May 30, 2020

The Man Behind the Curtain: Lesslie Newbigin (SATIRE!)

newbigin.jpgBHT fellow and soon to be philosophy professor Joel Hunter penned this stinging piece of satire (that’s SATIRE) about the man who really needs to be held responsible for all these postmodern, missional, contemplative woes. It’s missionary statesman and missional thinker Lesslie Newbigin. Read and be shocked. (SATIRE AHEAD.)

While we’re measuring one another for our ability to prevent heresy, we might as well throw Lesslie Newbigin under the bus, too exercise discernment and offer honest criticism of Lesslie Newbigin’s teaching, too. After all, he’s a big part of this whole truth-denying, heresy-coddling, postmodern revisionism that the gospel is something other than cultural confrontation. He actually thought that missiology had to adjust in light of the increasing pluralization of Western society. Well, let’s just discern this little chap, shall we?

A. He was a bishop (an unbiblical church office) in the Church of South India, which is in communion with the Church of England (lot of good he did–they’re more pagan than ever–can anyone say ‘Druids’?) and other baby-baptizers. Yes, discerning friends, the same “church” of England in which N. T. Wright is a … bishop! Yes, the same “church” that practices the idolatry of vestments and clerical collars and other such claptrap.

B. Therefore, as seems to be required of all COE and like-minded bishops, we have to assume that Newbigin denies imputation and the core doctrine of justification by faith alone.

C. He spent time as a “missionary” in India. Sounds good, right? Not so fast. He lived too much like the natives. He didn’t have one of the better homes in Kottur Puram or otherwise attempt to make himself socially remote from the Hindu people and culture. He actually thought that to communicate the gospel in India, “You obviously had to take seriously the whole Hindu worldview, with its great elements of rationality and strength, which I found enormously impressive.” Yes, that’s a quote. No, it doesn’t sound anything like what a rational, American fundamentalist would say, does it? He finds Hinduism “enormously impressive?” Are you kidding me? Pshaw.

D. This proves that he was so immersed in the Hindu worldview that he had adopted (we’ll be gracious and assume unconsciously) Eastern mysticism. We shouldn’t be surprised to learn if he made a pilgrimmage to Gethsemani to compare notes with Merton. These mystical types who abandon knowledge and God-given logic are all alike.

E. So of course advocates of postmodern thought have embraced Newbigin’s contemplative, mystical, unbiblical approach to missions. Peas in a pod. Nothing new under the sun. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Birds of a feather.

F. Given this pedigree, why would any Bible-loving, teetotalling Christian willingly associate himself with Newbigin’s teaching?

G. As if that weren’t enough, he was appointed associate general secretary of the World Council of Churches! He appeared before this apostate ecumenical body’s conference on World Mission and Evangelism as late as 1996, at which time he proposed that the conference commit itself to unequivocal witness to the gospel of hope in Jesus Christ “so that all may come to know and love Jesus.” As to be expected, no mention of repentance or God’s holy justice.

I think the evidence speaks for itself. I’m not saying that Newbigin is all bad, mind you, but given these associations, I think it is pretty clear that any discerning Christian will want to exercise serious discernment in order to discern the Truth when reading anything by Newbigin (or his followers). Don’t be disarmed by Newbigin’s presbyterian pedigree. That’s no guarantee of Reformed orthodoxy as the teachings, influence and endorsements of Tim Keller make abundantly clear. Yes, even an apparent angel of light can deceive the very elect if we are not on our guard. The surprising extent of Newbigin’s connections to the spirit of the age raise the very real possibility that he is the nexus that links all of the apostate movements that we have identified, not least of which include Eastern mysticism and contemplative spirituality, postmodernism, the emerging “church,” ecumenicism, NPP, FV and APR, McLaren, Driscoll, paganism, and human sacrifice.

You can be sure that we here at Discern You Into the Ground Ministries will be ever-vigilant against the Newbigin threat. You can thank us later. I’m sure you will.


  1. What’s APR?

  2. Dunno

  3. centuri0n says

    While it’s a funny piece (as far as it can be funny; it’s satirizing a self-satirizing branch of discourse), do any of you guys find Newbigin’s view of pluralism vs. exclusivism troubling in some way — even if it’s not the same trouble I have with it?

  4. Let me quote the larger context of one of the quotes Joel used in this post:

    “And you see this is the kind of issue that one faced in trying to communicate the gospel in India. You obviously had to take seriously the whole Hindu worldview, with its great elements of rationality and strength, which I found enormously impressive. In that kind of situation you have to ask yourself, not ‘How can we fit the gospel into this?’, but, ‘At what points does the gospel illuminate this, at what points does it question it, at what points does it contradict it?’

    But one has to express those things in a way which the listening Hindu will recognise as his own language. That’s the crucial thing. And that I think was the difficulty, because if you’re going to use another language, you’re at least provisionally accepting the way of understanding the world which that language embodies, and you therefore have to commit yourself to the other worldview, at least up to that point – but in order to challenge it.”

