The book “The Household of God: Lecture on the Nature of the Church” written by Newbigin in 1953 explores the history of Christendom to understand and explain the meaning of the word ‘church.’ The author is determined to prove that different Churches such as Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal have different answers to this question, as their experiences with each other and the world are shaped by their history and unique views. Newbigin points out that the Church as a whole has two major directions, as he outlines its eschatological and missionary nature (18). The book does not insist that the missionary nature of the Church is its only defining characteristic as this way of thinking can cloud one’s judgment towards the impact of religion. The author also examines how the Church operates outside its usual territory by comparing its characteristics and rules to those of other non-Christian communities.
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The book’s central strong point is the experience of its author. Newbigin provides his readers with a detailed explanation of missionary theology and defines the Church from the standpoint of a knowledgeable person. His influence as a theologist is described by various authors (Nikolajsen 12). Moreover, the author provides a significant amount of information about different religious traditions not only for the Protestant Church but also for Catholic and Pentecostal theologies. It is possible that this insight is what allows the author to highlight the idea of the missionary nature of the Church as a whole. For instance, Bevans investigates the history of Catholic ecclesiology and comes to similar conclusions about the Church’s history and essence (188). The missionary impact on other cultures, described by Newbigin, is also supported by other publications. Interestingly, all authors focus their attention on the communal nature of religion (Sanneh 22). Current authors note the importance of Newbigin’s impact on the revival of missiology in church (Hill 173). Therefore, the book is an excellent source of knowledge about missiology.
However, the book possesses some potential weaknesses. First of all, the history covered in the text does not represent the current situation of the Church. Although religious movements may not evolve significantly every year, some societal changes still affect the relationship between the Church and the people. Furthermore, the relations between the Church and the mission, as discussed by Newbigin, also change with time. Another weak point is the scarcity of information about other religions, as the book looks at the history of the missionary movement only from the position of Christian theology. Moreover, as Garner states, the community and its culture should also become a part of the discussion, which limits the relevance of Newbigin’s work to the current state of religion (22). Although Newbigin admits faith cannot exist outside one’s culture, he thinks the latter is also significantly impacted by the Church at all times. Some can argue that this view undermines the positive outlook on the mission in which he believes.
In my opinion, Newbigin’s book is a solid representation of the Christian missiology work, which argues about the necessity for the Church to remember its missionary foundation. While it provides the audience with a single opinion, it cannot be overlooked as the information given in the book studies various points and religious movements to define church not only as an entity but as a word as well. His examination of different traditions and beliefs allows readers to see the main arguments of missiology and examine the history of Christendom from an insider’s point of view.
Bevans, Stephen. “Mission as the Nature of the Church: Developments in Catholic Ecclesiology.” Australian e-Journal of Theology, vol. 21, no. 3, 2014, pp. 184-196.
Garner, Stephen. “Contextual and Public Theology: Passing Fads or Theological Imperatives?” Stimulus: The New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought and Practice, vol. 22, no. 1, 2015, pp. 20-28.
Hill, Graham. Salt, Light, and a City: Ecclesiology for the Global Missional Community: Volume 1, Western Voices. 2nd ed., Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2017.
Newbigin, Lesslie. The Household of God: Lectures on the Nature of Church. 2nd ed., Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2008.
Nikolajsen, Jeppe Bach. The Distinctive Identity of the Church: A Constructive Study of the Post-Christendom Theologies of Lesslie Newbigin and John Howard Yoder. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2015.
Sanneh, Lamin. Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture. 2nd ed., Orbis Books, 2015.