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Review of Lesslie Newbigin's 1956 primer Sin and Salvation

I am a teaching assistant for Geoffrey Wainwright's Lesslie Newbigin course at Duke Divinity School.

Sin and Salvation by Lesslie Newbigin  

5.0 out of 5 stars Basic theology written for village teachers in India, September 16, 2009
By Andrew D. Rowell (Durham, NC) - See all my reviews

Geoffrey Wainwright, professor of systematic theology at Duke Divinity School, has called "Sin and Salvation" "a marvelous, moving summary of the gospel." Lesslie Newbigin's book published in 1956 is succinct, clear and ecumenical.

Newbigin (1909-1998) begins the preface this way,
"This small book was originally published in Tamil for the use of church workers in the Tamil dioceses of the Church of South India. Those for whom it was intended are mostly village teachers of elementary grade, who--although without theological training--have to bear a heavy share of the responsibility for the pastoral care of several thousand village congregations in the Tamil country . . . I began writing it in Tamil but found that the work was proceeding too slowly and therefore completed it in English, and requested a friend to translate it. I have therefore tried to write the kind of English sentences that would go easily into Tamil, and have had all the time in mind the necessities of translation" (p. 7). (Newbigin describes more fully the villages he had in mind when he wrote this in chapter 7 "Kanchi: The Villages" of his Unfinished Agenda: An Updated Autobiography).

The Duke Divinity School students who read this book for Wainwright's course noted how valuable Newbigin's little book was for helping them review theology. They also appreciated the breadth of his description of what the cross accomplished. Newbigin cannot be pinned down as merely "Reformed"--his work has traces of Wesleyan, Orthodox and Catholic theology as well. (See Wainwright's extensive analysis of "Sin and Salvation" in chapter one of his book Lesslie Newbigin: A Theological Life.

Fans of Newbigin's writings from the 1980's and 1990's will be interested to note that even as early as 1956 when he was 47 years old, he was reflecting on what Darrell Guder later called "the missional church" drawing inspiration from Newbigin. For example, Newbigin writes in the preface of Sin and Salvation that he has has decided to treat the "church" before "faith" because "it is the order which the non-Christian has to follow when he comes to Christ. What he sees is a visible congregation in his village. It is that congregation which holds out to him the offer of salvation" (p. 9).

Most people will likely want to read Newbigin's later works before picking up "Sin and Salvation" but as vigorous discussion continues surrounding the nature of Christian salvation and justification--consider Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision by N. T. Wright, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul by Douglas Campbell, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright by John Piper, and Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology by Michael Gorman)--Newbigin's Sin and Salvation reminds theologians of the need to explain the gospel fairly and thoughtfully to preachers, teachers, students, new believers, and the curious outsider. It is not surprising that late in life Newbigin developed a friendship with Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London which developed the Alpha course and related resources like Nicky Gumbel's Questions of Life: A Practical Introduction to the Christian Faith. Another recent attempt to clearly and simply explain the gospel is James Choung's book True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In and his sketched diagrams. Newbigin would himself acknowledge the need for such resources.

I have reviewed a couple other little known books by Newbigin now.

Book Review: Signs Amid the Rubble by Lesslie Newbigin

Recommended: Lesslie Newbigin's Unfinished Agenda: An Updated Autobiography