Category Archives: Lesslie Newbigin

Good Friday Was Not a Funeral, but the Victory of God


And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (Col. 2:13-15).

Many misunderstand, they see the Cross as a defeat. They see Christ’s weakness, suffering, and humiliation as failure to convince the crowds, persuade the Jewish leaders, and empower the disciples. Some grand misunderstanding created this tragedy, surely if all sides could have talked this terrible event would have never happened. In the minds of these bemoaners, Christ’s death was a great tragedy, but nothing more.  For some, God by the power of the resurrection snatched victory from jaws of the Cross’ defeat. He rescued Jesus from utter humiliation. The resurrection saved the day.

Nothing is further from the truth. The Cross is the victory of God and the resurrection is the announcement to the world that the Christ has triumphed over all our foes. The Cross was not a defeat, but the astonishing victory of God over the world, the flesh, sin, death, and the devil.

A number of metaphors are used in scripture to describe the finished work of Christ on the Cross:

Victory is taken from the military: Christ has conquered Satan and his oppression, our sin and its enslavement, and death and its control (1 Cor. 15:57).

Justification is taken from the law court: God’s declaration that by faith in Christ we are declared righteous before him (Rom. 3:21-26; Gal. 2:15-16).

Adoption is taken from the family: we are granted legal status as sons of God and heirs of the Kingdom (Rom. 8:17, 23; Gal. 4:1-7).

Reconciliation is taken from the home: the Cross restores our broken relationship with the Father (Rom. 5:10-11; 2 Cor. 5:16-21).

Forgiveness of our offenses that frees from guilt and shame, redemption  and ransom paid to free us from bondage and captivity caused by our sin (1 Cor. 6:19),

Healing is taken from the hospital: we are restored with all of creation from the brokenness created by our sin (Isa. 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24-25).

Propitiation is taken from Temple worship: God satisfies his own wrath by offering himself to suffer the just punishment for our sins (Rom 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2, 4:10 NASB).

Representative bringing us all the privileges of the new covenant (Rom. 5:17), participation in all the benefits of his death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6), and substitution for he took upon himself our punishment, guilt, and shame (Rom. 4:25).

The Cross accomplished all these things and more.

The whole story in the New Testament is written, as I have said, from the point of view of the Resurrection, and the Christian faith is inexplicable otherwise. Another point to be made is that the story of the Resurrection is not told in the New Testament as the story of a victory which wipes out the defeat of the Cross.

On the contrary, there is great emphasis laid on the fact that the risen Lord is the crucified one. It is said that when, he showed himself to his disciples, he showed them his hands and his side. In other words he identified himself deliberately to them as the one who had been crucified. And according to the records that we have, in his teaching of them, he emphasised the fact that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer in this way.

Above all in Paul, whose life as a Christian began with a meeting with the risen Lord, it is nevertheless the Cross which is the centre of his message. The Cross, in other words, is not put before us a defeat overruled by God; on the contrary, the Cross is put before us as a victory which was acknowledged and ratified by God.

Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, Journey Into Joy (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 45.

What is God’s Purpose in Election?

Election is for the Salvation of the World

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

2 Tim. 2:10-11

The doctrine of election is controversial, misunderstood and strangely comforting. The doctrine of election teaches that before you were ever born, going back in time before the creation of the world, you were chosen in God’s heart to be saved from the sin that binds you (Eph. 1:4-5). The why (divine fiat or foreknowledge), when (before or after the Fall) and how (God’s sovereign choice or our cooperating free will) of election is debated by Wesleyan, Calvinist, and Roman Catholic theologians.

Several things we do know: God chose us, we did not choose him (John 15:16). He chose out of grace not based on any accomplishments of our own (2 Thes. 2:13) . God’s choosing means that we are loved and that he will not give up on us (John 6:37). In turn, our election means that we have a divine call to spread the good news that Christ has died and risen again for us (James 1:18).

And while the ultimate mystery of election remains, one can see that the principle of election is the only principle congruous with the nature of God’s redemptive purpose. And we can also see that wherever the missionary character of the doctrine of election is forgotten; wherever it is forgotten that we are chosen in order to be sent; wherever the minds of believers are concerned more to probe backwards from their election into the reasons for it in the secret counsel of God than to press forwards from their election to the purpose of it, which is that they should be Christ’s ambassadors and witnesses to the ends of the earth; wherever men think that the purpose of election is their own salvation rather than the salvation of the world: then God’s people have betrayed their trust.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Household Of God: Lectures on the Nature of the Church (London: SCM Press, 1953), 55.

They [i.e., Christians] are chosen not for themselves, not to be the exclusive beneficiaries of God’s saving work, but to be bearers of the secret of his saving work for the sake of all. They are chosen to go and bear fruit.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 86.

No Innocent Parties

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.

