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Effectively Engaging Pluralism and Postmodernism in a So-Called Post-Christian Culture


Newbigin ends with what has been his insistent emphasis throughout, that “the gospel cannot be accommodated as one element in a society” according to the “reigning ideology” of pluralism. This would entail the domestication and privatization of the gospel. That would involve an illicit expression of the message of the Kingdom of God—which is essentially God’s rule over all things. He argues that the Church must therefore “claim the high ground of public truth.” Here the local Christian congregation is the “hermeneutic of the gospel.” In other words, the public credibility and intelligibility of the gospel is established primarily in “a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.” Ministerial leadership for these missionary congregations should, often quite apart from traditional ministerial training, nourish, sustain, and guide them in their priestly work, or lead them in claiming their whole life, public and personal, for God’s rule. In conclusion Newbigin observes that in an age of pluralism the Church’s constituency and ministry often fall into self-defeating attitudes of timidity and anxiety. He recommends confidence in the gospel. Christians must not allow popular opinion to shape their concept of gospel truth. Conversely, their trust in God as the source of their effectiveness and fruitfulness should encourage them in all things.

Newbigin’s climactic conclusion reinforces an impression that has been building throughout the book regarding his response to pluralism, postmodernism, and the overall post-Christian condition. Think of Newbigin as a general in God’s spiritual cavalry. General Newbigin’s strategy is not to have the bugler sound “Retreat!” before the encroaching hordes but rather to blow “Charge!” as he bravely gallops into battle. Newbigin is convinced that Christianity is a victorious faith well able to face all the odds against it. His conviction is often contagious.

As a means of ascertaining whether Newbigin’s approach is amenable to Pentecostalism, let’s briefly explore how it affects his pneumatology. He fairly frequently lifts up the essential significance of the Holy Spirit for contemporary Christian experience, thought, and practice in a number of vital ways. For example, he unstintingly stresses “the active work of the Spirit” in the Christian community in its witness to the world. Also, he affirms that in the present age of vulnerability “signs will be given of the presence of the kingdom, the power of the Spirit” over against the powers of darkness in this world. Again, the Church carries out its mission in the power of the Holy Spirit as it becomes “the place where the Spirit speaks and acts.” That the kingdom is made present in the Church as “its foretaste, firstfruit, and pledge (arrabōn) in the Spirit” seems an especially strong and repeatedly stated emphasis. And Newbigin outlines the Holy Spirit’s role in the Church’s apocalyptic and eschatological hope and in present day mission (“not an achievement of the Church but a work of the Spirit”). The “witness of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of others” is what makes missions possible. The centrality and essentiality of the Spirit for Newbigin shows in his description of full-orbed Christianity: “the total life of a community enabled by the Spirit to live in Christ, sharing in his passion and the power of his resurrection.” He emphatically argues that the event that changed the entire course of early Christianity was not a rationalized step but when “the Holy Spirit was freely given to uncircumcised believers.” In light of Newbigin’s robust pneumatology, there seems to be no noteworthy reason Pentecostals may not benefit positively from his approach to pluralism and postmodernism. In other words, no surreptitious compromise of basic Pentecostal Christian convictions is at stake. Doubtlessly Pentecostals could effectively adapt and apply these deliberations.


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Category: Fall 2007, Ministry

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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