The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission

ISBN: 0802808298
ISBN 13: 9780802808295
By: Lesslie Newbigin

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Reader's Thoughts


So i have to read this for school, but i really am enjoying it. Newbigin is one of the greatest missional theologians of our time. He has some excellent insights into the theology of evangelism, and missions in cultural contexts. There are sections that are a bit dry but over all its a great read.

Seth Thomas

A profound, helpful guide to the theology of mission and a compelling work that directs us further in to the work of Christ in the world.


Newbigin has some very good things to say about mission and Trinity and culture for the Christian, but He must be read carefully. His ability to interact with pluralism and postmodern culture is insightful, but also at times, I think, is a bit too "open."


The little bit I got through before being distracted with other things was awesome. It is great to read his methodology since it matches exactly with his epistemology. Jesus cannot be known apart from the Father's revelation through the Spirit; highly trinitarian and in tune with what seems to me to be biblical epistemology.

Aaron Carlberg

I am having our entire board read through this book. Leslie Newbigin was an awesome individual, you should read his books as well.


This was one of 2 or 3 texts used in a class I took during my senior year at Covenant College. It is on my parents' bookshelf rather than mine so, sadly, I cannot at the moment look back at it, because it's been 8 years since I took that class! I want to "bounce off" from this one to his more recent work.


Ever since I was first introduced to Lesslie Newbigin some years ago when I read Foolishness to the Greeks: Gospel and Western Culture, I have appreciated his thoughtfulness in the area of theology of mission. Though he passed into glory 11 years ago, his legacy lives on. The second edition of The Open Secret, updated in 1994, was engaging and thought-provoking from start to finish, particularly toward the end. I record some further thoughts here:

Glen Smith

A classic that probes deeply into several prescient missiological themes (though written several decades ago). Newbigin's elucidation makes for heavy (yet very rewarding!) reading. I really enjoy how he analyzed various theologians/missiologists throughout the book. His insistence on the supremacy of Christ is refreshing. I did struggle a few times with his views on textual authority of the Bible but he remains firmly attached to the revelation of Jesus.His humility in encountering other religions and different Christian traditions is inspiring. There are times that I thought his efforts at openness with inter-faith dialogue were a bit inconsistent with his motif of Christ's lordship, specifically when he argues against the Christian community drawing indelible lines on the exclusivity of the Christian revelation in light of competing religions. Again, I see his spirit of love shining through and he does balance it with a return to the Lordship of Christ, yet I found his thinking a bit less coherent on this issue.The role of the Spirit in the mission is beautifully laid out. Other strengths are in the book and I highly recommend it. All cross-cultural workers should give this work an opportunity to speak into their thinking.


