Newbigin’s third point is also worthy of consideration. It is the attempt, as he puts it, “to neutralize any affirmation of the truth.” It is the contention, almost accepted as a truism in our day, “that the truth is much greater than any one person or any one religious tradition can grasp.” Thus, when this is accepted the exclusive claim of Jesus Christ, and of the gospel, can be immediately discounted, for even if it is accepted as truth the gospel may only be a segment of a much larger truth.
Clearly it is this assumption of the post-modern world that creates the possibility and the plausibility of the “pluralist society.” And, every single person who is seriously seeking to communicate the gospel in Canada today is aware that this assumption is a foundation of the contemporary Canadian worldview.
Newbigin takes some time to dismantle the credibility of this assumption, and does it masterfully by showing that the claim to relativity requires a claim to actually know full reality. The question we have to face is this: how does one speak when a commitment to relativism is part of the plausibility structure of the person to whom one is speaking?
Newbigin’s answer is to stand with the unbelieving neighbor and look at events which the believer sees as communicating God’s actions and will, and to ask the unbelieving neighbor: “stand here with me and see if you don’t see the same pattern as I do.” As an example he calls our attention to the liberal theological interpretation of the resurrection as found in the last century. In an attempt to make the resurrection story “acceptable to contemporary thought” it was explained as something that was generated by the pre-existing faith of the disciples. In other words, nineteenth century liberalism said that the disciples so believed in Jesus, that after he died they interpreted their belief by means of the story of the resurrection. This, Newbigin brilliantly points out, is the exact opposite of what the Gospel writers present. They present disciples snared in unbelief who are brought to belief by the reality of the resurrection.
I would only add here that in relating the story to audiences the disciples also squarely faced the challenge that they were delusional, that they were mistaken, had only seen a vision or an apparition, that they had lied and actually moved the body, or that Jesus was not really dead and had merely recovered after swooning. In short, every objection to the veracity of the resurrection account from either a Hebrew or Greco/Roman perspective was answered. Thus they recognized that it was incumbent upon them as witnesses to establish by means of all accepted criteria that the resurrection was a fact.
So, my first conclusion is that I agree with Newbigin that “we have no reason to be frightened” by the fact that relativism is part of the plausibility structure of our day. Relativism cannot stand up logically. However, that is not enough in itself, for the concept of relativism has power in spite of the fact that it is snared in a logical fallacy.
I believe that the old apologetic practices of proofs and evidences as they arise from the biblical narrative must still be used. If they are not then we will be perceived as offering a story that only gives a perspective on a greater truth. Instead we must make it clear that the narrative of the resurrection is the core narrative that explains and gives coherence to all of history, including the personal history of my unbelieving neighbor.
Having said that I must further make it clear what I am not saying. I am not saying that giving the proofs and evidences for the resurrection constitute in any way the whole work of apologetics and/or evangelism. Instead, I am saying that before we invite our neighbor to stand and look at the narratives of God’s saving actions and to consider that the Bible brings a new way of understanding and interpreting life, we must be ready to defend the reality of that perspective by defending the factuality of the narrative, i.e., the factuality of the resurrection.