An Insight from Lesslie Newbigin

by Mar 3, 2013Culture, Mission

I laughed out loud at the bolded portion below. This shows some real insight.

Recently I have heard on several occasions Christians accusing one another, either of too much certainty, or of too little. We are all familiar with both accusations. There is, on the one hand, the charge against ‘fundamentalist’ Christians that they are arrogant, bigoted and blind to issues which might call their certainties into question. There is also the counter-charge nicely encapsulated in a collect by the late Ronald Knox:

O Lord, for as much as without Thee
We are not able to doubt Thee,
Grant us the grace
To tell the whole race
We know nothing whatever about Thee.

Is there a stable position between these two extremes where a Christian can stand with confidence?

It is worth noting at the outset that this kind of debate goes on only in a limited part of our intellectual world. One does not hear the same kind of slanging match going on among scientists. They are in the habit of making confident statements about what is the case without, apparently, being troubled by the charge of arrogance. To put the matter in another way, there is a large area of our public life where pluralism does not reign. When two scientists, one in Chicago and the other in Tokyo, conduct the same experiment but come up with radically different results, they do not take it as an opportunity for celebrating the joy of living in a pluralist society. They do not put the difference down to differences in culture or the psychology of the two scientists. They argue the matter until they find a resolution to the difference, either by showing that one is wrong, or that both are only partially right. Our shared intellectual world thus has a rift down the middle: on one side one can use the language of assured certainty without incurring the charge of bigotry; on the other side one cannot. A Ph.D. student in this university recently wrote to me with the following problem: he had submitted the outline for his proposed dissertation. It had been accepted by his supervisor except for one chapter which he was told to remove, since it dealt with matters of faith, not of fact, and was therefore inadmissible. Faith is one thing, facts are something else. Let us examine this dichotomy.

Lesslie Newbigin, “Certain Faith: What Kind of Certainty?” Tyndale Bulletin 44:2 (Cambridge: Tyndale House, 1993), 337-40.

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