Doing some reading for an upcoming message led me to pick up Leslie Newbigin’s, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. It is always encouraging when you read a missiologist who epxresses what you sense and feel you are guilty of and so also a number of well-intentioned evangelical Christians.
The idea of a “domesticated gospel” is not new. In fact reading over at Natalie’s site it seems some have made it a sport to satirize the very subculture from which came the critique. We often know ourselves better than we are willing to admit.
Judge for yourselves whether or not Newbigin offers an interesting insight.
But inexorably we move on to the point where the Bible is subjected to the scrutiny of reason and conscience and is found to be full of inconsistencies, absurdities, tall storied, and plain immorality.
What is striking about the books which were written, especially during the eighteenth century, to defend Christianity agsint these attacks, is the degree to which they accept the assumptions of their assailants. Christianity is defended as being reasonable. It can be accomodated within these assumptions, which all reasonable people hold. There is little suggestion that the assumptions themselves are to be challenged. The defense is, in fact, a tactical retreat. But, as later history has shown, these tactical retreats can – if repeated often enough – begin to look more like a rout.
Perphaps the experience of a foreign missionary may usefully illuminate my point I wish to make. When I was a young missionary I used to spend one evening each week in the monastery of the Rmakrishna Mission in the town where I lived, sitting on the floor with the monks studying wwith them the Upanishads and the Gospels. In the great hall of the monastery, as in all the premises of the Ramakrishna MIssion, there is a gallery of portraits of the great religious teachers of humankind. Among them, of course, is a portrait of Jesus. Each year on Christmas Day worship is offered before this picture. Jesus was honored, worshippped, as one of the many manifestations of deity in the course of human history. To me, as a foreign missionary, it was obvious that this was not a step toward the conversion of India. It was the cooption of Jesus into the Hindu worldview. Jesus had become just one figure in the endless cycle of karma and samsara, the wheel of being in which we are call caught up. He had been domesticated into the Hindu worldview. That view remained unchallenged. It was only slowly, through many experiences, that I began to se that something of this domestication had taken place in my own Christianity, that I too had been more ready to seek a “reasonable Christianity,” a Christianity that could be defended on the terms of my whole intellectual formation as a twentieth-century Englishman, rather than something which place my whole intellectual formation under a new and critical light. I too, had been guilty of domesticating the gospel. (p.2-3)