Introducing the network
activities - vision - story
A NEWSLETTER provides a basic platform for the network and its activities. This eight-page newsletter contains feature articles on Gospel & culture issues; a series introducing 'Centres of Activity'; a current affairs Comment; 'culture snips'; book reviews; and news of forthcoming events. It is mailed with the ACCESS U.K. Supplement (see below).
The newsletter explores a broad range of issues presented by Western culture in the light of the Gospel. It aims to bridge the gaps between popular journalism and academic theology, cultural analysis and mission studies.
'I have found the newsletter tremendously stimulating and informative, opening up areas that I personally had little understanding of. I am learning a great deal and am very appreciative and grateful ' (reader)
To look at some past newsletters, go to newsletters; to subscribe, go to subscribing to the network.
ACCESS U.K. is a supplement to the newsletter. Each issue comprises a new annotated list of 20 selected articles and passages from books - some more popular, some more academic - selected to enrich reflection on the Gospel and Western culture. Readers may order single copies of these for private study, paying just the cost of photocopying and postage. This service is appreciated readers wishing to explore issues at greater depth. Several thousand items have been requested by readers during 1998-2003.
In 1992 the Gospel and Our Culture programme hosted a remarkable consultation at Swanwick which drew together some 400 participants, including many church leaders and theologians, for four days. Titled 'The Gospel as Public Truth, it was the climax of a series of regional conferences and was accompanied by the publication of a book, a video and a series of press articles.
More recently a series of successful day conferences have been organised. 'Engaging Our Culture: an Unfinished Agenda' was organised in honour of Lesslie Newbigin at Cambridge in 1999. Speakers were Prof. David Ford, Jeremy Begbie, Murray Rae and Colin Greene. 'Christian Witness in a Landscape of Individual Consumers and Mass Legislation' was held in 2001, again in Cambridge; speakers were Prof. John Webster, Prof. Nicholas Boyle and Peter Sedgwick. 'Human Rights in Christian Context' was held in 2002 in Oxford with Prof. Oliver and Dr Joan Lockwood O'Donovan; 'Michael Polanyi and Christian Theology' was held in 2003 in London jointly with the Theology Department of Kings College London; speakers were Prof. Colin Gunton, Bishop Peter Forster, Prof. Alan Torrance and Mr Lincoln Harvey, with closing remarks by Prof. Dan Hardy.
A RESEARCH FACILITY
Together with sister organisations in North America and New Zealand the Network has constructed, at www.Newbigin.Net, online databases containing (1) a comprehensive bibliography of Lesslie Newbigin's work and substantial engagements with this by other scholars, and (2) a collection of over 240 of these texts including over 200 written by Newbigin himself. Both databases are searchable. A CD-Rom version is also available. This has been made possible by a grant from the Council for World Mission.
'an astonishingly effective… research tool'
This is an important aspect of the Co-ordinator's work. Contacts are being developed with other centres of Christian engagement with Western culture in Britain and beyond. Overseas visitors have been hosted from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, South Africa, India, and Denmark. Extensive correspondence by e-mail has taken place with 200 correspondents in 15 countries.
The Gospel and our Culture Network aims to stimulate and assist the Church's witness in and to Western culture, with a view to transforming the basic premises of that culture in the light of the reality of Jesus Christ.
COMMENT ON THE STATEMENT
1. "Stimulate and assist the Church's witness"
The legacy of Christendom and its territorial religion has obscured the essential missionary character of the Church. It has also concealed the slow drift of Western society from its roots in Christian faith. This drift, in many of its cultural aspects, is prevalent also in the thinking and behaviour of Christians themselves.
The Church is called to bear witness to Jesus Christ in this culture. A major and pressing task for the Church is to be more aware today of this vocation, and to foster and release further resources to bring this about. The network appreciates especially the contribution which Lesslie Newbigin has made to this task and wishes to carry the work further.
2. "To Western culture"
Britain shares the heritage of the Enlightenment with the rest of Europe and other 'Western' countries like North America, Australia and New Zealand. This intellectual, social and cultural heritage also increasingly penetrates non-Western cultures, both within and beyond Western societies. Western culture, both in its social forms and institutions and among individuals, has become widely resistant to Christian faith. The Christian transformation of Western culture would be, therefore, of great consequence
to other cultures too.
