Lesslie Newbigin: Missionary Theologian: A Reader

by Paul Weston

This fine collection of essays illustrates that breadth need not imply superficiality.

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 255 Jefferson Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503, 2006, 287 pages, $16.00.

Reviewed by Charles E. Farhadian, assistant professor of world religions & mission, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California.

This fine collection of essays illustrates that breadth need not imply superficiality. In this book, Paul Weston, tutor in homiletics and mission studies at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and researcher on the thoughts of Lesslie Newbigin, has provided an impressive and comprehensive introduction to Newbigin’s writings, spanning from the great missionary theologian’s student days at Cambridge to just before his death. Newbigin served as a missionary in South India for thirty-six years and left a legacy to the worldwide Church as an ecumenical statesman, bishop of South India, parish pastor in England and missionary theologian. The book is a treasure trove of his missiological insights.

Weston garners a superb selection of Newbigin’s persistent themes of contextualization, ecclesiology and mission, religious pluralism, Christianity in the public sphere, church unity, theology of religions, eschatology and mission, Christianity and culture, principalities and powers today and Christian mission in a post-Christendom, post-Western era. His compilation is organized in two parts: theological foundations for mission and missionary theology in practice. Following a succinct biographical sketch of Newbigin’s life and major influences, Weston introduces each of the eleven sections with a one-page summary that contextualizes the subsequent pieces; this gives even first-time Newbigin readers sufficient background to engage the material thoughtfully. Since the readings span a 60-year period, readers can witness Newbigin’s own intellectual and missiological development of particular themes threading from his university days to his final years as a well-seasoned missionary theologian, practitioner and ecumenist. Useful to this compilation are the suggested “further readings” within Newbigin’s corpus provided after each selection.

Evangelical readers may be challenged by Newbigin’s ecclesiology, particularly as it is presented in the selections grouped under “The nature and calling of the Church,” where he brings sociological insights to bear on the Church in society, arguing that denominations are visible forms that the Church takes when a secularized society privatizes religion, thus challenging the denominational principle of many evangelical assemblies. Among Newbigin’s legacies is his ability to write warmly about evangelical and mainline Protestant churches, at times criticizing and at other times affirming particular Christian traditions, without maligning one or the other.

The compilation also allows different vantage points on the same topic. Weston writes in the Preface that in Newbigin “there have been few more powerful or influential thinkers, a fact made all the more remarkable when one considers that his writings in this area in the 1980s and 1990s (some fifteen books and over 160 articles) came from a man already in his mid-seventies.” This book would be appropriate for college and seminary students, particularly in classes on mission theology, as well as for mission lay and professional leaders.


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