I’ve been re-reading Lesslie Newbigin lately. I read him when I took apologetics at Fuller. He basically wants to bring the gospel, which, like all other religious truth claims since the Enlightenment, has been silenced by being relegated to the realm of the “personal.” I like his emphasis on the fact that, since the Enlightenment, we simply cannot and should not go back to a Corpus Christianum, that the gospel — or any non-scientific truth claim or world-view claim — must be examined along with others, and thus that they (non-scientific truth claims) must be “brought ought of that private enclosure [of the personal] into the public world to be weighed in the scale of reason along with all other varieties of religious experience” (15 Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel And Western Culture).
Newbigin, of course, wants to work against a narrow positivism which allows only fact-claims to be discussed in the public realm (i.e., and relegates value-claims to the realm of the personal, the individual) because he believes the Christian gospel and wants it to have a chance to be heard in the public realm (i.e., not only as one religious choice among many). I believe the Christian gospel as well. But since I’m not so sure we Christians have yet well-enough got it figured out how exactly it ought to be applied to everyday life (oh say, we haven’t got the gay-question worked out very well, for instance — among other things), I have multiple reasons for wanting religious truth-claims to be discussed in public (as if they have public value): 1) because I would like the Christian gospel of love and forgiveness to have a chance to actually improve human community, 2) because I think the Christian gospel needs interaction with other religious truth-claims, and even other cultural perspectives on the gospel (i.e., say, South American or African experience of the gospel, in addition to the North American / European), and 3) because I think human societies will benefit immensely (more than we can yet imagine) from the spiritual/psychological/mystical/religious insights of other religions.
Of course, there’s nothing preventing individuals from exploring those insights from a personal point of view, from making an individual decision which religious values or insights they will espouse. But Newbigin’s point — and mine — is that this dichotomy between public and private serves no good. This dichotomy “fact” vs “value,” of “public” vs “private,” “science” vs “religion”… It reinforces only hierarchy, encourages only shallowness of understanding, and weakens human community. Heheh, nope, don’ like it! :)
Of course, in the composition classroom, there’s inquiry and there’s dogma. But as long as the latter is never discussed in public (ooh! sounds like dirty laundry ;-)), students won’t have much chance of applying the former to the latter.
I should probably read Douglas Down’s article next: “True Believers, Real Scholars and Real True Believing Scholars: Discourses of INquiry and Affirmation in the Composition Classroom.” But, whew, first I gotta get up and stretch.