Takeaway: Outsiders can sometimes see us better than we can see ourselves.
Lesslie Newbigin is one of the most important Christian thinkers of the last couple decades. He was a missionary in India for 40 years before returning to teach in England. His work on missiology and culture are very important and I have read some short articles by him and had his work referred to frequently, but I think this is the first full length book of his that I have read.
I really do think that all pastors need to take some classes in cross cultural missions and translation theory. In many ways it is like requiring high school and college students to take a couple of years of a foreign language. Most students will never get enough of the language to really communicate or actually use the foreign language, but they will learn enough of the other language to take a new appreciation and perspective on English.
So at the beginning of this book I was a huge cheerleader because Newbigin was giving a lesson in culture and some of the ways that we often forget that we are embedded in a particular culture. But once he got past the initial cultural critique and translation theory types of discussion I was a bit less excited.
This book is nearly 30 years old now. It was before the fall of communism and there is clearly some issues that are dated. But it seemed to get bogged down on issues that I find less important. Of course, I am not the author and I was not in 1986 in the UK when this was written. I like that Newbigin wants to chart a narrow path, that we can no longer either revert to Christendom and create theocracies nor withdraw from society and make our faith purely private.
Newbigin wants us to struggle to balance. I want to read more of him. Because I think he can say what he was trying to say more clearly, and I assume he did in other books. He seemed to be caught up here in philosophical categories and seemed to need some of the post-modern tools to help him get out of the tangle.
This is a good critique of the ability of Western culture to be fully Christian. He is one of the early voices that I know of that was calling for non-Western voices to speak to Western Christianity and participate in the evangelism of the West. I also appreciate that he was clear that the gospel is not just about salvation but about Christ as King. It was a message that I needed to hear a long time ago, and I am glad he was speaking to the weaknesses of the Western church while I was too young to be aware of the discussion.