any effort to convert.

Cultural Plurality

The whole book highlights the role of worldview in people's perception and thinking, outlining the philosophical development of the dominant secular worldview in the Western world, unmasking it as yet another 'plausibility structure' (Berger, p.8); rationality is shown to be a human cultural construct (MacIntyre, p.87). This reflects the trend during the eighties of the previous century, when the paradigm-shift away from modernity broke through in popular philosophy — what later would be labeled post-modernity, hallmarked by pluralism. Newbigin is an 'early adopter' in applying this to Christian attitudes towards different aspects of the pluralistic culture, many of which are discussed and critiqued — among them the attitude towards other religions. Newbigin maintains a firmly Christocentric stance, yet explicitly (p.176) leaves room for creative tensions, and he seems to be fulminating against a too restricted view of God's work in the evangelical camp, and at the same time against a too liberal view in the ecumenical movement. He seems to be anti-dogmatic in general, participating in a 'theology of neutrality' (p.177), but is not afraid to speak out when it seems good to him (p.5). He is genuinely open towards the expressions of —not necessary religious— experience of non-Christians in dialogue, the key to which is his conviction of the working of God's grace in every human being, which he supports by John 16:8 (p.180). God's word is more encompassing than the human notion of compartmentalised religion, and Christians are encouraged to explore in dialogue the topics of values, commitment and goals with others. The Gospel should be told in a way respectful of the truth and of the other person, without pressure or hidden agendas. Because of his recognition of God's overarching purposes, he encourages working together with non-Christians in worthy work and causes, not being afraid that this might be construed as signaling approval of the non-Christian's beliefs. He agrees and disagrees with pluralism, exclusivism and inclusivism (p.182),affirming the centrality of Jesus' works and the possibility that the non-Christian can be saved, and rejects the notion that non-Christian religions can be vehicles for salvation. He really seems to aim for fruitful communication of the Gospel, and is equipping Christians towards that end, making them aware of possible pitfalls in attitude and approach.

The Pluralist's Synthesis

It is interesting to read how Newbigin influenced someone from a Reformational background (Piet, 1994) with its strong exclusivist teachings — to the point that even those from similar denominations can be rejected as not being true believers. On the mission field Piet found unity of primary importance, and he had to unlearn the tendency to judge co-workers and non-Christians. The backdrop to this is Newbigin's divergence from Barth's notion of absolute discontinuity between the religion with and without Jesus, and following Brunner's natural theology (Hunsberger, 1998:213). This is in line with Newbigin's emerging Theology of Cultural Plurality: communicate in the language of the receptor culture, but contradict and call for conversion — which can only be wrought by God (Hunsberger, 1998:34). The grounds on which he discounts exclusivism (pp.173-174) are not conclusive; he is pulling down self-erected straw men, proving that he does not subscribe to the notion. True, we should not make judgements in God's place, but if there is eternal damnation, then it is still not our job to force people into God's way — the tension should be maintained.

Newbigin's major contribution to the theology of mission is the Doctrine of Election: the emphasis in election is not on the privilege of the individual (salvation) but on the responsibility for the Body (evangelism), initiated by God (Hunsberger, 1998:ch.3); salvation always comes through opening up to a human messenger (p.82). He is emphatic that theology should not start reasoning from abstract attributes of God —leading to contentions about predestination for instance— but with Jesus' work as clearly expounded in Scripture. This interesting angle on the theology of the nature of God illuminates what have might have caused the strife in the first centuries after Christ — we are called to inquire about the nature of God and Christ (Eph.3:18-19), rather a loving attitude and respectful dialogue should be maintained at all times. Christian life may all be about maintaining the tensions, resisting our urge to resolve them, balancing Godly confidence and fear of God; our confidence can lead to complacency, and anxiety to selfishness. The Doctrine of Election is a valid viewpoint, but it does not clarify salvation: how are the saved different from the elect?

The chapter —actually the whole book— is very worthwhile to read and is (except maybe for the preoccupation with a nuclear ecological disaster) still very up-to-date both in it's philosophical and exhortative content, renewing our minds both on worldview issues as Christian attitudes, which is a continuing process where we learn to handle ever more creative tensions, inviting the Spirit for illumination. The work is not original in its content nor scholarly presented (no references or bibliography), but it is a stimulating and provocative read, treating the pluralism on a popular level but with good philosophical insight. Not everything brought up is functional towards the argument, for instance Macnicol (p.171), though still informative and interesting. The underlying order is not always clear, the numbers 1 to 9 on pp.171-176 might better be left out, but there is a definite passion underlying the arguments that is very rewarding to pick up.

The Church's Mission

Always being ready to share the Gospel (1 Peter 3:15), the Church as the body of elected ones should respond to Jesus' commissioning and engage in God's purposes in the broadest sense, working together with people of other persuasions. This reflects both Newbigin's Doctrine of Election and Theology of Cultural Plurality, but his greatest achievement is to maintain the uniqueness and decisiveness of Jesus and yet being open to active dialogue — both on the mission field and with a wide variety of others within the church at large, actively thinking and working through the issues that come up. Let us take up the challenge and do likewise.

Bibliography

Hunsberger, G.R. (1998) Bearing the Witness of the Spirit: Lesslie Newbigin's Theology of Cultural Plurality (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).

Newbigin, J.E.L. (1989) The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (London: SPCK),chh.1,7,14,20.

Piet, J.H. (1994) 'What I owe to Lesslie Newbigin' in T.D. Francis & I. Selvanayagam (eds.) Many Voices in Christian Mission (Madras: CLS), pp.11-25.


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