In the Jan. 8 posting on this blog, I made reference to the prevalent worldview of India. I do not know a lot about India, and, unfortunately, nothing from first-hand knowledge; I have long had the desire to go to India, but have not yet (and may never have) the opportunity to do so. But I have read rather extensively about India and the religions of India, and through the years I have been an appreciative reader of one who spent nearly four decades in India.
Lesslie Newbigin was born in northern England on December 8, 1909, so this past December there was some recognition in the media about the centennial observance of his birth. After completing his education at Cambridge University, he was ordained by the Church of Scotland in 1936 and sent as a missionary to Madras, now Chennai, the fifth largest city in India. In 1947 he became one of the first bishops in the newly formed Church of South India.
After serving a few years as the Executive Secretary of the International Missionary Council, Newbigin went back to India and continued to serve there until his retirement in 1974. But after returning to Great Britain, he continued an active life of teaching and writing. An article about him in the January 2010 issue of Christianity Today is titled, “The Missionary Who Wouldn’t Retire.” He had years of meaningful ministry back in England before his death in 1998.
I am particularly fond of Newbigin because of his book Honest Religion for Secular Man (1966), which I read during my first year in Japan, in late 1966 or early 1967. Since then I have profited from other books written by Newbigin, particularly The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (1989), which I have just finished for the second time.
In my Jan. 22 posting, I wrote about contextual theology. That is the subject of the twelfth chapter of Newbigin’s 1989 book, in which he writes, “True contextualization accords to the gospel its rightful primacy, its power to penetrate every culture and to speak within each culture, in its own speech and symbol, the word which is both No and Yes, both judgment and grace” (p. 152).
And then last fall, there was some discussion on this blog about religious pluralism. In that regard, I am in full agreement with Newbigin who contends that “we must reject the ideology of pluralism. We must reject the invitation to live in a society where everything is subjective and relative, a society which has abandoned the belief that truth can be known and has settled for a purely subjective view of truth” (p. 244 of the same book).
I have a list of the ten philosophers/theologians I have been most influenced by and most appreciative of. Newbigin is on that list, so I am happy to share this posting with you, in praise of Lesslie Newbigin.
Here is a 1996 picture of Newbigin: