Reflection on The Strangest Way and The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

In The Strangest Way, Robert Barron describes three paths in support of the general claim that "knowing is a bloody and muddy process — not simply a bland looking at things from a pristine height. [These thinkers] tell us that we have to plow, climb, will, act, decide, push our way to insight — like painters learning their craft, or baseball players learning how to swing the bat, or like young philosophy students moving into Plato's world. ... I don't think we come to the way of Jesus through the privacy of our inner experience, but rather through a lively intersubjective play; I don't think we embrace the way of Christ by knocking down the monuments of the Christian tradition, but rather by walking around and through them, looking at them with admiration and critical attention; and I don't think we find salvation through an isolation of mind from body, but rather through the movements and passions of the body. Christianity is a way, and we learn it by walking..." (28-29).

Similarly, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society describes the dominant understanding of knowledge in our western "pluralist culture," then presents an alternative understanding rooted in the Christian tradition and lived out in the contemporary scientific and historical disciplines. Lessie Newbigin says that its purpose is "to examine the roots of this [pluralist] culture which we share and to suggest how as Christians we can more confidently affirm our faith in this kind of intellectual climate" (7).

These arguments offer a shared vision of teaching and learning the Christian faith that opposes another vision that is dominant culturally and even within contemporary Christian circles. They appeal to real as well as fictional stories, for evidence as well as illustration. I would like you to consider the story of someone close to you (a) to weigh the integrity of these arguments and (b) to see if they help you understand that person.

Choose someone you know — it can be yourself or someone else. How, both generally and specifically, does that person's story of coming to know the Christian faith confirm and/or disconfirm Barron's and Newbigin's general and specific visions of how we learn and teach? How do all three of Barron's paths and all of Newbigin's major themes help you understand and describe that person's experience and familiarity with Christianity (whether or not he or she is a believer)? Is Barron's and Newbigin's approach better than the cultural approaches to understanding knowledge they oppose?

[Update: in alternative language:

How does that person's story of coming to know the Christian faith confirm and/or disconfirm Barron's and Newbigin's general and specific visions of how we learn and teach? (In other words: how do all three of Barron's paths and all of Newbigin's major themes help you understand and describe that person's experience and familiarity with Christianity, whether or not he or she is a
believer?) Overall, do you think Barron's and Newbigin's approach is better than the cultural approaches to understanding knowledge they oppose?]

If particular aspects of Christian faith we have been exploring in class are relevant to this person's story (e.g., doctrines of creation, humanity, and/or sin), it might be constructive to appeal to them, but this is not a required feature of the assignment.

Please write your paper as a three-page double-spaced essay. Pay attention to every part of that question. Work to improve your writing by focusing on the lessons of Harvey chapter 1. Follow the other directions in my handout for writing papers.I want to see proper style, clear writing, a thorough answer to the question, and explicit citations of course materials.

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