About the AuthorLesslie Newbigin was ordained in 1936 by the Presbytery of Edinburgh to work as a Church missionary to India. In 1947 he was appointed bishop of a diocese in Madurai, India. In 1959 he became the general secretary of the International Missionary Council and worked toward its integration into the World Council of Churches, in which he served as associate general secretary until 1965. He returned to his bishopric in India until 1974. He then served as lecturer at Sally Oak Colleges (Birmingham, England) for five years. He then became a pastor in a small United Reformed Church. He passed away in 1998.ThesisThe book seeks to answer the question on what grounds does one have authority to do Christian Mission in the context of a pluralistic world. The answer that Newbigin gives to this question is the same as that given by the Apostles when asked, “’By what power, or by what name do you do this?’ The only possible answer is ‘in the name of Jesus.’ (15). But Newbigin says this leads to the question ‘who is Jesus’ and he contends that this has been the question that Christian witness has sought to answer throughout its history. This lead to the further expansion “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” which is Newbigin’s essential response to on what authority in a pluralistic world do we do mission and by what authority do we proclaim a message and what message (or whom) it is that we proclaim.The result of this is that the mission is not ours, nor the church’s, but that of the triune God. In which we see Jesus as: (1) “not the initiator or founder of God’s kingdom,” but as “the one who is sent as the herald and bearer of the kingdom;(p. 22)” (2) “acknowledged as the Son of God; (p. 22)” and (3) “anointed by the Spirit. (P.23)” So the answer to the question “who is Jesus?” as it relates to missional authority is:He is the Son, sent by the Father and anointed by the Spirit to be bearer of God’s Kingdom to the nations. This is the Jesus who was proclaimed by the first Christians to the world of their time. P. 24ContentAfter introductory matters, the book roughly breaks down into three loci of thought. Following the fundamental belief that God has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Spirit, the task of Christian missions are viewed in three ways: “Proclaiming the Kingdom of the Father,” “sharing the life of the Son, “and “bearing the witness of the Spirit. (29).” After this Trinitarian theology of missions, contemporary issues are dealt with.In proclaiming the Kingdom of the Father several assertions are made. The first of which is that the good news of the announcement of the Kingdom of God being a hand has to be understood in the scope of the biblical treatment of universal history. This results in God’s reign being over all of creation (31). The author traces this history from the second start of humanity post flood and disasters, through Israel, and finally to Christ. The point is made that election (such as the case of Israel) did not entail privilege but responsibility to be a missionary people (32). The purpose of Israel and the Old Testament was to provide a “vision of a restored humanity living in peace and happiness with renewed creation (34).” Jesus has brought this reign of God, which he proclaimed near in both a negative and positive sense. In a negative sense he has challenged the power structures of the world by not manifesting power, true power, in the natural way the world does. In the Positive sense, he has chosen to make the reign of God known through form of weak and foolish things to those he has chosen. The process of selection is active still. Those who are selected are to be responsible as heralds. Thus we to proclaim the reign of the father.The question arises if Jesus was not just the herald of God’s kingdom, but the embodiment of it, is the Kingdom still present or at hand after Jesus’ earthly ministry. To this the answer is that the Church is the embodiment of Christ to the world. Even the Church itself makes mistakes we are pointed to the cross where God chose to use things that were weak and foolish to display his power. The fact the Church exists in the partaking of the Eucharist is a sign of God’s kingdom, even in areas where public proclamation is illegal.The final point is the bearing of the witness of the spirit. We do not go out on missions on our own decision, rather the Spirit goes ahead of us and we are to follow His lead. It is the Spirit who witnesses in advance. And in our weaknesses the Spirit works and displays his power. Thus the “threefold way of understanding the church’s mission is rooted in the triune nature of God himself. If anyone of these is taken in isolation as the clue to understanding mission, distortion follows. (65)”From here the author deals with issues of justice and gives a critique both of those who would try to remove issues of justice and well being from missions and also a critique of liberation theologians who only look for justice and social change.Finally, the author deals with issues of Religious pluralism. He interacts with John Hick and incisively makes the point that he, the author, cannot start with philosophical abstraction (the Being) but only with what he knows from history – Jesus Christ. Thus unlike Hick who states that Christians should move from a confessional stance to a truth seeking stance when approaching a neighbor of another religion, Newbigin suggests that Christians ought approach the neighbor on their commitment to Jesus Christ and hence he sees no dichotomy between “confession” and “truth seeking.” From here he makes comments on approaches and stances to people of other religions. EvaluationMy major qualm, which is a common one I have about missiologists, is that they do not make accurate judgments on Church history. Thus, in the first chapter I almost put this book down and did not read it. I don’t think there was intention, just misunderstanding, but I believe there was great unfairness to past periods of Christian history, including the medieval period and reformation. He paints an unjust narrative of these periods. I am further confused, since this is really unnecessary to the rest of the book. My other minor qualm was that the book is now dated. The issues he expresses which are groundbreaking in his day (pluralism, loss of western influence, etc. and how it relates to the Church) is almost a forgotten question as it is such a matter of fact now. That being said, the rest of the book is really highly commendable. I appreciated both his thoughtful emphasis on a Trinitarian aspect of missions and the concept of ‘Kingdom of God.’