Rom. 3:10-12

Our sin is pervasive. Pervasive in the sense that sin has affected our hearts, wills, minds, emotions, and even our physical body. Our attitude and actions motivate us to selfishness and pride. Every aspect of our lives has been marred and scarred by sin. Our bondage is so great that we cannot do anything to deliver ourselves. The effect of our sin is complete: there is nothing we can do to please God.

However, we are still valued in God’s eyes:  we are never insignificant and worthless in his eyes. How do we know?  Even while we were God’s enemies, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:10). Even in the midst of our fallenness, the blessed Trinity reached out to you and me in love and mercy. Christ’s Cross defeats the pain, bondage, frustration, and tragedy of our sin.

Before the cross of Jesus there are no innocent parties. The cross is not for some and against others. It is the place where all are guilty and all are forgiven.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 151

What Is Christian Ministry? (Part Two)

Jesus and People 

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:11

Jesus liked people. Therefore, those who minister in Jesus’ name will like people, too. Seminaries cannot teach you about people: only experience can provide insights into people’s peculiarities, choices, attitudes, and issues. On one hand, people will serve, encourage, and love others with an energy and life that is both surprising and delightful. On the other hand, people can act with the most devious and self-serving of intentions. Their behavior defies all the rules of gracious and loving behavior. These same people who are simultaneously bewildering and benevolent attend our churches and work in various parachurch ministries.

Pastoral wisdom recognizes that Christian people are imperfect and that these people are the people that God uses to advance his kingdom. Pastoral care points people to Jesus, reminding them of his precious promises, and encouraging them to trust the Christ who died and rose again on their behalf.

Pastoral counsel uses Scripture to display God’s great grace and remind his people that Christ is available in power to live his life in and through them (1 John 4:9). Pastoral comfort makes available the sacramental grace (i.e., Eucharist, baptism, confession, etc.) of our Lord to the bewildered and hurting.

Christian ministry is about people, if you do not like people, you will not like Christian ministry. The same manner in which Jesus ministered in the Gospels is the same manner in which he will minister through us. Therefore as difficult as people can be, Jesus will want us to reach out to all.

The same principle holds good if we consider that other very common name for our office-minister, or servant. We are not made ministers in order that the rest of the Church may be excused from serving; we are made ministers in order to help the whole Church to be a serving Church and to lead it in this service. Just so, we are made priests in order that the whole Church may be trained to be a truly priestly body, fulfilling in its whole life the great High Priesthood of Jesus.

If we are called priests, it is not in order to keep the priestly function in our hands and exclude the rest from it; we are called priests in order that the whole body may be holy priesthood, and that every member in it may be trained and equipped and encouraged in every way to play his part in the priestly ministry of Jesus for the whole of mankind. If we are priests, we are such as priests of the priestly people, for the sake of the priesthood of the whole body.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Good Shepherd (Oxford: Mowbray, 1977), 43.

Missional Joy

The Proper Motivation for Missions

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

John 20:21 ESV

Missional is an attitude and an approach which recognizes that whether we are home, or away from our resident culture, we need to reach the culture for Christ. A missional mindset recognizes that North America is in the need of the gospel as the deepest, darkest parts of Africa. In short, missional means being a missionary where you are from your church to your culture and in your context.

Joy is that deep, supernatural fulfillment that comes in knowing that we are experiencing and expressing the one who is true satisfaction, Jesus Christ. Joy begins with acknowledging that we are unconditionally loved, graciously forgiven, and eternally kept in Christ. Joy is released in our lives when we cultivate Christ’s conscious, constant presence.

Missional joy is the overflow of the life of God in us. Missions becomes the spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts for we have found satisfaction and fulfillment in Christ. We are not compelled to witness, but do so freely because of the joy that we have found in Christ. Our sacred delight was received by a life-changing encounter with the resurrected Christ.

There has been a long tradition which sees the mission of the Church primarily as obedience to a command. It has been customary to speak of “the missionary mandate.” This way of putting the matter is certainly not without justification, and yet it seems to me that it misses the point. It tends to make mission a burden rather than a joy, to make it part of the law rather than part of the gospel.

If one looks at the New Testament evidence one gets another impression. Mission begins with a kind of explosion of joy. The news that the rejected and crucified Jesus is alive is something that cannot possibly be suppressed. It must be told. Who could be silent about such a fact?

The mission of the Church in the pages of the New Testament is more like a fallout which is not lethal but life-giving. One searches in vain through the letters of St. Paul to find any suggestion that he anywhere lays it on the conscience of his reader that they ought to be active in mission. For himself it is inconceivable that he should keep silent. “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). But nowhere do we find him telling his readers that they have a duty to do so . . . .

