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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Practices of Dialogue in the Roman Catholic Church: Aims and Obstacles, Lessons and Laments by Bradford E. Hinze (Continuum International Publishing) is a substantively informative, academically rigorous, thought-provoking study of the history of the various practices of dialogue and their effectiveness at every level of the Roman Catholic Church around the globe in the past forty years. Descriptively analyzing variations and themes of modern church history's often controversial developments in ritual and theology, dogma and doctrine, Practices Of Dialogue In The Roman Catholic Church offers readers documentation drawn from the premise of the influence of American and western European influences on papacy and the cardinals, particularly, the dialogical and democratic processes in decision making and the institutional, hierarchical structure of the church. Practices of Dialogue in The Roman Catholic Church is particularly recommended reading for seminarians, clergy, theologians, and the laity in their study of the practices and specifics of the Catholic Church during the last half of the twentieth century and the opening decade of the twenty-first.
One of the principal buzzwords of the Second Vatican Council (1963-65), along with collegiality, co-responsibility, full participation, and aggiornamento, was dialogue.

This is a history of how the practices of dialogue have actually worked or failed to work at every level of the church over the past forty years. Beginning at the most basic level, that of the parish, the book moves up the ecclesiastical ladder from parish councils to diocesan synods to the international synod of bishops. The book moves laterally as well to include ecumenical and inter-religious dialogues. A chapter is devoted to the fractious Call to Action Conference, initiated by the U.S. bishops in 1976; another to the new inclusive style of drafting pastoral letters by the U.S. bishops—"The Challenge of Peace" (1983), "Economic Justice for All" (1986), and the never approved pastoral on women, "Partners in the Mystery of Redemption." A further chapter is devoted to Cardinal Bernardin's Catholic Common Ground Initiative, which is still going on, though it was initially publicly attacked by four U.S. cardinals. Finally, there is a chapter on what was perhaps the most radical and far-reaching exercise of dialogue of all, namely, the dialogical and democratic processes by which women religious revised their constitutions.

This is a cautionary tale, filled with thick description of advances and retreats. In a curious way, the book is a sequel to the multi-volume History of the Second Vatican Council, edited by Giuseppe Alberigo and Joseph Komonchak. If those volumes tell us what transpired at the council, Hinze’s volume tells us what happened when the council fathers went home and all the good ideas of the council were either put into effect or left to gather dust in the dead-letter bin. Vatican Council II is an ongoing experiment, and Practices of Dialogue is a series of reports from the labs.

Lesslie Newbigin: A Theological Life by Geoffrey Wainwright (Oxford) Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) was an outstanding figure in the twentieth-century ecumenical movement. Evangelist and preach­er, local practitioner and global strategist in mission, social visionary and man of prayer, the Bishop played pioneering roles in the newly united Church of South India and in the newly established World Council of Churches. Returning to Britain after four dec­ades of ministry on the Indian subcontinent, and remaining always a pastor and teacher, Newbigin for his last twenty-five years devoted his mind and his energies to the task of Christian apologetics in the secularized West.

This intellectual and spiritual biography portrays its subject chiefly as a theologian, whose thought, work, and life were rooted in a firm personal faith, an obedient disciple­ship to Christ, and a vigorous commitment to sharing the Gospel with people of other beliefs. Newbigin is here proposed as an exemplary model for the exercise of theology and as a substantial exponent of classic Christianity in varied cultural contexts. This highly talented and richly graced man emerges with a status and scope comparable to the early Fathers of the Church, "an ineluctable presence in his era." Newbigin's demonstrated attractiveness to a rising gen­eration.

 Himself a distinguished ecumenist and theologian, author Geoffrey Wainwright draws on thirty-five years of personal and literary acquaintance with his subject and on a thorough examination of the Newbigin archives, which include much hitherto unpublished material.

As rarely in modern times, the Church had in Lesslie Newbigin a bishop/­theologian whose career was primarily shaped by his evangelistic and pastoral responsibilities and who yet made contributions to Christian thought that match in interest and importance those of the more academic among his fellow bishops and teachers. Their origin and destination in practice is what gave and continues to give such an extraordinary resonance to the oral and literary products of Newbigin's creative mind and loving heart. On any reck­oning that takes seriously the ecclesial location and reference of theology, Newbigin must be accounted an ineluctable presence in his era.


