Signs amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History


As I was trying to get my study room organized (finally!), my eyes caught this thin book squeezed in between two other thicker ones. I don’t recall ever finishing the book but I think I did glance through some pages. So, I decided to just jump to the back and read the late Bishop Newbigin’s lectures which touched on “Gospel and Culture”. After reading one, I realized I haven’t signed the book yet and put my usual captions on every book I purchase … I scribbled the following words … “Newbigin never fails to nourish me.”.

Consider the following paragraphs I used my marker to highlight (for a review check out, Witness to the Signs),for now let’s hear Newbigin again.

” … Christianity is what generations of us have made of the gospel, and we know we have often made a mess of it. We’re not talking about religious experience either, because that also is a very ambivalent affair. We’re talking about a factual statement. Namely, that at a certain point in history , the history of the world , God who is the author , the sustainer, the goal of all that exists, of all veing and all meaning and all truth, has become present in our human history as the man Jesus, whom we can know and whom we can love and serve, and that by His incarnation, His ministry, His death and resurrection, He has finally broken the powers and that oppress has created a space and a time in which we who are unholy can nevertheless live in fellowship with God who is holy.” (p. 113)

“…if it is true that all authority is given to Jesus, and that He has thereby created a space and a time in which , in spite of the powers that seem to control us, we can obey Him, then to refrain from telling other people that this is so is not merely to betray the trust that has been given to us by our Lord, but it is also a collusion with the occupying power. It is colluding with that power which deceives human beings into believing that the final authority lies for example in the free market. And that is why it seems to be fundamental that we place at the center of our concern for mission the simple responsibility to tell the story. “(p. 114)

“I know that the responsibilities of politics and economics have to be taken with utter seriousness. Whatever else we do for people — to come to know Jesus, to love Him, to serve Him, to honor Him, to obey Him — that is the greatest thing we can do for anyone and it is the specific thing entrusted to us. It must be the center of our mission.” (p. 115)

“If we accept the fact that the gospel is a factual story about what God has done, we have immediately to say that that story has to be told in a human language. And language is the very heart of culture. It is the key to culture. And therefore there is no gospel which is not already embodied in a culture.” (p. 116)

“… whether we are talking about our own culture or about another one — the crucial question is whether we tell the story, whether we continue to recount the mighty acts of God, whether we continue over and over and over again to read and reread and ponder the story of Jesus, because it is only the telling of the story that can change the meaning of the words we use and the concepts that we entertain.” (p. 117)

“The Christian gospel … affirms that the manisfestation of the sovereignity of God was made not in an overwhelming display of power but in the humiliation of the cross. Moreover, that atoning deed on the cross, which was in fact not defeat but victory, has been made known not as a great public demonstration, which would mean the end of human history, but as a secret communication to a very small company chosen to be witnesses, so that there could be a space and a time within which there is freedom, freedom to dissent, freedom to disbelieve, even freedom to blaspheme, so that there could be freedom for a freely given allegience, so that the rule of God, the kingdom of God, would not be a matter of coerced obedience, but freely given love and obedience, the obedience of loving children.” (p. 118)

“… I plead that we stop arguing about whether or not other people are going to be saved. I do not believe that that is our business. I do not believe we have a mandate to settle those questions. We know from the teaching of Jesus that one thing is sure — that at the end there will be surprises; that those who thought they were in will be out, and those who though they were out will be in. The Bible as a whole and the teaching of Jesus give to us both immensely universalistic visions of the all-embracing power of God to save and to heal, but also and especially in the teaching of Jesus very, very harshwarnings about the possibility of losing the way, about the possibility of being lost, about the broad and inclusive way that leads to destruction and the narrow way, the hard way, that leads to life.” (p. 120)

“… What is the point of missions? And the answer I believe is quite simply is the glory of God. If God has done those things which we repeat in our creed, if God has so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, what is our response to that? Is it an argument about who is going to be saved? Surely not. It is thanksgiving. It is the question, how can I glorify God? How can I respond to that matchless gift? And mission is acting out that question.” (p.120-121)

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