Lesslie Newbigin, the man

new_office As I continue to trek through his book, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, I am increasingly struck by the sheer brilliance of Lesslie Newbigin. His thinking was monumental and his life remarkable.

The short biography on the back of my book reads this: Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) was an internationally esteemed British missionary, pastor, apologist, theologian, and ecumenical statesman. His long career included serving as a village evangelist in India, minister in the United Reformed Church, bishop of the Church of South India, general secretary of the International Missionary Council, and associate general secretary of the World Council of Churches.

Beyond these titles, what strikes me most about Newbigin is his ability to decipher the allusions of culture with a disciplined and grand view of the biblical narrative. Though his brilliance cannot be contained in single quotations, here are a few that will give those who’ve never heard of him a taste of his contribution to our understanding of God, his mission, and our world. 

“Neither at the beginning, nor at any subsequent time, is there or can there be a gospel that is not embodied in a culturally conditioned form of words. The idea that one can or could at any time separate out by some process of distillation a pure gospel unadulterated by any cultural accretions is an illusion. It is, in fact, an abandonment of the gospel, for the gospel is about the word made flesh. Every statement of the gospel in words is conditioned by the culture of which those words are a part, and every style of life that claims to embody the truth of the gospel is a culturally conditioned style of life. There can never be a culture-free gospel. Yet the gospel, which is from the beginning to the end embodied in culturally conditioned forms, calls into question all cultures, including the one in which it was originally embodied.”

“What would it mean, if instead of trying to explain the gospel in terms of our modern culture, we tried to explain our culture in terms of the gospel?”

“The church is a movement launched into the life of the world to bear in its own life God’s gift of peace for the life of the world. It is sent, therefore, not only to proclaim the kingdom but to bear in its own life the presence of the kingdom.”

“What is new is that in Jesus the kingdom is present…the kingdom was no longer a distant hope or a faceless concept, it had now a name and a face- the name and the face of the man from Nazareth.”

“I have come to feel that the primary reality of which we have to take account in seeking for a Christian impact on public life is the Christian congregation. How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.”

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