Misc notes from Lesslie Newbigin’s The Open Secret

I probably won’t have the time to develop these into any longer posts, so I’ll just stick them here with a few comments. Overall, I thought The Open Secret was a much more thoughtful and theological book that K.P. Yohannan’s Revolution in World Missions. At least, I was pleased to find a much more nuanced discussion about whether schools and hospitals can/should coincide with proper evangelism and church planting.

As usual, I am always interested in how introductions are handled – favoring humility in disclaimers. This one draws attention to the original context, which is always a good move and one that is not done nearly enough with works of theology.

I am conscious of the fact that these lectures leave much to be desired form the point of view of the scholar who is aware of the range of contemporary studies – biblica, theological, and missionlogical. I must ask the reader to remember the purpose for which and the context in which they were prepared.

On the unplannability of successful missions and and how we should allow room for the Holy Spirit to lead someone in a direction that may not seem to make sense or hold up to analysis:

My own experience as a missionary has been that the significant advances of the church have not been the result of our own decisions about the mobilizing and allocating of “resources.” This kind of language, appropriate for a military campaign or a commercial enterprise, is not approprate here. The significant advances in my experience have come through happenings of which the story of Peter and Cornelius is a paradigm, in ways of which we have no advance knowledge. God opens the heart of a man or woman to the gospel. The messenger (the “angel” of Acts 10:3) may be a stranger, a preacher, a piece of Scripture, a dream, an answered prayer, or a deep experience of joy or sorrow, of danger or deliverance. It was not part of any missionary “strategy” devised by the church. It was the free and sovereign deed of God, who goes before his church. And, like Peter, the church can usually find good reasons for being unwilling to follow. But follow it must if it is to be faithful. For the mission is not ours but God’s.

I really like how Newbigin uses this paragraph to give a definition for “obedience” and the oft-abused “discerning the signs of the times”.

Since the Christian faith is a faith regarding the meaning and end of the human story as a whole, this faith cannot be confessed except in the context of the actual secular history of the present hour. To be specific, this must mean a provisional interprestation of the meaning of contemporary secular events (discerning the signs of the times) and concrete action in the various sectors of secular life directed toward the true end for which God has created humanity and the world (Christian obedience in the common life). In other words, the question of the relation of the biblical story to the whole story of humankind is a question that has to be answered in action. The Christian confession about the meaning and end of history can make good its claim to truth over against other interpretations of human history only through actions in which this confession is embodied in deed – and suffering. If the Christian confession is true, the Acts of God do not cease with the Acts of Apostles.

An excellent and provocative passage here, sounding a bit like Zizek on a good day.

The collapse of Marxism as a world power at the end of the 1980s has to some extent discredited this [socialist/liberation theology] way of thinking, but it has not solved any problems. Indeed, it has created a situations that is in some ways more intractable. The ideology of the free market now has nothing to limit its claims. There is no visible countervailing power. There seems no sign of a check to its relentless advance. And its destructive potential, both for the coherence of human society and for the safeguarding of the environment, are formidable. The ideology of the free market has proved itself more powerful than Marxism. It is, of course, not just a way of arranging economic affairs. It has deep roots in the human soul. It can be met and mastered only at the level of religious faith, for it is a form of idolatry. The churches have hardly begun to recognize that this is probably their most urgent missionary task during the coming century.

I mentioned this passage in an earlier post and sermon about how the Holy Spirit may be, at times, leading people toward repentance of different things than the sins that may bother YOU the most.

In his account of the beginnings of Christianity in Uganda, John V. Taylor has shown very vividly how the first converts (most of whom were young men at the court of the Kabaka) felt the demand of the gospel upon their consciences in ways that had little connection with the ethical teaching of the missionaries. The later laid great stress on the necessity for an immediate abandonment of polygamy as the condition for baptism. But in the hearts and consciences of the converts other questions were being raised by the gospel and especially by the teaching and example of Jesus himself. They saw in him a new pattern of behavior, calling for humility and for willingness to share the world and the hardship of the poor. They saw that slavery was incompatible with allegiance to Christ, and they found themselves engaged in a deep struggle between the “old man” and the “new man of Christ,” of which the missionary was only dimly aware.
p.137 (from The Growth of the Church in Buganda)

One of these days, I’m going to write a much large piece titled “Whose Afraid of Syncretism?” or something like that. I’ve already hit on the topic in several previous posts. This passage will definitely be quoted.

Verbal orthodoxy then becomes the supreme virtue, and syncretism becomes the most feared enemy. When this is the mood, real dialogue becomes impossible. And so does real mission. The mystery of the gospel is not entrusted to the church to be buried in the ground. It is entrusted to the church to be risked in the change and interchange of the spiritual commerce of humanity.