Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapid, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans. 1995. 192 pp
“In the name of Jesus” is the first natural answer a Christian usually utters when the question of authority arises. However this answer is not understood if you are in place where Jesus is virtually unknown that is if he is known at all their knowledge of Jesus is radically different from the Christian’s understanding of Jesus. For example, Newbigin cites that for the Hindu, Jesus is just one of the jeevanmuktas. He is one of the few who attained full realization of the divine in this life. For the Muslims Jesus is one of the messengers of Allah. For the man of Western society, he is one of the world’s religious leaders to whom we will find reference (along with Buddha, Muhammad, Moses and Guru Nanak). These show that it is impossible to answer the questions “who is Jesus?’ with out using a language that is shaped by the pre-Christian experience of the one who is asking the question. The risk of identifying Jesus with local deities is always present with them. Nonetheless, those who become believers will know that in some aspect he is like them, but more so uniquely more than them.
In light of this, Newbigin insists that it is impossible to know Christ Jesus at all as a natural happening. If our knowledge of him is based in our cultural and religious presupposition, it will always result in a distorted knowledge of him. Our understanding of who Jesus is the work of the Holy Spirit. Nobody knows Christ based on one’s intellectual capacity. When Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God Jesus quickly commented that it is not his own achievement but a gift from above. Peter’s incredible insight about Jesus is the work of the Spirit of God himself (1 Corinthians 12:1-3, 1 John 4:1-3). It is the action of God by which he chooses and anoints the messengers of his reign. It is the work of the sovereign Spirit to enable men and women in new situations and in new cultural forms in the language of their own culture. The mission of the church is its obedient participation in that action of the Spirit by which the confession that Jesus is Lord becomes the authentic confession of every new people, each in its own tongue (20).
Newbigin quotes the first chapter of Mark’s gospel to answer the question. He thinks that the scripture passage can best answer the question. In the passage, Jesus was introduced as the one who announces the coming of the reign of God and is anointed by the Spirit of God. This is how Jesus was proclaimed by the first believers in a pluralist society that knew not Jesus at all. This Trinitarian language was how the first Christians articulated the proclamation about the identity of Jesus. “This understanding is not the result of speculative thought. It has been given by revelation in the actual historical life and work of the Son” (26).
Thus the question of the authority of the words “in the name of Jesus” can only be answered in terms that embody the Trinitarian faith. Even though this model cannot be verified by reference to the axioms of our culture, this is offered on the authority of revelation and with the claim that it does provide the possibility of practical wisdom to grasp and deal with human life as it really is (28). Therefore, Christian mission can be understood only if it will be seen through a Trinitarian lens —as proclaiming the kingdom of the Father, as sharing the life of the Son and as bearing the witness of the Spirit (29).