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CONFIDENCE IN OUR CONFIDENCE: A REVIEW OF PROPER CONFIDENCE BY LESSLIE NEWBIGIN Ken Stockdell, Jr.

One of the great needs within the conservative or fundamentalist, as Lesslie Newbigin characterizes it in Proper Confidence, wing of the evangelical church of which I am a part is to have a conscious epistemology. While few of the regular church-goers in my circle would describe their understanding of what they know and how they are able to know it using this term, they all have, however unexamined and poorly grounded it may be, an epistemology. The great value of this book is that it provides an accessible summary of the subject placed in the context of two key Christian doctrines, the doctrine of God and the doctrine of Scripture, that helps the reader examine his reasons for knowing and his assurance for what he knows. Just as it was in the early days of the church, one of the great questions we must address as we share the message of the gospel in our culture is that of the ground of our epistemology. Do we know primarily by reason, or is faith that which enables knowing? This debate has raged through the centuries both in the world of philosophy generally, and has inevitably entered the realm of theology. Central to this question, as Newbigin notes, is the nature of Ultimate Reality. Classical Greek thought conceived of a dualism between the physical and mental (or spiritual), and a second between being and becoming.1 The message of the gospel introduced a concept, articulated in the first chapter of Johns gospel, of the logos incarnate which rocked the senses of the Greek mind. In Greek philosophy, the logos was the label given for the ultimate, impersonal entity
Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Grand Rapids : W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1995), 6.
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2 which was at the heart of all coherence in the cosmos.2 This ultimate entity or reality was unknowable to them. The Christian message claimed that logos had become personal and knowable and had acted in history, a concept literally unreasonable to the Greek mind. The story in which this personal logos appeared became the ground for what Christians know about reality. Further complicating the situation was the realization that the story was still unfolding, so everything about this logos cannot be known until the end of the story. Knowledge now cannot be a neat and complete package of information, but involves an ongoing relationship with the logos. A new epistemology was needed, and this was ultimately summed up in the words of Augustine credo ut intelligam (I believe in order to know).3 Knowing, then, involved trust in the subject of the story and depended on relationship with the logos. Because the story is still unfolding, and we are in fact a part of that story, we cannot know all the information and thus must trust for what we do not know. The reconciliation of this epistemological dilemma lies at the center of most objections to the gospel today. People today are in one of two camps: modernist or postmodernist. The former still holds to a view that gives priority to reason and argues that what cannot be proved by reason should not be believed, thus no certainty can exist outside the boundaries of reason. This is the legacy of Descartes, as Newbigin relates in his very helpful summary of the history of the development of epistemology in chapters one through three of the book, and was the result of the reintroduction of Greek philosophy back into the culture. As this approach to certainty played out, it became obvious that there are many things in real life that cannot be proven with the mathematical certainty that the hyper-rational approach that began with Descartes came to presume. Via the work of Descartes, Kant, and finally
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Ibid., 4. Ibid., 9.

3 Neitzche, this thread reached its logical end and has led us to todays post-modernism where everything is subject to questioning, where there are no absolute truth claims permitted, and all views are equally valid. To summarize this whole line of historical development then, we began with certainty about certainty, whether by reason or faith, and have ended in a place where the only certainty is in the impossibility of certainty. Objective truth is rejected in favor of subjective truth. Newbigins review of the work of Michael Polanyi in the realm of the philosophy of science, with which most readers will not be familiar, introduces a helpful bridge in thinking between the two extremes of objectivity and subjectivity. Polanyi asserts (i) that there is a kind of faith involved in scientific endeavor by reliance on an accepted body of knowledge, (ii) that the scientific pursuit of the unknown is based on intuition, (iii) that science cannot in every case answer the why question, and (iv) that there is a personal commitment involved in claims of knowledge that are assumed to apply universally and are subject to validation or invalidation by further exploration. In application to theology this brings us back full circle to Augustines statement (I believe in order to know). What then do we do with the epistemology question as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission in our day? First and foremost, we must believe in the incarnate logos, Jesus Christ. We must believe that he is the logos described in John 1, and that ultimate reality and truth is only found in him. We must further believe that God has acted in history, communicating his grace to us through the incarnate logos. We must also understand that this requires a response on our part in order to fully know the truth and have confidence in it. Though I have some lingering questions about Newbigins discussion of Scripture in chapter six,4 I do agree that it contains the story in which the logos is revealed and as such provides the revelation of truth that is the basis
My questions primarily relate to Newbigins discussion on pages 85-86 of the inerrancy question. I appreciate that this is not the primary subject of the book and thus not fully developed. Newbigin has accomplished his goal in my case because he has prompted me to think further about these issues.
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4 of our confidence. Finally, we must understand that our disciple-making work does not require us to convince our hearers of the error of their epistemology, whether modernist or post-modernist, but rather to tell the story of the truth with confidence and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Newbigin, Lesslie. Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1995.