Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Open Secret

I recently read The Open Secret by Lesslie Newbigin. I had the sense that I should disagree with his theology in some way, but I couldn’t find anything specific to disagree with. Here are a few quotations:
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 eventually to clash with the cultus publicus of the empire. The Christian mission is thus to act out in the whole life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord of all.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 16–17
Our mission is to live out the truth of the central proclamation of Christianity. If Jesus is Lord, we must live like it—in every aspect of our lives. And if we do this honestly, we will find ourselves in conflict with the prevailing culture, but not necessarily in the ways that we might think.
It is not enough for the church to go on repeating in different cultural situations the same words and phrases. New ways have to be found of stating the essential Trinitarian faith, and for this the church in each new cultural situation has to go back to the original biblical sources of this faith in order to lay hold on it afresh in contemporary terms.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 27
Too many people treat the Bible as if it were a magical incantation—that simply repeating its words will transform others even if they do not understand their meaning. The work of theology is not done. Every Christian is a missionary. The truth of the gospel must be constantly redefined and communicated in original terms.
It has been said that the question of the Trinity is the one theological question that has been really settled. It would, I think, be nearer to the truth to say that the Nicene formula has been so devoutly hallowed that it is effectively put out of circulation. It has been treated like the talent that was buried for safekeeping rather than risked in the commerce of discussion.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 27
Christian theology is not reduced to organizing and cataloging what previous generations have determined. God does not change his nature, and the canon is closed. But it would be foolish to think that we have exhausted our understanding of the revelation we have received in the form of the Bible and that a few dead men from previous centuries have written such perfect descriptions of God and how he works with humans that there is nothing new to say.
The supreme parable, the supreme deed by which the reign of God is both revealed and hidden, is the cross.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 35
I don’t think we really understand what happened on the cross. I think we have systematized our descriptions of the atonement to the point that it is reduced to a cliché.
What is given here [Acts 1:8] (and this is vital for true missionary thinking) is not a command, but a promise. The presence of the Spirit will make them witnesses.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 58
When the Spirit came they were naturally witnesses. In other words, we should focus more on receiving the Spirit than on trying to be witnesses.
We can be assured that the mission of the church is not conducted, nor is its success measured, after the manner of a military operation or a sales campaign. The witness that confutes the world is not ours; it is that of one greater than ourselves who goes before us. Our task is simply to follow faithfully.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 62
This book should be required reading for every pastor and every denominational executive.
Our so-called eternal truths are the attempts we make at particular moments in the story to grasp and state how things are in terms of our experience at that point. They are all provisional and relative to time and place, as we recognize when as twentieth-century people we read the seventeenth-century language of the Westminster Confession.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 83
The biblical story is not a separate story: it is part of the unbroken fabric of world history.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 88

I can live fully the life of a real person, part of the real world of society, history, and nature, and know that, because Christ is risen, my labor in the Lord is not futile.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 106
All of life is sacred. Everything we do should be done in the context of the Lordship of Jesus. We can worship God with our play as well as our work.
The church has to learn how to live by the grace that forgives but does not condone sin and under the judgment that exposes sin and yet keeps open the way of repentance.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 112
Too often the church condemns those who commit the sins we ourselves are not likely to commit and condones (or even celebrates) the sins that have worked their way into the culture of the church.
In no sense does the triumph of God’s reign seem to depend upon the growth of the church.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 125
Most pastors and Christians would think that this statement is a contradiction.
The place where the virus of legalism gets into the work of evangelism is the place where the evangelist presumes that he or she knows in advance and can tell the potential convert what the ethic content of conversion will be.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 136
Our efforts to call people to righteousness and holiness often result in a facsimile of righteousness and holiness that prevents the outbreak of the real thing.
When the light shines freely one cannot draw a line and say, “Here light stops and darkness begins.” But one can say and must say, “There is where the light shines; go toward it and your path will be clear; turn your back on it and you will go into deeper darkness.”
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 175
This is the difference between a bounded set and a centered set.
To invest the money with a view to a high rate of interest is to risk the capital. The church has often been afraid to do this, thinking that the faith once delivered to the saints is to be preserved inviolate and without the change of a comma. 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.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 189
When most Christians engage in a discussion with a person who has a different worldview, they “talk down” to that person and try to convince him or her to adopt the Christian worldview. If we are true seekers of the truth, we must be willing to accept whatever is shown to be the truth, even if it is different than what we already believe. If Christianity is true (and I believe it is), then we do not have to protect it from new scientific discoveries. We do not have to be afraid of challenges and criticisms of the gospel.

It is not our job to defend the gospel. Our responsibility is to proclaim and explain the gospel in words and in actions. We must acknowledge the possibility that we could be wrong about what we believe. If we don’t, then we don’t really believe that it is true. We are just trying to convince ourselves that it is true.

I don’t know if this is the best book that Newbigin has written, but it certainly is better than most of the contemporary books on ministry that I’ve read. It should be added to the list of essential reading for anyone who wants to understand missional ministry.

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”

No comments: