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By Roger Olson
A Word in Season
"A Word in Season: Perspectives on Christian World Missions."By Lesslie Newbigin, Eerdmans 219 pp.; $14.99, paper
Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, & Certainty in Christian Discipleship
By Lesslie Newbigin
105 pages; $7.99, paper
The overarching theme of ecumenical missionary Lesslie Newbigin's recent writing is summarized in a question asked by an Indonesian acquaintance: "Can the West be converted?" After serving as a British missionary to India for over 30 years, Newbigin has now been pastoring in Birmingham, England, for over a decade. He is a minister of the United Reformed Church (UK), former bishop of the Church of South India, former general secretary of the International Missionary Council, and former associate general secretary of the World Council of Churches. Now he is assuming the mantle of Christian critic of Western culture and doing a much better job of it than some of his forebears.
"A Word in Season" is a collection of Newbigin's essays--mostly dealing with missiology and related topics--drawn from the past 30 years. Three or four of them are obviously preparation for Proper Confidence and presage its main themes and arguments. There is, therefore, much overlap between the two books. The general unifying theme is Christianity and culture. The specific unifying proposal is this: Whereas Western Christians once thought that "syncretism" (inappropriate blending of Christianity with non-Christian culture) was a particular problem mainly for non-Western Christianity, today it is as much or more of a problem for Western Christians as it is for those elsewhere in the world. Hence the question "Can the West be converted?"
Newbigin draws on his long and deep acquaintance with culture and Christians on the Indian subcontinent to point out the pervasive syncretism he now finds in Britain, on the European continent, and in North America. "Every church is tempted to do this [syncretize] in its own culture, tempted to become the domestic chaplain to the nation ...