Reflection on Postmodernity

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society critiques the dominant understanding of knowledge in our western "pluralist culture" as something that stands at a distance (for relativists, an infinite distance) from the inquirer (chapters 1-3), then presents an alternative understanding of knowledge rooted in the Christian tradition and lived out in the contemporary scientific and historical disciplines where the inquirer indwells a subject of study as a participant in a tradition of inquiry (chapters 3ff).

To use a tricky word, Newbigin is advocating a "postmodern" theory of knowledge over against modern ones. This advocacy is usually received with some skepticism by new students of Christian doctrine. Newbigin's 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). Still, at this point in the course many of you feel more threatened than relieved by his effort!

So, in this assignment, you will put Newbigin to the test using the other course readings you are becoming familiar with. This will help you begin to judge whether Newbigin is truly a better analyst of how people apprehend the Christian faith. It will also probably help you understand Newbigin better.

Write reading notes for Barron chs 1-4 and the special reading for up to this assignment's due date (or, for honors students, Hauerwas chs 1-3 and either Ratzinger's hundred-page introduction and Barth chapters 1-4 — the choice is yours). As you do, include italicized analytical observations of how Newbigin does or does not help you understand both Barron's/Barth's/Ratzinger's description of Christian faith and the arguments of your special readings or Hauerwas.

(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 too in italicized observations, but this is not a required feature of the assignment.)

Failure to draw substantively and not just shallowly on all the course materials listed will constitute failure to answer the question. I would like to see signs in your work that you have the whole of Newbigin's project (at least as he has developed it in chapters 1-6) in view even if you draw mainly on particular details. You have a lot to accomplish in such a short paper, so your prose will need to be both pithy and concise if you are to do well.

Please write your paper as a two-page single-spaced prose outline. Pay attention to every part of that question. In other respects, 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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