Theologian Thursday – Lesslie Newbigin

November 24th, 2011 § 0

A word from the father of missional theology, Lesslie Newbigin:

The Spirit is the source of hope – not just hope for ourselves, but hope for the completion of God’s whole cosmic work. ‘In this hope we are saved’ (Romans 8:24). It is because of this work that we are liable to be invited ‘to account for the hope that is in [us]’ (I Pet. 3:15) and so to become involved in the missionary dialogue. Seen from this point of view, mission might be defined as ‘hope in action.’ – The Open Secret, p.63

For that same first course I mentioned we had with Dr. Strong, we read this book. And I think it’s framed my entire education to date. I’m one of those people who didn’t plan on going to graduate school, let alone seminary. But then I found myself ever more inexorably drawn towards a theological education, and SPS happened to be at the converging point of a lot of different arrows in my life. Still, once I enrolled I had hardly any sense of the bigger picture, or why I was doing what I was doing, or whom it was for.

When we began discussing Newbigin’s book, The Open Secret, together, the idea of the missio Dei surfaced over and over again in our conversations: the mission, or sending, of God. The premise of Newbigin’s book relies on his observations upon returning to the Western church after being a missionary in India for decades. He noticed that the marriage between mission and the whole church community was slowly dissolving. The Western church’s legacy declares that “mission” is complete once a church building is erected in a distant culture. The idea of missio Dei is the theological root of the way to see mission from a more healthy perspective. Simply put, God’s mission is to make this world anew, promoting the flourishing of life and filling it with love, stamping out evil and injustice.

Newbigin says that “the reign of God that the church proclaims is indeed present in the life of the church, but it is not the church’s possession. It goes before us, summoning to follow.” This mission is not something that is primarily for the purpose of enlarging the church and staking out new territories to claim for Christians. Instead, it is an invitation from God for the church to join in. God’s mission includes growing the church, but it is ultimately about the redemption of the world, about God in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Are we in?

That’s what we talked about in class, sitting in the old captain’s quarters of a now-defunct army fort on an island off the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It didn’t give me answers about my exact calling, but it did give me a better framework for thinking about my own mission and how I was being called into mission, even within my own church context in Seattle. Instead of worrying about defining my own exact calling, I began wondering about how to join into God’s call. Part of it meant imagining this hope in many different ways. What does God’s kingdom look like? What will it look like? What would it look like here and now? And as I’ve done that, I look back and find that I’ve put that hope into action.

My next post for Worship Wednesday will be about this: worship and imagination as formation.

If you’re interested, these are the three Newbigin books I’d recommend to you:

Crazy about Newbigin too? Find him a little too scandalous for your taste (what about that cross diagram on page 181 of Open Secret)? Post in the comments!

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