Monday, February 20, 2012

Christian Discipleship as Both Homely and Heroic

Lesslie Newbigin spent 40 years on the mission field in India. He was also an avid churchman having been "sent" as a Church of Scottland missionary. Though being a Presbyterian minister, he would later become appointed bishop of the Anglican/Protestant body known as the Church of South India. Also, Newbigin would become the Associate General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. One of Newbigin's seminal works was The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. While not an "easy read," nonetheless I've found it to be an extremely helpful book as someone who came to Christ in a parachurch "missions-minded" ministry; yet, later would find myself most captured by a vision of the centrality of the local church in fulfilling the missio Dei (or Great Commission if you prefer). In this section on human culture, I truly appreciate how Newbigin sets up an appropriate and healthy tension the Christian must live in, if she is to live faithfully "in the world" and encourage others to do so as well:

… it will follow that we are called neither to a simple affirmation of human culture nor to a simple rejection of it. We are to cherish human culture as an area in which we live under God’s grace and are given daily new tokens of that grace. But we are called also to remember that we are part of that whole seamless texture of human culture which was shown on the day we call Good Friday to be in murderous rebellion against the grace of God. We have to say both “God accepts human culture” and also “God judges human culture.” There will have to be room in the Christian life for the two attitudes which Von Hügel used to call the homely and the heroic. Christian discipleship can never be all homeliness nor all heroism. It has to have elements of both and it has to learn from day to day when to accept the homely duties of life as it is, and when to take the heroic road of questioning and challenging the accepted ways. It was necessary for the early church, at crucial moments, to take the heroic path and to accept martyrdom rather than submit to what the vast majority of people took for granted. But it was also right that, when the time came with the conversion of Constantine, the Church should accept the role of sustainer and cherisher of the political order. It is right for churches to be dissenting communities challenging accepted norms and structures. It is right also in other circumstances for the Church to be the church for the nation or the parish, the cherisher and sustainer of the ordinary work of the farmer, the judge, and the soldier. What is wrong is the absolutizing of one position against the other and the corresponding ex-communication of those who take the other role. What is needed is the discernment to know, from day to day and from issue to issue, when the one stance is appropriate and the when the other.  The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, pp. 195-96

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