More From Newbigin on Proper Confidence

Newbigin contrasts true certainty, the certainty of faith, with the false certainty of mere Modernist epistemology:

If we are to use the word “certainty” here, then it is not the certainty of Descartes. It is the kind of certainty expressed in such words as those of the Scriptures: “I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Tim. 1:12). Note here two features of this kind of assurance which distinguish it from the idea of certainty we have inherited from the Age of Reason. In the first place the locus of confidence (if one may put it so) is not in the competence of our own knowing, but in the faithfulness and reliability of the one who is known. The weight of confidence rests there and not here with us. Secondly, the phrase “until that day” reminds us that this is not a claim to possess final truth but to be on the way that leads to the fullness of truth. I do not possess the truth, so that I do not need to be open to new truth; rather, I am confident that the one in whom I have placed my trust, the one to whom I am committed, is able to bring me to the full grasp of what I now only partly understand.–pp. 66-67

On the correct insights and the incorrect applications of Fundamentalist theology, Newbigin says:

The fundamentalist critique of liberal theology must be taken seriously. But fundamentalists do a disservice to the gospel when, as sometimes happens, they adopt a style of certainty more in the tradition of Descartes than in the truly evangelical spirit. This can show itself in several familiar ways. Sometimes it is an anxiety about the threat that new discoveries in science may pose to the Christian faith–an anxiety that betrays a lack of total confidence in the central truth of the gospel that Jesus is the Word made flesh. Sometimes it leads to a refusal to reconsider long-held beliefs in the light of fresh reflection on the witness of Scripture…And it can manifest itself in a claim for the objective truth of the Christian message that seems to depend on the acceptance of the false dualism of Enlightenment thought. Insofar as the word “objective” is used as a synonym for for “really true,” one must of course accept it unreservedly. But, it seems to me, its use in the context of modern thinking can lead to the false impression that the Christian faith is a matter of demonstrable fact rather than a matter of grace received in faith. Perhaps liberals would be more ready to listen to the very serious questions put to them by fundamentalists if the latter were more manifestly speaking as those who must think, as they must live, as debtors to grace. There is much wisdom in the simple words with which Herbert Butterfield concluded his study of Christianity and history: “Hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally uncommited.”–pp. 70-71

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