Christian theology is more immediately a practical than a speculative dis­cipline, and such speculation as it harbors stands ultimately in the service of right worship, right confession of Christ, and right living. Right practice de­mands, of course, critical and constructive reflection, and the best Christian theology takes place in the interplay between reflection and practice. That is why honor is traditionally given to those practical thinkers and preachers who are designated "Fathers of the Church." Most of them were bishops who, in the early centuries of Christianity, supervised the teaching of catechumens, delivered homilies in the liturgical assembly, oversaw the spiritual and moral life of their communities, gathered in council when needed to clarify and determine the faith, and took charge of the mission to the world as evangel­istic opportunities arose. A figure of comparable stature and range in the ecumenical twentieth century was Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998).

A Northumbrian raised in the Presbyterian Church of England, Newbigin went from his studies at Cambridge to service as a Church of Scotland mis­sionary in India. He spent two lengthy periods on the subcontinent: first, from 1936 to 1959, as an evangelist, an ecumenical negotiator, and, from 1947, a bishop in the Madurai and Ramnad diocese of the newly united Church of South India; second, from 1965 to 1974, as bishop in metropolitan Madras. In between, from 1959 to 1965, he served as general secretary of the Inter­national Missionary Council at the time of its integration with the World Council of Churches. In 19 74, he formally retired to Britain, but only in order to take a teaching position for five years at the Selly Oak Colleges in Bir­mingham and subsequently to act for almost a decade as pastor to a local congregation in a racially and religiously mixed area across the city. Besides being elected moderator of the United Reformed Church in the United King­dom, Bishop Newbigin spearheaded the Gospel and Our Culture movement in Britain. In his second (or third) retirement in Southeast London, he figured as a national sage and finally prophet and continued toward the end of his ninth decade to accept, despite failing eyesight, numerous and multifarious speaking engagements. Throughout his life, his analytic penetration, his con­ceptual power, and his mental agility ensured the intellectual quality of his practical wisdom; and his ideas remain to be drawn upon by all those who still engage as he did in the tasks of commending the Gospel and defending the Christian faith, of the spiritual formation of individuals and the edification of the believing community, of reforming the Church and restoring its unity.

What confronts the reader of this book is a theological life in several senses. First, it is the life of Lesslie Newbigin himself, a life lived in faith, hope, and love, which are traditionally called the three theological virtues because they depend directly on God's presence in the human soul. Newbigin's was such a life in Christ. Second, this book is a theological biography in that it con­centrates on the theological thought of its subject, always shown in relation to the contexts in which he lived and the ministries in which he engaged, always located in the broad tradition of churchly life and thought of which he was a part, and always examined for what the thought forged in Newbig­in's life has to say to all times and places and to this time and place in particular. And third, the book is intended as itself a piece of theological writing, in a genre which can bear revival, namely theology as biography or biography as theology; it aims to instantiate a way of doing theology that takes sanctified life and thought seriously as an intrinsic witness to the con­tent and truth of the Gospel.

Given the interweaving of those several strands in the book, it is important to indicate how they may nevertheless be distinguished. To clarify whose is what: the structuring of the book according to aspects of a life is mine, whereas of course the life whose aspects it presents is Newbigin's. Again, the places where Newbigin is being directly quoted or closely paraphrased-and I have provided for the reader much opportunity for firsthand contact with the subject's thought-are plainly set within my ordering of the material in relation to the classic themes and questions of Christian theology and my comments on his arguments in relation to the history of theology, doctrine, and dogma. And finally, I state quite openly when I am making developments and applications of Newbigin's thought that depend also on my own experi­ence and reflection.