Chris Comis

Newbie is a good guy. You can tell he really means well when he's talking about missions, evangelism, etc. But he really should have read up a bit more on certain of the theological issues he tries to grapple with. For example, he completely butchers the biblical view of covenant in the section where he tries to deal with it. He makes the covenant out to be something that is purely unconditional, almost to the point of affirming K. Barth's Christic-monism and strict mono-covenantalism. Anyway, Newbie does a great job of laying out some of the historical issues surrounding missions (in both the west and the east), and does a good job of affirming the centrality of Christ for all missional purposes. The other area where LN is lacking is in his political views. He affirms the centrality of Christ for missions, but then seems to fall short of doing the same for world government (i.e., Christocracy). Overall, a descent book, but could have been improved upon greatly in some places.

Ben Peltz

I honestly enjoyed this book on first read. It contains a lot of wisdom and is very deep theologically. Some of Newbigin's insights into the Trinity and the unintuitive nature of God's kingdom are very helpful and a good response to mainstream Christianity that so often veers away from the historical person of Jesus. There are many, many good quotes to be found in this book, and I think that if I were to list them I'd have as good a book as any written by some of the people building on Newbigin's work, like Christopher Wright, an author I love.However, as I've re-read this book for the sake of writing a paper on it, I've been sorely disappointed as I realize just how awkward it really is stylistically. There were times I wrestled a little as I read it the first time, but trying to go back and sort through the arguments Newbigin presents is like piecing together an all-white puzzle. The general framework? Okay, got it. But the specific order and reasoning given? It's actually quite difficult to piece together. He sticks to a ponderous Trinitarian framework for describing different components of the Christian mission, and most of his chapters consist of very small answers to the core question presented surrounded by large swaths of related-but-haphazard theological musings. It is no wonder some people feel like he gets too close to universalism and pluralism... to actually put together a coherent portrait of what Newbigin believes about God's redemption of the cosmos you have to find seven different paragraphs each in a different chapter! And even then, you're left with a lot of musings that come close to a real stance on the issue only to pull away at the last second.Because of how many individual insights I pulled out of the book, I can't help but give it three stars. And, it is very much worth mentioning that this book, written 20 years before the Missional Movement, captures many of the themes that are shaping evangelicalism today. However, I could not honestly recommend this book as "an introduction to the theology of mission" as the title page proclaims, nor do I think that Newbigin's book offers the unified theology of mission that he sets out to present in the introduction.

Rod White

So great I want everyone to read it. I am not totally aligned with Newbigin's Reformed prespective, but neither is he. He brings a great insight to theolgoy from actually doing it on the "field" in India.


The clearest articulation of Christian missiology I've ever encountered. Newbigin contrasts missions to the colonial project of Western nations, which has left mostly cultural contamination and hurt in its wake. Instead, the gospel should be translated into other cultures, where it can speak a word that both the "missionary" and newly called people of God ("converts") need to hear.Finally, he also recognizes the shift of Christianity's center of gravity to the global South - Africa, South America, and China (not southern, but you get the idea). The developed, post-Enlightenment West - Europe and North America - are the new critical mission fields where the Kingdom of God must circle back to.


This is a great book on missiology, yes. It also a great book on Biblical theology and Christology as well as inter-religious dialogue. As a pastor, this book helps me put together in a cohesive picture the various functions I carry out during a week. That picture's title is witness.I highly recommend The Open Secret. If you're in ministry, if you're trying to live your life as mission, if you're looking for a good picture at how faith, history, and purpose fit together, read this book.

Kevin M

Some of the idea's presented here I found fascinating. Anytime you get to rethink what you think about something, I think is a good thing. Even if don't agree with everything presented here, it is well worth the time to investigate.

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