“Neither at the beginnig, nor at any subsequent time, is there and can there be a gospel that is not embodied in a culturally conditioned form of words. The idea that one can or could at any time separate out by some process of distillation a pure gospel unadulterated by any cultural accretions is an illusion. It is, in fact, an abandonment of the gospel, for the gospel is about the word made flesh. Every statement of the gospel in words is conditioned by the culture of which those words are apart, and every style of life that claims to embody the truth of the gospel is a culturally conditioned style of life. There can never be a culture-free gospel. Yet the gospel, which is from the beginning to the end embodied in culturally conditioned forms, calls into question all cultures, including the one in which it was originally embodied.”

Leslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks, pg. 4

I’ve been thinking about Newbigin’s thoughts on how the gospel and culture relate to one another. Here Newbigin is looking at the gospel as a proclamation, an announcement, and is saying that the words of that announcement are always culturally conditioned, and that any lifestyle built from the gospel is as well culturally conditioned.

What intrigued me about Newbigin’s thoughts was not that he acknowledged the culturally conditioned nature of the gospel (which btw sometimes isn’t acknowledged), but rather what intrigued me was that while he says the gospel is culturally conditioned he at the same time says that the gospel challenges every form of culture it has been conditioned by, even its original form. 

So by implication what this means is that contextualizing the gospel in cultural forms, symbols, and stories can’t be reduced to merely being “relevant” with the present cultural forms, symbols, and stories. There’s a counter-cultural nature to the gospel that must be present. The gospel always calls us to faith AND repentance. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Newbigin quote: Where is it helpful and what questions does it leave you with?

(Photographic art by Oryctes, piece entitled “passess silencioses“)