The Open Secret by Lesslie Newbigin Book Summary – Part II
The most important issue for the Western Church as been that they have “totally failed to recognize that the most urgent contemporary mission field is to be found in their own traditional heartlands, and that the most aggressive paganism with which they have to engage is the ideology that now controls the developed world.” This is how Newbigin begins and this is the foundation to the argument of the rest of the book.
Newbigin next addresses the issue of authority. He notes that the popular missionary stance by Western Culture was that of “white man’s superiority” and “confidence that it was only a matter of time before the whole world would receive its blessings, and the unconscious identification of the gospel with the good elements in that culture.” (12) Today, the question that comes to the missionary is “what right do you have to preach to us?” To which Newbigin suggests giving back another question, “Who is Jesus?” It is this question he states that “it is the work of the Christian witness through all the centuries and all the cultures until the day comes when all nations confess him Lord.” (15) The answer to the first question finds its roots in a few assumptions. First, we have the answer that comes from a personal commitment to Jesus himself that “cannot be demonstrated on the grounds established from the point of view of another commitment.” Newbigin here seems to take position that is at some level “foundational” (I know, I know, we’re supposed to be beyond foundationalism!) to the witness of a Christian and cannot really be argued against. He goes as far to state it this way, “I am wagering my life on the faith that Jesus is the ultimate authority.” (15) This approach seems to be a very faith-based, non-rational approach that I find very honest and refreshing. The second confession that he is making is that “Jesus is the supreme authority.” (16) In doing this, he effectively shows that the claim “Jesus is Lord” goes way beyond a personal understanding of salvation and actually extends into the public life of a Christian and his/her body of believers.
The community that confesses that Jesus is Lord has been, from the very beginning, a movement launched into the public life of mankind. The Greco-Roman world in which the New Testament was written was full of societies offering to those who wished to join a way of personal salvation through religious teaching and practice. There were several commonly used Greek words for such societies. At no time did the church use any of these names for itself. It was not, and could not be, a society offering personal salvation for those who cared to avail themselves of it teaching and practice. It was from the beginning a movement claiming the allegiance of all peoples, and it used for itself with almost totally consistency the name ecclesia – the assembly of all citizens called to deal with the public affairs of the city the church could have escaped persecution by the Roman Empire if it had been content to be treated as a cultus privatus – one of the many forms of personal religion. But it was not. Its affirmation that Jesus is Lord implied a public, universal claim that was bound to eventually clash with the cultus publicus of the empire The Christian mission is thus to act out in the whole of life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord of all. (16-17)
This lengthy quote was very helpful for me, as I have continued to process the theological rationale to why it is hurtful mission to over emphasize the individual nature of salvation. Of course, it is important that we do not under emphasize this side of salvation (as we have already seen from the earlier quote).