It was an unlikely adventure to launch a global ministry—a tediously long bus journey from Madras, India, to Birmingham, England. It was an unlikely background for a champion of the gospel to emerge from—the theologically liberal Student Christian Movement. It was an unlikely age at which to unintentionally initiate the emergent and missional church movements—age 66 after 35 years of cross-cultural missionary service. But Bishop Lesslie Newbigin made his most important contribution and did his most profound thinking in his 70s and 80s. Can this man, whose birth centenary was celebrated in December, help today's church navigate a critical period of change?
American Christianity is a long way from disappearing, but it is embattled. Newsweek magazine, bus placards, and best-selling books are all proclaiming the death of Christian America. Over the past 35 years, American confidence in religious leaders has dropped significantly—and dropped farther and faster than confidence in leaders of other institutions. Of those under age 30, only 3 percent hold a favorable view of evangelicals, compared with 33 percent who hold a favorable view of gays and lesbians. The 2009 American Religious Identification Survey showed a 10 percent dip in the number of self-identified Christians while also reporting that the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990, rising from 8 to 15 percent.
These figures come as no surprise to someone from the other side of the Atlantic. The European church has long struggled with plummeting attendance. The most optimistic reading of our latest church attendance statistics describes the U.K. as "pulling out of the nosedive." Penn State's Philip Jenkins ...1