Yesterday's post about witness as a term preferred to mission, came back to haunt me when I was skimming through a couple of books on, well, mission! The late Lesslie Newbigin was a pioneer of thinking about mission, and his generous humility combined with lucid criticism make several of his books classic statements of Christian critique of culture, the world and the church. Best known for The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, which remains a classic text, I value just as much his less technical but persuasive The Open Secret. That's the book I was browsing in when I came across this paragraph:
The Christian confession of Jesus as Lord does not involve any attempt to deny the reality of the work of god in the lives and thoughts and prayers of men and women outside the Christian church. On the contrary, it ought to involve an eager expectation of, a looking for, and a rejoicing in the evidence of that work. There is something deeply wrong when Christians imagine that loyalty to Jesus requires them to belittle the manifest presence of the light in the lives of men and women who do not acknowledge him, to seek out points of weakness, to ferret out hidden sins and deceptions as a means of commending the gospel. If we love the light and walk in the light we will also rejoice in the light wherever we find it - even the smallest gleams of it in the surrounding darkness. (page 198 )
Along with Bishop Kenneth Cragg, Newbigin exemplifies that intellectual generosity, spiritual humility, and self-critical honesty which commends the gospel without imperialism, makes Jesus the benchmark of our social interactions, and looks on the world of human affairs as the sphere where goodness is to be found and attended to. I still remember my naive and prejudiced inner world being remade by reading Kenneth Cragg's The Call of the Minaret. I still don't know a more sympathetic portrayal of the conversation that is possible between Christianity and Islam. Without shirking the points of difference, Cragg appreciates, affirms, and while acknowledging areas of ignorance, offers an exposition and critique whose undertone is friendship and whose aim is dialogue. Cragg and Newbigin - Bishops both, and apostles too even if with a small 'a'.