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In Christ & Culture podcast with Dr. Ken Keathley, we explore how the Christian faith intersects all avenues of today’s culture through conversations with leading thinkers.
Today’s Episode: What can we learn from one of the most influential theologians most Christians have never heard of? Today, Dr. Chris Pappalardo shares with us about the life and theology of Lesslie Newbigin, a theologian ahead of his time, in how to view Western society through a missionary lens.
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Lesslie Newbigin may be one of the most influential theologians that most Christians have never heard of
How Newbigin was ahead of his time.
“Newbigin matters because he spans two different worlds. He spent most of his life as a missionary to India; he left in the 30s and for almost four decades was a missionary, having been sent by the Presbyterian church. He retired and had kind of a second career in the 70s through the 90s back in England. And because he inhabited those two worlds, he took that missionary experience from India and when he came back to England, he looked around and said, ‘Guys, things are different around here than when I left. We need to start thinking about this place here the way I thought about the last place I was serving. This is a missionary battleground. This isn’t Christendom. We need to think about Western society with a missionary lens.’ That has gotten to be so common these days that you might not think it’s very significant, but in the 60s and 70s when he was saying it no one else was saying that. He was well ahead of his time.”
On ministering to people different than us.
“It’s never too late to figure it out. Newbigin after he retired had written all these books. He was on councils for the world, councils for churches, he was the General Secretary. He was a big wig…. The last couple decades of his life, there was a tiny church in a little area in England called Winson Green, just a couple dozen folks. It was near a prison; the church was failing. So The diocese there wanted to close it. [Newbigin] thought this would be faithless; these were people who needed care, but they didn’t have money to afford to pay anyone to be a pastor. So he volunteered for the better part of 15 years to be the pastor of this church of a couple dozen people in a really poor part of town for nothing. He truly believed these people needed a shepherd.
“They were not people like him. His experience in India, his experience in these various councils didn’t do anything to resonate with them. But he said when there are folks who are lost and scattered like sheep without a shepherd, God calls us to move towards them.
“So I think there’s an opportunity there for us. I wish everybody could have 40 years under their belt, living in a foreign culture with great compassion in their hearts trying to reach people that don’t look like them. Newbigin is unique in that way. But I don’t think we need that for it to spark a light in us…. There’s got to be some element of gratitude in knowing that what we have, what we received was not something that we earned. And that’s the seedbed for any kind of missions….
“If we can see the dynamics happening around us, stop interpreting them as threats, and start seeing that God is doing something and requires a faithful response from us, that’ll change the way we interact. It takes a lot of fear out what is oftentimes fraught and uncertain.”
- “Lesslie Newbigin may be one of the most influential theologians that most Christians have never heard of.”
- “He stands apart from the 20th century because he was rooted in the first century.”
- “Christians need to have a missionary encounter with their culture.”