Theology in Missionary Perspective: Lesslie Newbigin’s Legacy
edited by Mark T. B. Laing and Paul Weston
(Pickwick Publications, 2012, 336 pages)
Lesslie Newbigin’s influence in the contemporary church, particularly with regard to thinking about ecclesiology and the missional nature of the church, is profound. This collection of essays looks at the legacy of the missionary bishop from three different angles. In the first section, “A Way of Doing Theology,” the essays look at the methodology behind Newbigin’s theology, including his ecclesiology, his preaching, and his approach to the interpretation of history. The second section, “Theology in Western Context,” deals with Newbigin’s critique of Western culture and his understanding of how the church can effectively witness to the gospel in a post-Christian culture. Finally, “Theology in Global Context,” looks at Newbigin’s engagement with world religions and examines how his ecumenical legacy informs the issues that the church faces today.
This book is certainly important in the sense that it helps to illuminate a figure whose influence in the church is so expansive. The essays are well researched, and they cover the most important aspects of Newbigin’s life and ministry. Some of the chapters on ecclesiology became a bit repetitive, but on the whole they were helpful. Theology in Missionary Perspective is a useful tool for contextualizing Newbigin’s themes, and I found Mark T. B. Laing’s essay “The Indian Church and the Formation of Lesslie Newbigin’s Ecclisiology,” particularly good in this respect.
The most interesting and unique part of the collection is the Appendix, which is entitled “Newbigin Centenary Reflections.” This gathers together more informal reflections on Newbigin’s legacy from theologians, pastors, and other Christian thinkers. Some of these are written by people who knew Newbigin personally, which gives them a personal quality. The diversity of these contributors bears witness to the scope of Newbigin’s influence. Here is a brief passage from a reflection by Simon Chan that summarizes Newbigin’s legacy:
“Newbigin’s legacy will live on because it exemplifies what C. S. Lewis (and before him, Richard Baxter) calls ‘mere Christianity’ – a Christianity solidly grounded in the Tradition and yet open to the continuing work of the Holy Spirit.” (307)