On 14th February 1993 I was ordained as a Deacon in the Anglican church. I was reminded of that date when I opened up a book entitled ‘The Gospel as Public Truth’ by Lesslie Newbigin. There is a little book plaque in the front cover – it was a gift from SPCKA.
I was not very familiar with Newbigin back at that time but have been challenged and stirred by his writings since then. He served as a missionary in India for 25 years before returning to Birmingham, UK. He was a prolific author in the last century and his voice continues to speak with prophetic power. Here is a quote from the final page of his book ‘The Gospel in a Pluralist Society’:
“In a pluralist society there is always the temptation to judge the importance of any statement of the truth by the number of people who believe it. Truth, for practical purposes, is what most people believe. Christians can fall into this trap. It may well be that for some decades, while churches grow rapidly in other parts of the world, Christians in Europe may continue to be a small and even shrinking minority. If this should be so, it must be seen as an example of that pruning which is promised to the Church in order that it may bear more fruit (John 15:1f). When that happens it is painful. But Jesus assures us, ‘My Father is the gardener.’ He knows what he is doing, and we can trust him. Such experience is a summons to self-searching, to repentance and to fresh commitment. It is not an occasion for anxiety. God is faithful, and he will complete what he has begun.” (p 244).
This is an insightful comment upon the church:
“The only possible hermeneutic of the gospel is a congregation which believes it.” (232).
It reminds me a little of Paul’s word in 1 Timothy 3:15 when he describes the ‘church of the living God’ as ‘a pillar and buttress of truth’.
Newbigin sums up the Church’s witness in these forceful words:
“While the Church affirms the gospel as public truth it is challenging the whole of society to wake out of the nightmare of subjectivism and relativism, to escape from the captivity of the self turned in upon itself, and to accept the calling which is addressed to every human being to seek, acknowledge, and proclaim the truth.”
Bishop Lesslie Newbigin died in 1998. There are a number of websites which have expansive lists of his writings, works and sermons of Newbigin. You can explore further here.