Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Unfinished Agenda, by Lesslie Newbigin

I'm working through Lesslie Newbigin's autobiography, Unfinished Agenda. As General Secretary for the International Missionary Council and traveling worldwide (ca. 1961), Lesslie Newbigin observes a couple of disheartening features of Protestant Christianity in Latin America. In his travel journal, Newbigin writes:

One of the distressing features of the situation is the obsessive fear of Rome. Of all the places this seems to be one where it is unnecessary in view of the fact that the Roman authorities themselves acknowledge that there are now more Protestants than practicing Catholics in the country. One is conscious all the time of the profound spiritual consequences which have flowed from the fact that evangelical missions in this country felt it their duty to begin by saying ‘No’. When one begins exalting a negative it is very difficult to get out of that posture. I think that this is where the message of the ecumenical movement with its insistence upon the positive affirmation of Jesus Christ as God and Saviour has a profoundly important feeding and strengthening role to play. I found that there was a real response to this approach.  An Unfinished Agenda, p. 184

Newbigin then comments on this journal entry of his, “But the response was always under threat. Wherever I went, there was in the same town at the same time a representative of North American ‘evangelical’ Christianity to warn against the danger of being mis-mated with ungodliness. Ecumenism and communism were linked with murder and adultery among the mortal sins” (Unfinished Agendap. 184).

The second distressing feature of Protestant Christianity in Latin America was the observation of extreme wealth and poverty juxtaposed and that the young people of the Church tended to be very interested in engaging questions of "political and economic analysis" (p. 185). The distressing feature was that the local churches worked hard to keep the young people "inside the church organization," rather than encouraging them to engage such political and social concerns.

So at the time, the fears of Latin American Christianity, given the influence of North American Evangelical Christianity, were: 1) of Roman Catholics and 2) a social gospel (generally associated by conservative Christians of the 20th century to be "another gospel").

I do believe that today we are seeing Evangelicals with a great hunger for what Richard Lovelace called "A Unitive Vision of Christianity." There is a greater openness to some kind of meaningful unity with Roman Catholics as well as seeing the Gospel of the Kingdom extended to social and political concerns (in addition to the saving of souls). I don't fully know what this all means for my own journey, but the questions have indeed been pressing in on me for a long time now: Why the Pursuit of a D.Min.?

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