Missional Apologetics: Cultural Diagnosis and Gospel Plausibility in C.S. Lewis and Lesslie Newbigin

by David Feddes

Christian Leaders Press, Monee, IL 60449, 294 pages, 2012, $19.95. 

Reviewed by Robert S. Covolo, Center for Advanced Theological Studies, Fuller Seminary.

The Christian faith in the West has found itself in the strange position of seeking to bring the gospel to the very culture it helped create. With this dynamic in mind, this volume retrieves the cultural diagnosis and missionary prescription in the works of C.S. Lewis and Leslie Newbigin. The result is two case studies in what David Feddes’ describes as “missional apologetics” for a post-Christendom West.  

Feddes’ study unfolds in eleven chapters.  After an introductory chapter identifying Lewis and Newbigin as missional apologists, the second chapter locates both within their distinct understandings of the larger sweep of European secularization.  Further sharpening the focus, chapters 3 and 4 zoom in on the respective twentieth-century British contexts that Lewis and Newbigin encountered. In chapters 5, 6, and 7, the volume attends to Lewis’ cultural diagnosis, epistemological views, and corresponding apologetics. In turn, chapters 8 and 9 explore Newbigin’s engagement with scientism, pluralism, enlightenment epistemology, and related apologetic prescriptions. The final two chapters seek to distil the findings, compare the two approaches, and reflect on their relevance for a contemporary missional apologetic.  

Although both thinkers have received considerable attention and analysis, the charm of this volume resides in their juxtaposition.  While not the first to see Lewis through a missiological lens, the relationship between Lewis the missionary and Lewis the apologist is brought into sharper focus when placed alongside Newbigin. 

Similarly, Lewis’ appeal to the classical cannon and pre-modern sensibilities provides a valuable contrast to Newbigin’s appropriations of Michael Polanyi, sociology of knowledge, etc. to construct what Feddes characterizes as a “culture-bound epistemology-from-below” (p. 211). What’s more, even those already familiar with Lewis and Newbigin will likely find themselves (as I did!) surprised by new pieces culled from these well-read authors. (Who knew, for instance, that Lewis had warned in a letter of “a dreadful man named Karl Barth?”) 

Furthermore, the author’s distillation at the end of the volume not only provides a nice summary of the findings, but does so in a way that suggests further grappling. (Even if the author at times feels the need to inject his own opinion, thereby detracting from otherwise well-documented claims.) Of course, there is any number of more substantial works exploring the various subjects touched on in this volume (secularity thesis, epistemology, cultural diagnosis, apologetics, etc.).  But for those seeking new onramps to these discussions in the company of such beloved and renowned Christian authors as Lewis and Newbigin, Missional Apologetics is a welcomed resource.

EMQ, Vol. 49, No. 2, pp. 249-250. Copyright  © 2013 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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