Lesslie Newbigin is an important influence on many of today's theologians, missiologists, and Christian thinkers. For Wilbert Shenk, professor of missions at Fuller Theological Seminary, Lesslie Newbigin is "an enduring figure … cutting-edge." To theologian George Hunsberger of the Center for Theological Inquiry, Newbigin "has few if any peers in this half of the twentieth century for laying the biblical and theological foundations for mission."
Who is Newbigin? The man does not fit any convenient category. A career missionary to India, his greatest impact has come in England and America since his retirement. He is a world-class theologian, yet he writes books without footnotes and never, until he retired, taught at a theological institution. Much of his career was spent within the orbit of the World Council of Churches, yet his greatest following is among evangelicals. CHRISTIANITY TODAY asked senior writer Tim Stafford to find out who Newbigin is, and why he matters.

At his retirement in 1974, following 35 years in India, Lesslie Newbigin fulfilled a cherished dream by riding the bus home. Modestly famous as a bishop in the Church of South India and as a leader in the early World Council of Churches, Newbigin (with his wife, Helen, also in her midsixties) was given a grand farewell in Madras before setting off on the overland route. The pair carried only two suitcases and a rucksack. They planned to rough it.

Relatives thought they were sure to be killed. A friend in the Indian State Department wrote to embassies along the way, urging officials to shelter these important guests. Planes were therefore met in all the relevant cities—but no one thought to check the local buses.

Ascending the rugged Khyber Pass in ...

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