To elaborate a little on that last point, I am engaged in a continuing en­counter with my subject that has lasted, on and off, for more than three decades. With a generational gap of thirty years, and at a much lower level of prominence on my part, I have shared many of the same interests as Lesslie Newbigin; my career has reflected, albeit palely, a few features of his own; and our paths have crossed at several junctures. 1, too, was raised outside the Church of England, though as a Methodist, not as a Presbyterian. After my undergraduate studies at Cambridge, I trained for the ministry at Wesley College, Leeds, where I did some work (and the significance of this will emerge) on sacrifice in the Old Testament. My first encounter with Newbigin occurred when, as director of the Division of World Mission and Evangelism at the World Council of Churches, he came to lecture at the graduate school of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey; I remember a German fellow student of mine being impressed that the bishop from South India could speak so incisively in an "unfootnoted" way. My overseas missionary service as a teacher and pastor in West Africa coincided with Newbigin's second major period of service in India. In the mid-1970sl we overlapped in Birmingham, where Newbigin taught missiology at Selly Oak and I taught Scripture and theology at the Queen's College. During that time we were both called on by Faith and Order at the World Council of Churches to address the current theme of local unity and conciliar fellowship. We both worked, in successive stages, on the ultimately unsuccessful plan for covenanting among the En­glish churches. My move to the United States in 1979 still allowed me to roam the world in the cause of the unity and mission of the Church to which Bishop Newbigin continued his lifelong devotion. We corresponded over edi­torial projects of mine, to which Newbigin contributed readily with vigorous and substantial texts. He gave a series of lectures at Duke University, where I teach. Thus, although I was never an intimate of Lesslie's, we enjoyed over many years an easy rapport and saw eye to eye on many matters. It is from this fundamental sympathy of outlook, coupled with my admiration for New­bigin's life and thought, that this biography is written.

My study seeks throughout to show Newbigin's theology as it emerged in the varied contexts of his life and work. The introduction relates his life in a nutshell, so that the reader may have a constant reference to the times and places in which the theological activity is to be situated. The principal source here is Newbigin's autobiography, Unfinished Agenda, supplemented by cor­respondence preserved among his papers, by personal conversations with him, and by the reminiscences of others. Then the bulk of the book is arranged in order to exhibit the various facets of this jewel of a man: first and foremost as a believer and a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ; then as an evangelist faithfully proclaiming to others the Gospel he had received; as an ecumenist passionate for the recovery of unity among divided Christians; as a diligent pastor and bishop in the Church of God; as a missionary strategist under the guidance of the Spirit; as a student of the world's religions and an interlocutor with their representatives; as a visionary who saw human society and the daily lives of people in light of the Kingdom of God; as a liturgist and preacher leading the assembled community to glorify God and find by grace a share in the life of the Blessed Trinity; as a teacher of Scripture and of the doctrinal tradition that interprets Scripture; and finally as an apologist for the Christian faith in the world of late modernity. The sequence of these chapters is in a very rough way chronological, for the aspects are displayed in the order in which they became specially prominent in Newbigin s life or in which a par­ticularly important work was written or accomplished. Once such an aspect is introduced, the chapter may look back at earlier manifestations of that same interest on Newbigins part and pursue the theme into the later stages of his career. My own evaluations occur partly in the course of the presentation and partly at the end of several chapters, where the continuing im­portance of Newbigin's insights may also be suggested. The conclusion of the book estimates Newbigin's place in the Christian Tradition, draws from New­bigin's example some lessons about the doing of theology, and offers, in the perspective set by its subject, some further material considerations concerning the big issues for churchly reflection and action in our time and into the foreseeable future.

As I followed Newbigin's work over the years, I was impressed by the strength and consistency of his vision and its practical enactment; the im­pression was confirmed as I reread his writings and talked with him in prep­aration for this book. Newbigin offers, I believe, an authentic representation of the scriptural Gospel and the classic Christian faith. There is no question here of conducting a critique of Newbigin from a quite different standpoint. I have not even sought to tie up too firmly the occasional loose ends that may be observed in his thought, for that might tighten its texture beyond what is suitable. Certainly it has not been part of my plan to engage all the secondary and tertiary literature on Newbigin and the ambient issues. (In that regard, I have even resisted, though with difficulty, the temptation to read George Hunsberger's 1998 book, Bearing Witness of the Spirit: Lesslie Newbigin's The­ology of Cultural Plurality.) What is present here springs from my own en­counter, in person and on paper and in the results of his work, with a great man of God, theologian, and pastor.

When, in early 1994, I first mentioned to Lesslie Newbigin the project that was developing in my mind for such a book as this, he was hesitant about the prospect of a biography; but as I clarified my specifically theological in­tention, he wrote that "if anyone is to do it, I would certainly be happy that it should be you" (May 7, 1994). From that point on, he unfailingly gave me his prompt and detailed cooperation in correspondence, conversation, and the supply of continuing literary materials. He gave me ready access to all his writings and papers and permission to use them.

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