The Open Secret by Lesslie Newbigin Book Summary Part I
This is my summary and thoughts on this book. A bit of a disclaimer, this book has quite an intense and well articulated thought pattern. There is no way this review will do this book justice. The more I have processed this (even after writing this) the more I am being challenged by the content. I hope this little review will give you incentive to read the real thing. Also, I don’t claim to have followed this thought pattern perfectly, if you have thoughts on the subject matter, feel free to correct/challenge me where i may have missed something…
In chapter one of this book Newbigin lays out the foundation for the discussion that will follow. He is quick to point out that the Western church now finds itself in a situation that it has not been faced with before. It used to be that there was “the church” and the “mission church” with the second being the lesser of the two classes and it was usually found in the poor parts of the city. “To put it briefly, the church approved of ‘missions’ but was not itself mission.” (2) However, we are now facing a time when “the church” is now beginning to realize that “with the secularization of Western culture, the churches are in a missionary situation in what was once Christendom” more and more Christians of the old churches have come to realize that a church that is not “the church in mission” is no church at all.” (2) This builds a very important foundation for the rest of this book. From here out, the discussion looks at how the Church can, in fact, be in mission effectively in our post-Christian, secularized world that we are now facing. In the midst of this, the missionary agencies have had to grapple with the balance of doing justice and growing the church. For some, “mission was primarily concerned with the doing of God’s justice in the world and not primarily with increasing the membership of the church.” (8) Finally the “Nairobi Report” stated “Confessing Christ Today is a particularly valuable attempt to state a call to mission that is holistic in taking with full seriousness both the call to personal conversion and the call to action for God’s justice in the world.” (9) There is a deeper problem when we somehow separate justice from conversion.
The concern for those who see mission primarily in terms of action for God’s justice is embodied mainly in programs carried on at a supra-congregational level by boards and committees, whether denominational or ecumenical. The concern for those who see mission primarily in terms of personal salvation is expressed mainly at the level of congregational life. The effect of this is that each is robbed of its character by its separation from the other. Christian programs for justice and compassion are severed from their proper roots and so lose their character as signs of the presence of Christ and risk becoming mere crusades fueled by a moralism that can become self-righteous. And the life of a worshiping congregation, severed from its proper expression in compassionate service to the secular community around it, risks becoming a self-centered existence serving only the needs and desires of its members. Thus, both sides of the dichotomy find good reasons for caricaturing each other, and mutual distrust deepens.
I believe this quote (even with its length!) is a very helpful way to view this apparent disconnect between justice and personal salvation. Its clear from this statement as well as from my personal experience that these two views work against each other and each side becomes so skeptical and suspicious of the other that it becomes impossible for each side to participate in something that is clearly mandated in scripture.
to be continued…