I first read this book for my History and Theology of Mission class in college. Leslie Newbigin's book was a treat to read. He offers a very good look into the Gospel and modern culture and tries to offer a solution to the question of where Christianity fits in a pluralistic world. In an age where no one can claim to know the whole truth anymore, how can Christians go around proclaiming that we know the only way? In modern culture, this makes us seem arrogant and prideful and causes more and more modern people to view the Church in an increasingly harsh light.
However, evangelism can best be served, he argues, by the living witness of a community of Christians and by the activism of ordained ministers to help guide and teach this community. Jesus formed a community, he says, and the best way to witness is simply by being an active part of a flourishing community that praises, has truth, is involved with the neighborhood, where people are sustained to minister to the world, that is responsible, and that has hope. We are not called to defend the faith but instead to simply witness.
Another answer to the increasingly hostile view of many towards Christianity can be found in dialogue. New begin argues that true dialogue serves as a "starting point in our relation to people of other faiths." (180) All humans share the same need to answer the question "Why?" and he believes that dialogue can open the doors to a renewed sense of spirituality because it involves the telling of the story of Jesus. Of course to have true dialogue we must also listen to those we are conversing with, but instead of seeing this as something fearful that could possibly cause us to lose faith we should instead look upon it as an opportunity to check our own biases. No one is completely outside some kind of cultural background, he says, and to keep us from thinking that our own way is the only correct way and to keep us from truly becoming arrogant, he suggests that true dialogue can be used as a sort of diagnostic tool with which to clean the coloring from our lenses.
This book is an excellent apologetic for the twenty-first century; however it does have a few flaws. The first is his use of circular arguments. For example, in an early part of the book Newbigin's response to the attack on Christianity is to ask the unbeliever how he or she can know for sure that we are wrong because they have no outside frame of reference. No one can know the whole truth. However, what is stopping that from turning back on us? Can't one claim that we cannot know the whole truth either? It also raises some questions that it does not answer sufficiently, such as how we should deal with the problem of syncretism. Newbigin agrees with Rolland Allen that once a new church has a Bible, sacraments and apostolic tradition they should be left on their own to develop the gospel themselves. Yet earlier, on p. 96 he says, "...Jesus has been painlessly incorporated into the Hindu worldview. The foreign missionary knows that this is not the conversion of India but the co-option of Jesus, the domestication of the gospel into the Hindu worldview." How do we deal with problems like this? We had to discuss this in class because Newbigin does not provide a satisfactory answer.
This book is definitely a worthwhile buy for anyone interested in modern missiology. Newbigin lays out many good points and suggestions for how modern Christians can deal with witnessing their faith in the pluralistic world we inhabit. It does have several drawbacks, though, in that some parts of it are not fully developed or thought out. It would probably be best to read this at the same time with someone else you know in order to formulate a discussion on some of the issues Newbigin does not cover satisfactorily.