In light of the upcoming Missiology Lectures (November 13-15) at
Fuller Seminary entitled, “Still a Pluralist? Lesslie Newbigin in theTwenty-First Century,” we begin a series of articles that highlight the role and
contribution of historical interfaith pioneers.
Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) served as a missionary in India for
almost forty years. Upon his retirement and return to his home country of
England, Newbigin continued to write and his books from this latter part of his
life continue to be some of the most influential sources for the contemporary
missional movement. Perhaps more than any other writer, Newbigin has
helped a current generation of pastors and theologians in Western countries to
shed the old paradigm of missions as primarily what is done
"overseas" in other countries. Following Newbigin, missional
thinking emphasizes that wherever the church is it exists on mission to that
culture. Following Jesus’ commission in John 20, "As the Father sent
me, so I send you...", all Christians are missionaries by virtue of being
a disciple of Christ, and all contexts are places to which Christians are sent—whether
home, work, or neighborhood.
best entry into Newbigin's approach to interfaith engagement is his essay,
"The Basis, Purpose and Manner of Interfaith Dialogue" (1977).1 In this essay Newbigin offers a powerful
metaphor of dialogue as occurring at the bottom of a stairway rather than at
the top. Grace runs downhill, he argues, and the Christian meets his
religious neighbor not at the height of his or her moral or theological
achievements but at the bottom of the stairway, at the foot of the cross.
The Christian is fundamentally a witness, not a judge or lawyer, who
proclaims a testimony to having been changed by the grace of God. The
Christian gospel always has a word of "yes" and "no" to
every culture and every person. Consequently, in interfaith encounters
the Christian must be prepared to hear a word of judgment on his life and
apprehension of the Christian gospel. This creates an opportunity for
repentance amidst dialogue, which is a vital witness to all those present.
1Available at http://www.newbigin.net/assets/pdf/77bpmi.pdf.
Edited by Cory Willson and Matthew Krabill