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Rethinking Apologetics with Newbigin

Author: Krish Kandiah
Date: 01.05.2010
Category: Truth and Pluralism

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New beginnings in apologetics and evangelism – a personal journey with Lesslie Newbigin Dr Krish Kandiah

It felt like a hurricane had swept through the mental furniture of my Christian faith and displaced everything I was used to. And yet the chaos left in its wake strangely seemed to feel more appropriate, more alive, more like home. On that one and only face to face encounter with an elderly gentleman in a crowded lounge in Birmingham I experienced something unforgettable that sent me off on a journey. Fifteen years later I am still on that journey as I seek to present the gospel more effectively and engage with contemporary culture. Lesslie Newbigin, evangelist, ecumenist, bishop, thinker, writer and without doubt the most significant missiologist of his generation, continues to have an enduring impact not only on my life but on missional theology and practice one hundred years after he was born. Beginnings A proudly conservative evangelical student worker with Universities and College Christian Fellowship at the time I admit to having been somewhat sceptical when my team leader invited Lesslie Newbigin to speak to us. Back then I was devouring the classic North American apologetic texts as a result of listening to the book recommendations on cassette recordings of Ravi Zacharias: William Lane Craig’s “Apologetics – an introduction” (Craig 1984), Norman Geisler’s “Christian Apologetics” (Geisler 1993) and J.P. Moreland’s “Scaling the Secular City” (Moreland 1987) . I felt confident that I could provide rock solid arguments for the existence of God, humiliating anyone who dared challenge me as my model was the approach carefully expounded in the appendix of Zacharias’ “Can Man live without God” (Zacharais 1994, 181ff). I was also more than happy to systematically conclude my apologetic demolitions with a traditional four-point gospel summary complete with memorised proof texts. Little did I know that what Newbigin was to talk about for the following four hours would shake my confidence in that system to the core and reboot my whole thinking on evangelism, mission and the church.

At that time – the mid-nineties – all our training seemed to revolve around “postmodernism” and it was on that topic that Lesslie Newbigin had been invited to speak. As the frail elderly gentleman sat in front of us reading his typed script with a ruler that acted as a magnifying glass, it was hard to imagine that he could know and minister to the ‘postmodern’ student scene better than us. He had studied at Cambridge back in the 1920’s and 30’s and was very clearly part of the Student Christian Movement even working for them briefly. But on that cold morning in Birmingham, we literally sat at the feet of a world-class missiologist and listened to an alternative exposition of the history of western culture, the central significance of the doctrine of election, an epistemic humility that undercut the post-modern critique without regressing to modernist foundationalism and a bad Latin joke on the transition from Cartesianism to consumerism (Cogito ergo sum transformed to Tesco ergo sum).

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Keywords: lesslie newbigin, missiology, evangelism

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