Society & Politics

Book Review of The Gospel in a Pluralist Society


Gillian Chu

No doubt pluralism is a popular buzzword for our generation. Through this book, Newbigin pointed out just how pluralistic our society is, and what role the gospel and its believers should play within such an environment. Originating from a series of lectures Newbigin gave at Glasgow University in 1988, this book drew extensively from his personal experience as a pastor and a missionary, alongside references from other missionaries throughout the centuries. The abundance of real life examples brought his points to life.

This book was structured to first provide a definition on pluralistic culture, which he defined as embracing different choices in life without passing any absolute value judgment. He then addressed how this mindset worked against the gospel. Arguments for why the gospel should be regarded as the universal truth were then proposed, and finally, pointers were given to the disciples of Christ for what they should do in proclaiming the gospel. This book started off with analyzing the theoretical aspects of the topic, but ended with very practical suggestions, seamlessly weaving chapters together to present a comprehensive view of the topic in a logical progression.

Newbigin suggested that the concept of a secular society is merely a myth, where in fact we live in a pagan society that replaced God with other gods of the world in an attempt to fulfill the needs of the human spirit. According to Newbigin, it is difficult to preach the gospel in the contemporary context since any claims to announcing the gospel as true will be dismissed as ignorance and arrogance, with Christianity evaluated as a value and not a fact. To make the matter worse, many Christians would go out of their way to make sure they do not seem arrogant, voluntarily compromising the gospel in favour of catering to other opinions.

I find it disappointing to face the harsh realities of the church being seen as a voluntary society of personal choice and the gospel as one element of the society where pluralism is the main ideology. As a corrective, Newbigin redefined missions as not only something we do far away from home, but an action plan for local churches of the Western world, set amidst political correctness and religious diversity. Newbigin proposed “contextualize without compromise,” which means even though we need to be sensitive to the needs of others, it should not be a factor that overrides the Scripture. This book demonstrates the fact that preaching the gospel is never out-dated. In a world that is more pluralistic than ever, it is surprising how relevant this book still is even when it was written over two decades ago, without the internet or any social media.

The idea that stuck with me the most from this book is how election is not God playing favourites. Since human beings were seen in biblical times as collective member of a family, nobody was thought of as being saved privately or individually. In our individualistic society, it is difficult to even begin to comprehend how a religion that affects the individual will change society as a whole. However, Newbigin suggested that God intended for everyone to be saved, just that those chosen by God need to serve as the bearers of salvation to others, not merely be proud and content with themselves for being elected. There are many who have attempted to explain election, and while we can never be sure which theory is correct, this explanation is certainly in a language that both non-believers and believers can understand and appreciate.

Christianity is to indwell in a world while trying to understand it from within at the same time. As Newbigin puts it, “Christians living in the contemporary world must speak multiple first languages, and be able to communicate both with society's cultural lingo and the gospel.” The gospel never lives in a timeless vacuum, which is why we should make it our aim to speak fluently in the world’s language, so that non-believers who stumble upon churches will be able to hear the gospel in a language that they can understand and hopefully respond to. Yet, with our competence in cultural knowledge, we should still strive to stand firm in the gospel and assess the culture through it. Newbigin encouraged Christians to develop a confident theological stance within a pluralistic world and to further solidify one's stance through understanding the stance of others. This book certainly gives a lot of room for us to do so.

Source: Marketplace Institute

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