    In order to challenge it. In order to challenge it.

    That’s my understanding of Newbigin and everything he represents in missional thinking. I am contextualized with my students, and I am obligated to understand their worldview and culture in order to communicate with it and to challenge it with the Gospel.

    The battle we are fighting here is with the insistence of many that to get to that point is itself a compromise of the essentials of the Gospel, and that the only platform for communication is the assumption that I have no context when I have an open Bible and and a sermon.

  5. APR = Annual Percentage Rate

  6. joel hunter says

    Rick: APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Lame joke, I know.

    centuri0n: not sure what you mean by “pluralism vs. exclusivism” (did you mean inclusivism vs. exclusivism?), so the following remarks may be irrelevant to your concern. Pluralism can be descriptive or normative. So can exclusivism. The least controversial aspect of pluralism is descriptive: we can look around America in the 21st century and come to the fairly straight-forward conclusion that classical Christianity is a minority culture today. The more controversial aspect of pluralism is normative: ought we be a minority culture? If so, how do we interact with the broader, secular culture and the disparate and fragmented subcultures? Can we be faithful to the gospel and at the same time content with our minority status? Are we looking back lamenting the loss of a christian “heritage” (whether real or imagined) or forward in eager expectancy of what God will do with diminished numbers in the midst of an aggressive secularized culture?

    I think Newbigin’s missiology is right on the money. Michael highlighted “challenge” as the end of his approach. I would add that a crucial step along the way is “illuminate.” This is where controversy erupts. Where one might fear Newbigin’s call for commitment to others as the wide-open path to inclusivism, another might see it as an opportunity to get in the thick of God’s common grace. The gospel illuminates; the law condemns. But illumination is not acquiescence to a worldview. Illumination also highlights the shadows and darker corners. That’s subversive and the gospel of grace excels at undermining everyone’s elaborate ways of self-justification. I think when you interact with the committed believer of another major religion, you will have lots of opportunities to illuminate them (as well as be illuminated yourself), for you will share with that person a view of the world that is explicitly religious and theological, more or less coherent and comprehensive. Since all of creation, including man’s deepest longings and hopes and fears, proclaim the glory of God for one who trains the ear to hear, I think with patient care and true sacrifice, you will find the points at which you are scaling the same pyramid with the other (to borrow an image from C. S. Lewis).

    A caveat. I don’t think it’s so easy to take this strategy of dialogue with other world religions and apply it to contemporary American cultures. Too much of the fractured, confused stories that our less explicitly religious neighbors hold are a mishmash of individual preferences, commodified platitudes and nostalgic tokens clung to amidst the blur of frenetic change and activity. In many ways, we’re in the same boat with them so it should be easier to dialogue. But what they lack is the overarching, coherent story of what’s going on. All in all, I think Newbigin’s strategy is more difficult to embody in our own communities than it is, say, with a Sufi Muslim.

    Why take the trouble to learn another worldview so extensively? One answer you would get comes from a very popular approach to worldview thinking, e.g., Jim Sire’s, which says to compare the claims of the other worldview according to the interpretive grid of Creation, Fall, Redemption. Find where its narrative goes “wrong” and attack those points. I don’t like this approach. Too intellectualized, too abstract and remote from the thick of life. It seems “safer” because you’re clearly not trying to shoehorn the gospel into a foreign context. But I don’t think it illuminates that foreign context either. And I don’t think a challenge to someone’s worldview will be taken seriously unless, as Newbigin says, you really commit yourself to the other worldview. It’s the difference between looking at a pair of glasses on the display case and actually trying them on to see what the world looks like when you wear them. The latter is risky, and we are human and fallible after all, but I do believe it is truer to the NT witness of what our wandering little newly-freed community in Christ is supposed to look like and act like in the world. What we bear witness to is not the “solution” to a “problem,” nor true teachings over false teachings, nor the perfection of what others have only imperfectly, but a token, the firstfruits, of what God has purposed for the world. We don’t have it because of a superior or correct worldview or by winning the denominational lottery, but by lives lived in the grace of God through Word and sacrament, by which we are continually brought back to the cross, sometimes even by the judgment of the other (cf. Luke 11:31-32). This is the gospel mandate of “engagement” that has, truth be told, even an element of self-interest in it.

    It sounds like you’ve already studied Newbigin, but in case you haven’t gotten to these works, do check out:
    Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture
    The Gospel in a Pluralist Society
    The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission

    Thanks for reading.

  7. APR = Alabama Public Radio, hosting “A Prarie Home Companion – The Movie” in Tuscaloosa this weekend… and I think we can all discern Garrison Keillor’s religious convictions, can’t we?

  8. … when reading anything by Newbigin (or his followers)

    Or even someone who quotes one of his followers briefly.