3. "Transforming the basic premises of that culture in the light of the reality of Jesus Christ"
Human culture can demonstrate both God-given creativity and sinful perversity. Accordingly it may be affirmed or contradicted in its various aspects in the light of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the primary witness to God engaging with human culture, including the Church, to challenge and transform it.
God draws together those whom he calls into the community of the church, local and global. Within this community, the human culture in which its members share is offered to God for transformation in a continuing process nourished by worship, study of the bible, prayer, reflection and service. As culture is transformed within the lives of Christians, so they will become vehicles of a cultural leavening among other people with whom they
live and work day by day.
The Christian transformation of western culture is a distinctive task today. Notably, insofar as this culture sees Christian faith as a matter of private values rather than public truth, its premises must be challenged in testimony to the reality of Jesus Christ.
The Network has three main aims:
1. To stimulate fresh awareness, lively reflection and creative action disclosing the Gospel within Western culture, whose heritage and current direction are being seriously questioned at this time.
2. To contribute to an international programme which promotes dialogue, mutual learning and correction among a number of groups working in the area of Gospel and Western culture. This will include identifying perspectives and theological resources for this work, undertaken as a particular vocation, and encouraging relevant research.
3. To influence the vision and transform the practice of theological education towards a clear-sighted appreciation of Western culture as a central focus for theology and mission.
The network will seek to help ordained ministers lead local Christian communities and Christian individuals to share more effectively in God's mission in and to culture. It will promote witness to Christ in the settings of employment, voluntary work, leisure and personal relationships.
The network is concerned particularly to maintain the style of Lesslie Newbigin's own teaching which began with a missionary's perception of the heart of the matter and was pitched at a middle level between that of academic theology and of popular journalism. However, while maintaining this style, it wishes to build links in the direction both of academic and popular culture: on the one hand, to foster further sustained interaction between Gospel & Culture reflection and academic theology; and on the other hand, to help such reflection further nourish popular spirituality and culture.
The vitality of the renewed network depends upon the enthusiasm of many people to contribute to this continuing, shared reflection; who are alert to events and issues which call for lively Christian engagement; and who pass on news of insights and initiatives which commend themselves as 'catching the moment' of Christ's mission to western culture. The challenge is immense, of us many people awakening from the domestication of Christian faith by western culture to fulfil the task to which God is calling Christians at this period in our history. The Gospel and Our Culture network invites your participation and your prayers.
The Gospel and Our Culture programme was initiated by Lesslie Newbigin in Britain during the 1980's. Newbigin had been entrusted by the British Council of Churches with the task of planning a major national conference pursuing Christian engagement with contemporary Western culture. A short book set the ball rolling: The Other Side of 1984: Questions to the Churches (WCC, 1983). A series of books followed, which won Newbigin an enthusiastic following internationally. His work remains a key influence for the network in its reflection and action today.
In 1989 a newsletter was started to link together those caught up in the 'ferment' of reflection around the Gospel and Our Culture programme, and to prepare them for participation in a national consultation at Swanwick in 1992, 'The Gospel as Public Truth'. Lesslie Newbigin's own account of the programme can be found in the postscript to his autobiography Unfinished Agenda: An Updated Autobiography (St Andrew's Press, 1993).
However, what had been set in motion did not stop after Swanwick. There was much enthusiasm for the Gospel and Our Culture programme to continue, which it did first under Lawrence Osborn and then under Andrew Walker. Lesslie Newbigin, well into his eighties, continued to lecture and write, and his influence continued to grow around the world. Meanwhile under Newbigin's influence Gospel & Culture networks had been founded in New Zealand (led by Harold Turner) and in North America (led by George Hunsberger) - see links. Today similar networks are being explored in other countries. In Britain, however, the Gospel and Our Culture network struggled with inadequate funding or institutional base and in November 1996 went into recess. Its future was entrusted to Bible Society, with which the network had long enjoyed a close association. In 1998 Bible Society acted to set the network back on the road, appointing David Kettle as Co-ordinator and providing initial funding and administrative support.
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Lord Carey of Clifton
Professor David Ford
Mr James MacMillan
Archbishop Vincent Nichols
Professor Geoffrey Wainwright
Archbishop Rowan Williams
Bishop N. T. Wright
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