The Other Side of 1984 (by Lesslie Newbigin)

Lesslie Newbigin was a bishop in the Church of England, who settled for a while in Birmingham - where we used to live. I'd never read any of his books, but one of them was assigned to a theology course my younger son was doing last year, so I decided to read it.

'The Other side of 1984' is a short book - only 75 pages - written as a paper, raising some important questions about the future of Western culture, and where the church fits in. The author believed that - in the UK, at least in the 1980s - the Enlightenment view of science as somehow 'superior' to religion was fast becoming obsolete.

He acknowledges in this book that we certainly do not wish to return to the Dark Ages, and, moreoever, that science and technology have improved our lives in many important ways. Nevertheless, he believed that Christians needed to make a stand, not just in private but in public life too, so that the emergence of new societal structures would in some way reflect the ethos and morality of Scripture.

He asks three basic questions of the church: How can we determine 'dogma' without being dogmatic? How can we avoid the trap of 'state' religion? Does Scripture support the idea of using Christian morals in public life and politics?

I found it quite interesting, but a bit heavy-going, so I just read a few pages at a time, over about ten days. It was a bit dry in places, and since it's now nearly 25 years old it seems a bit dated. Still, the questions Lesslie Newbigin asks, and the issues he raises are interesting and somewhat thought-provoking too.

It seems that society has been in a state of change almost continually since the 1980s with people asking questions about science and/or religion and/or spirituality, with many new movements emerging due to dissatisfaction with the status quo.

There's an addendum at the end from someone writing from the point of view of non-Western (specifically Indian) Christians, which also raises some interesting issues from the global perspective.

Worth reading if you're interested in this kind of question, and like a somewhat dry theological approach. But I doubt if I'll read it again.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 24th December 2008


Steve Hayes said...

We're having a synchroblog in January on "Religion and science" -- perhaps you might like to include this post or add something based on it. You would need to add links to the other posts in the synchorblog.

If you're interested, there's more here.

Sue said...

Well, if I'd finished 'Recovering the Soul' in time I might have considered it, although I prefer to keep this blog just for book reviews, all in similar format, rather than adding in extra links. Thanks for the suggestion, anyway.