Archive for the ‘Lesslie Newbigin’ Tag

Devotion for Proper 18, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Joseph Interprets Dreams in Prison, by Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow

Image in the Public Domain

God, the Genuine Article

SEPTEMBER 10, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Genesis 40 or Isaiah 44:1-8

Psalm 21

1 Corinthians 9:1-16

Matthew 12:38-50


The most succinct summary of the readings from the Hebrew Bible I can muster is that God is the genuine article.  God, who is reliable, mighty, and merciful, is worthy of all praise.  The context in Genesis 40 is the interpretation of dreams of the Pharaoh.  The setting in Isaiah 44 is the prediction of restoration after the Babylonian Exile.  In Psalm 21 a Jewish monarch praises God.

Matthew 12:38-50 has much occurring theologically in it.  The element that attracts my attention today is spiritually fictive kinship (verses 46-50).  This concept comforts many of my fellow Christians, those rejected their relatives.  Matthew 12:38-50 fits neatly with Matthew 10:34-39, among other passages.

It was a kinship in short supply in the Corinthian church and between that congregation and St. Paul the Apostle.  He apparently felt the need to defend himself and his traveling companions against allegations, some of which he might have anticipated.

Personalities and perceptions can be troublesome.  Perceptions can be false yet tenacious.  One might be deeply entrenched in a false religion or mindset that objective reality contradicts.  To quote John Adams,

Facts are stubborn things.

Yet objectively false conclusions are frequently more stubborn.  This is why fact-based arguments fail much of the time.  It would be different if one were debating the great English linguist and moralist Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), but how many of us are in his league?

Then there is truth we cannot prove via Enlightenment Modernism.  This is a major problem with much of Christian apologetics, for work in that field has a flawed methodology.  And, as the great Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) taught, Jesus of Nazareth is the sole basis of the truth of the Gospel, and to appeal to any outside standard to prove the truth of the Gospel is to make that outside standard more important than the Gospel.

No, God, is the genuine article.  Some truth one must accept on faith, or not at all.  Enlightenment Modernism and the scientific method are valid in many projects; we should embrace them as far as they can take us.  Yet when they run out, there is God, the genuine article.









Week of Proper 16: Friday, Year 2   3 comments

Above:  Victory of the Resurrection

Foolishness or Wisdom?

AUGUST 26, 2022


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


1 Corinthians 1:17-25 (The Jerusalem Bible):

For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the Good News, and not to preach that in the terms of philosophy in which the crucifixion of Christ cannot be expressed.  The language of the cross may be illogical to those who are not on the way to salvation, but those of us who are on the way see it as God’s power to save.  As scripture says:

I shall destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing all the learning of the learned.  Where are the philosophers now?  Where are the scribes?

Where are any of our thinkers today?  Do you see now how God has shown up the foolishness of human wisdom?  It was God’s wisdom that human wisdom should not know God, it was because God wanted to save those who have faith through the foolishness of the message that we preach.  And so, while the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, here are we preaching a crucified Christ; to the Jews an obstacle that they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God.  For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Psalm 33:1-11 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous;

it is good for the just to sing praises.

2 Praise the LORD with the harp;

play to him upon the psaltery and lyre.

3 sing for him a new song;

sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet.

4 For the word of the LORD is right,

and all of his works are sure.

5 He loves righteousness and justice;

the loving-kindness of the LORD fills the whole earth.

By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,

by the breath of his mouth all the heavenly hosts.

7 He gathers up the waters of the ocean as in a water-skin

and stores up the depths of the sea.

8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;

let all who dwell in the world stand in awe of him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to pass;

he commanded, and it stood fast.

10 The LORD brings the will of the nations to naught;

he thwarts the designs of the peoples.

11 But the LORD’s will stands fast for ever,

and the designs of his heart from age to age.

Matthew 25:1-13 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this:  Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five sensible:  the foolish ones did take their lamps, but they brought no oil, whereas the sensible ones took flasks of oil as well as their lamps.  The bridegroom was late, and they all grew drowsy and fell asleep.  But at midnight there was a cry.  ’The bridegroom is here!  Go out and meet him.’  At this, all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps, and the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil:  our lamps are going out.’  But they replied, ‘There may not be enough for us and for you; you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves.’  They had gone off to buy it when the bridegroom arrived.  Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall and the door was closed.  The other bridesmaids arrived later.  ’Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us.’  But he replied, ‘I tell you solemnly, I do not know you.’  So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.


The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The late Lesslie Newbigin, a Presbyterian minister and missionary, later a bishop in the Church of South India, and, at the end of his life, a minister in The United Reformed Church (in Great Britain), disapproved of Christian apologetics which attempted to make Christianity seem reasonable to conventional standards.  For Newbigin, the basis of proper Christian confidence is the person of Jesus himself, not any external, culturally accepted wisdom or an allegedly infallible book.  Newbigin, hardly a Fundamentalist, wrote a small volume entitled Proper Confidence:  Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Eerdmans, 1995).    In it he quoted this day’s passage from 1 Corinthians.  And he concluded the book with this paragraph:

The confidence proper to a Christian is not the confidence of one who claims possession of demonstrable and indubitable knowledge.  It is the confidence of one who had heard and answered the call that comes from God through whom and for whom all things were made:  “Follow me.”–page 105

I have read and reread Proper Confidence carefully.  Many of Newbigin’s points make sense to me, but I struggle with others.  I am, to a great extent, a product of the Enlightenment–most a positive time, I remain convinced.  I do like freedom of press, conscience, and religion–all Enlightenment ideals.  I appreciate Newbigin’s critique of Fundamentalism and repudiation of biblical literalism.  Yet his critique of Cartesian Rationalism hits too close to home for me.  Nevertheless, I keep the book and consult it from time to time.  And my opinion of it has changed since the first time I read it.

All that said, I agree with Newbigin’s core argument, which he took from Paul:  God defies human wisdom.  I call myself a Christian.  So, if I am intellectually honest and not hypocritical, I must follow Jesus, whose crucifixion is a historical fact but whose resurrection defies reason.  Yet that resurrection is essential to the truth of Christianity; without the resurrection, we have a dead Jesus.

So, for those of “us who are being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18, New Revised Standard Version), or, as The Jerusalem Bible renders the same text, “those of us who are on the way [to salvation]”–the message of the cross is that of God’s saving power.  We stand in the presence of God, to whom our standards of wisdom and truth are irrelevant.  No wonder so many find Jesus baffling, even scandalous!  Yet God is what God is, has done what God has done, does what God does, and will do what God will do.  May we seek and succeed in following God.