Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

The Open Secret by Lesslie Newbigin – Analytical Report


Lesslie Newbigin (1909 – 1998) is considered one of the most influential people in the area of theology of mission in the twentieth century. He served as general secretary of the International Missionary Council and as associate general secretary of the World Council of Churches.  Living as a missionary for decades in India prepared him to speak meaningfully to the changing context of the church in the West.  When he returned to England he was a prolific author and wrote some of his most influential books, such as Foolishness to the Greeks and The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.


The thesis of The Open Secret is that Christian mission is best understood in three ways: “as proclaiming the kingdom of the Father, as sharing in the life of the son, and as bearing the witness of the Spirit.”  After rooting mission in the activity of the Triune God, he then seeks to apply this understanding to current issues in mission.

Newbigin takes the first two chapters to ask: Is there place for mission in the twentieth century, and if so, by what authority?  In the next four chapters he develops his thesis by placing mission in a Trinitarian context:  Mission as proclaiming the kingdom of the Father (faith in action), sharing the life of the Son (love in action) and bearing the witness of the Spirit (hope in action).  In the last four chapters he takes this Trinitarian model and applies it to current missiological issues of our day.  After looking at the scandal of particularity (election), he engages liberation theology and issues of justice, the church growth movement, as well as how to best dialog with other religions.

Throughout this book, Newbigin gives thoughtful insights to issues that we face in the mission field every day.  His treatment on election, justice, church growth, conversion, culture and how to dialog with other religions is so rich that I plan to study out these chapters in the near future.  Newbigin is willing to ask all of the tough questions and interact with other notable thinkers and writers in a spirit of grace and truth.   I want to more fully digest and interact with his keen observations as I continue to develop my ideas on these substantial topics. His trust in the Spirit challenges me.

Newbigin’s critique of McGavran seems fair and his thoughts on church growth are a needed reminder for us in the West, when he poses this question, “we have to ask whether the church is most faithful in its witness to the crucified and risen Jesus and more recognizable as the community that ’bears about in the body the dying Jesus’ when it is chiefly concerned with its own self-aggrandizement.  When numerical growth is taken as the criterion of judgment on the church, we are transported with alarming ease into the world of the military campaign or commercial sales drive.” (127)

Newbigin reminds us of many important concepts in this book; from the role of the church, “The church lives in the midst of history as a sign, instrument, and foretastes of the reign of God,” (110) to the distinction between the kingdom and the church, “The reign of God that the church proclaims is indeed present in the life of the church, but it is not the church’s possession.  It goes before us, summoning us to follow.” (64)  One thing we must never forget is that ultimately this is God’s mission, “Mission is not essentially an action by which the church puts forth its own power and wisdom to conquer the world around it; it is, rather an action of God, putting forth the power of his Spirit to bring the universal work of Christ for the salvation of the world nearer to completion.” (59,60)

5 Responses to The Open Secret by Lesslie Newbigin – Analytical Report

  1. Scott Olson says:

    I’d love to read this book – thanks for the insight and critique!

  2. Chris Garner says:

    I love this – this book is definately on my christmas list, thanks JR!

    i love the paradigm shift from trying to define the churchs mission as integral to our structure or postion to one that finds its identity & authority in the triune God.
    This inspires me to rethink other areas of church (worship,communion,liturgy,programs,finances etc) all in the same way

    thanks JR – would love to see your bookcase!

  3. Pingback: Dream Awakener » A Primer on Today’s Missional Church

  4. JR, I am using this as one of my texts this fall. Solid gold.

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