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

4.4 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

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."

From the Back Cover

This book is a somewhat expanded version of the Warfield Lectures given at Princeton Theological Seminary in March 1984.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Eerdmans (June 1, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802801765
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802801760
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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In Lesslie Newbigin’s book Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, he lays out what he believes to be the best way to reach western culture with the gospel, by looking at several issues in our western society. He will survey post-enlightenment culture, Scripture, the dialogue between Christianity and Science, the dialogue between Christianity and Politics, as well as the role and purpose of the Church. The aim of his book is stated in chapter one,
My purpose in these chapters is to consider what would be involved in a genuinely missionary encounter between the gospel and the culture that it shared by the peoples of Europe and North America, their colonial and cultural off-shoots, and the growing company of educated leaders in the cities of the world—the culture which those of us who share it usually describe as “modern” (Newbigin, Foolishness, 1).

Newbigin writes his book from the perspective of a missionary to India. He sets out to engage western culture on the basis of the way they perceive, think, and live. In chapter one, Newbigin argues that the cultural values of western society have so infused with the values of Christianity, that the two have often been confused. From his perspective as a missionary, Newbigin shows the dangers of this idea,
...It implied that what the missionary brought with him was the pure gospel, which had to be adapted to the receptor culture. It tended to obscure the fact that the gospel as embodied in the missionary’s preaching and practice was already an adapted gospel, shaped by his or her own culture (Newbigin, 2).
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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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