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Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture Paperback – June 1, 1988

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 5.2.1988 edition (June 1, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802801765
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802801760
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,797 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Myron S. Augsburger
--in Mission Focus
"This is an extraordinary book on contemporary missiology. Writing from four decades of experience in Christian mission, Lesslie Newbigin applies the same discernment involved in contextualizing the gospel in another culture to the issues involved in contextualizing the gospel in our Western culture. He lays bare the pervasive and subtle synergism that alters the gospel, and he calls us to a thorough critique of our culture and of the way in which we understand or misunderstand the gospel of Christ. . . Important reading for a stimulating perspective on the gospel and Western culture."

Tim Stafford
--in Christianity Today
"Newbigin's analysis is the best part of this stimulating book. I do not know of another such brilliantly comprehensive treatment of Western society."

Gottfried Oosterwal
--in Missiology
"The central question posed by Bishop Newbigin in this stimulating book is: What would be involved in a genuinely missionary encounter between the gospel and Western culture? . . . The result is a very profound study. . . Newbigin has given us a masterful analysis of the essential features of Western culture and has pointed the way for an effective missionary encounter."

David Heim
--in The Christian Century
"Newbigin's missionary enthusiasm and his experience in cross-cultural missions make this book far more invigorating than the usual disquisition on the problems of belief in the modern age. . . With his vast learning worn very lightly and, above all, with a deep commitment to the gospel, Newbigin pierces some holes in the secular plausibility structure that Christians have come in large part to accept."

About the Author

(1909-1998) Lesslie Newbigin was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne, U.K., in 1909. He completed his undergraduate studies in Cambridge and then served as Staff Secretary of the Student Christian Movement in Glasgow, Scotland. He studied theology at Westminster College at Cambridge and was ordained by the Presbytery of Edinburgh, Church of Scotland in 1936. That same year Newbigin married Helen Henderson and the two of them left for India where he was to be missionary of the Church of Scotland.

In 1947 Reverend Newbigin was consecrated Bishop in the Church of South India, formed by the union of Anglican, Methodist, and Reformed churches. He also served on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches and as Chairman of the Advisory Committee on the main theme of the Second Assembly. Other members of the committee included famous theologians such as Barth, Brunner, and Niebuhr

In 1959 Newbigin was called to be General Secretary of the International Missionary Council with offices in London and New York. He was responsible for carrying through final negotiations for the merger with the World Council of Churches. In 1962 he became the first director of the Division of World Mission and Evangelism, and Associate General Secretary of the World Council of Churches with headquarters in Geneva.

In 1965 he was recalled by the Church of South India as Bishop in Madras and remained there until his retirement in 1974. He lived in London, England, until his death in 1998.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Peter L. Edman on October 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent resource that presents a fresh approach to its topics and offers a creative and effective presentation of the role of theology in public life and discourse. I would say that its minor weakness would be an incomplete understanding of economics and an (understandable, given the time of its writing) preoccupation with the polarity between capitalism and communism. The result is that Newbigin's economic critique is a bit off-target. There are legitimate critiques of capitalism to make from his perspective but they require a better appreciation of the virtues of capitalism than he demonstrates. One hopes a latter day disciple will issue a fresh edition with a new foreword that could address this minor shortcoming in an otherwise superb small volume.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By John Pittard on August 10, 2005
Format: Paperback
In this work, Newbigin explores the relationship of Christianity to power with a searching honesty that few others have matched. While appreciative of Christendom's accomplishments, Newbigin suggests that the power granted the church in Christendom overestimates Christians' grasp of the truth and underestimates the tendency for power to corrupt the church. But the failures of Christendom do not thereby justify completely abandoning the attempt to influence the powers of secular society. Newbigin forcefully argues that Christians cannot simply set aside efforts to influence worldly powers in favor of "sectarian protest" against those powers. Society and it institutions will be guided by some vision of the good life (they cannot be neutral in this regard), and if that vision is the wrong one, much needless harm and spiritual suffering will result. In service to the world, then, Christians must offer their vision of the good life as the truth which should guide individuals and their institutions. Newbigin attempts to articulate an intermediate position (along the lines suggested by Abraham Kuyper) that falls somewhere between Christendom and sectarian protest. Serious questions may be raised about Newbigin's proposal, but his unwillingness to settle for the extremes makes this work a wonderful launching point for further reflection. Whatever model one adopts for Christian activity in the secular sphere, Newbigin suggests that for any engagement with secular culture to be successful Christians will have to first grapple with postmodern pessimism towards the concepts of truth and knowledge. Newbigin considers postmodernity's legitimate insights into the relationship between knowledge and power but moves beyond postmodern skepticism to sketch an epistemology that is appropriately humble yet also hopeful about the possibility of gaining insight into the truth.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Darren Cronshaw on March 31, 2010
Format: Paperback
Lesslie Newbigin Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986).

Reviewed by Darren Cronshaw

Newbigin was a missionary in India for nearly 40 years and when he returned to England analysed modern Western culture from the perspective of an outsider using tools of cross-cultural communication. He urged treating the West as a mission field; 'a pagan society ... far more resistant to the gospel than the pre-Christian paganism with which cross-cultural missions have been familiar. ... the most challenging missionary frontier of our time.' (p.20).

Central to his discussion is how biblical authority can be a reality for those who are shaped by Western culture, and he goes on to consider the interaction of the gospel with science, politics, and economics. Since Newbigin the world has moved on, but he understood how the world had changed because of modernity and foresaw how it was changing with new trends. He articulated how the world is seen from a scientific framework, but also recognised the influence of new science. He commented on Augustine's relevance and Thomas Kuhn's theory of scientific revolutions and paradigm shifts which are important to understand for our modern/postmodern transition. He argued the church should not be relegated to the private sphere, but neither is it a new political order. Although written twenty years ago and with only glimpses of postmodern thought, his conclusions are still worth hearing about the need for freedom, dialogue, "declericalized" theology, local ecumenical efforts, looking at cultures with the help of outside perspectives, and learning to proclaim truth with categories that ultimately can't be proved within modern frameworks.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sam Creagar on September 21, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of the greatest works of philosophy and Christian theology I have ever read. Newbigin's exegesis of American Culture and misunderstanding of true, biblical freedom has impacted the way I interact with my faith, Scripture, and the world around me. Read this book. Read it often. It can be a difficult read (his flow is a bit circular at times), but the content is WELL worth the effort.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Shawn Woo on February 8, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Much like Hellenistic civilization at the zenith of its influence, modern Western civilization is the most pervasive and persuasive contemporary culture in the world today. While there has been much discussion on “contextualization” in missiological writings, argues Lesslie Newbigin, the problems of contextualization in this predominate, Western culture has been largely ignored–mainly due to the fact that most of the missiological perspectives are themselves saturated with Western culture. To this situation, Newbigin, the Church of Scotland missionary who was one of the first bishops in the Church of South India, brings fresh cross-cultural lens through which he casts a vision of a genuine missionary encounter between the Gospel of Christ and modern Western culture.

Newbigin identifies the plausibility structure, or the worldview, within which modern Western culture operates as Enlightenment rationalism: “Reason, so understood, is sovereign in this enterprise. It cannot bow before any authority than what it calls the facts. No alleged divine revelation, no tradition however ancient, and no dogma however hallowed has the right to veto its exercise” (25). Rationalism, and its offspring scientific naturalism, separate the public world of facts and the private world of values, and effectively exclude the possibility of divine revelation in human history and thus eliminate teleology altogether.

The brilliance of Newbigin’s critique of modern Western culture lies in his ability to subvert its plausibility structure from within.
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