At the heart of mission is thanksgiving and praise. . . . When it is true to its nature, it is so to the end. Mission is an acted out doxology. That is its deepest secret. Its purpose is that God may be glorified.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 116, 127. (special emphasis and paragraphing)

HT: Desiring God


The Ministry of the Priest

Bringing God and People Together

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

Eph. 4:11-12

The ministerial priesthood is called to serve, nourish, sustain, and guide the priesthood of all believers. The believer’s priesthood is a call to be Christ in the secular workplaces of the world. Men are not ordained into the ministerial priesthood in order to remove the priesthood away from the people of God, but to encourage, empower, and equip the priestly people of God for their work in the world.

This doctrine of the priesthood of “all” believers is not the doctrine of the priesthood of “the” believer. In other words, every believer has a ministry, but that ministry is to be conducted in community while being accountable to church leadership. This personal ministry of me and my Bible with God telling me, and me alone, the only correct interpretation of the meaning of Scripture is not the priesthood of all believers.

From living lives of hostility and enmity towards God, Christians have been transformed by the Holy Spirit into ministers who bring the healing and grace of Christ to the least, lost, and the lonely of our world. The two priesthoods, ministerial and believers, serve the one Christ for the purpose of reaching the world.

The ministerial priesthood is called to stand in between the people of God and God. This mediation is not to be “an obstacle, but a necessary helper.” The ministry of mediation is not a substitute for Christ, but a needed help in getting people to Christ. At times, we struggle and a priest comes and leads us by the hand into the presence of God. A good priest does not magnify himself, but with pastoral sensitivity and gentleness, he leads the priestly people of God into the presence of God.

A priest is indeed someone who stands between man and God. Perhaps because he does so, he can become an obstacle impeding man’s communion with God. But it need not be so. The priest may stand between man and God not as an obstacle but as a necessary helper.

If we know our own selves at all, we know that there are times when we need someone to stand between us and God. There are times when God seems very far away, and we need someone to take us by the hand and lead us into the presence of God. Every one of us, surely, looks back with gratitude to the times when someone has done just that for us, brought us into God’s presence, made God real to us, brought us to peace with God . . . .

But to say this is not to deprive the ordinary ministry of its priestly character. That would be a complete reversal of the truth. The fact that the whole Church is called to a priestly ministry necessitates the priestly character of the ordained ministry.

We who are ordained to the holy ministry are called to be priests in order that the whole body of believers may obtained to its true priestly character. We do not have an ordained ministry in the Church so that the other members may not be priests, but so that they may be priests.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Good Shepherd (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), 43.

A New Reality

His Seal Makes a New Community

And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal (Greek: arrabōn) on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

2 Cor. 1:21-22

Bishop Lesslie Newbigin is one of my favorite figures in church history (1909-1998). You may not have heard of him: bishop in the Church of South India, street preacher, theologian of the post-modern age, lover of the sacraments, Holy Spirit led and directed, and missions pioneer.

Gratefully, I had the opportunity of meeting Bishop Newbigin about year before his passing. I attended a special missions conference held in Newbigin’s honor at Beeson Divinity School. This conference would be his last formal speaking engagement before his passing. In our conversation, Newbigin was gracious, unusually anointed of the Holy Spirit, and a fine conversationalist. Officially, he spoke twice that day and continued to be a powerful preacher of the Word though blind and weak.

This quote is a little longer than I normally post, but these thoughts from his seminal work, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, are quintessentially Newbigin.

This presence of a new reality, the presence in the shared life of the Church of the Spirit who is the arrabōn of the kingdom, has become possible because of what Jesus has done, because of his incarnation, his ministry as the obedient child of his Father, his suffering and death, his resurrection, his ascension into heaven, and his session at the right hand of God. When the apostles are asked to explain the new reality, the new power to find joy in tribulation, healing in sickness, freedom in bondage, life in death, this is the explanation they give.

It follows that the visible embodiment of this new reality is not a movement that will take control of history and shape the future according to its own vision, not a new imperialism, not a victorious crusade. Its visible embodiment will be a community that lives by this story, a community whose existence is visibly defined in the regular rehearsing and reenactment of this story which has given it birth, the story of the self-emptying of God in the ministry, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Its visible centre as a continuing social entity is that weekly repeated event in which believers share bread and wine as Jesus commanded, as his pledge to them and their pledge to him that they are one with him in his passion and one with him in his victory.

Instead of the celebration of the sabbath as the end of God’s old creation, they celebrate the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, as the beginning of the new creation. In this they find enacted and affirmed the meaning and goal of their lives as part of the life of the cosmos, their stories part of the universal story. This story does indeed lead to a glorious end and is therefore filled with meaning, but the end is not some far distant date in terrestrial history. The end is the day when Jesus shall come again, when his hidden rule will become manifest and all things will be seen as they truly are. That is why we repeat at each celebration of the Lord’s Supper the words which encapsulate the whole mystery of the faith: “Christ has died, Christ has risen: Christ shall come again.”

Lesslie J. Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 120 [paragraphing mine].

HT: Euangelion