The Protestant missionary and theologian, Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998), was a skilled evangelist who spent his entire life working for social justice—from rural villages and urban centres in India, to immigrant communities in the UK during his “retirement.” He believed that the church’s mission was grounded in Jesus’ own mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Going beyond charity—feeding the poor—Newbigin wanted to ask deeper questions about why people were poor. He faced the same criticism as Brazilian Catholic Archbishop Hélder Câmara, who famously said, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint; when I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.” But Newbigin believed that in Jesus Christ the reign of God had drawn near to the world, and that the Spirit would empower his followers—the Jesus movement—to both invite people to accept God’s reign (evangelism) as well as to discern faithful action for truth, for justice, and mercy. He believed that in the 21st century that would require serious engagement with questions of militarism, economic inequality and care of the environment.
Looking through the lens of Newbigin’s pioneering theology, we were led by outstanding scholars and practitioners of mission in Christ’s way. We explored how the good news of Jesus empowers us to strive for peace and justice among all people, respecting the dignity of every person in our communities, our countries, and our planet.