Bishop James Edward Lesslie Newbigin (8 December 1909 – 30 January 1998) was a British theologian, missiologist, missionary and author. Though originally ordained within the Church of Scotland, Newbigin spent much of his career serving as a missionary in India and became affiliated with the Church of South India and the United Reformed Church, becoming one of the Church of South India's first bishops. A prolific author who wrote on a wide range of theological topics, Newbigin is best known for his contributions to missiology and ecclesiology. He is also known for his involvement in both the dialogue regarding ecumenism and the Gospel and Our Culture movement.Many scholars also believe his work laid the foundations for the contemporary missional church movement, and it is said his stature and range is comparable to the "Fathers of the Church.".
Born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1909, Newbigin's elementary and high school education took place in Leighton Park, the Quaker public boarding school in Reading, Berkshire. He went to Queens' College, Cambridge in 1928, during which time he converted to Christianity.On qualifying, he moved to Glasgow to work with the Student Christian Movement (SCM) in 1931. He returned to Cambridge in 1933 to train for the ministry at Westminster College, and in July 1936 he was ordained by the Presbytery of Edinburgh to work as a Church of Scotland missionary at the Madras Mission.
A month later he married Helen Henderson, and in September 1936 they both set off for India where they had one son and three daughters. He also had a sister, Frances, who was a regular worshipper at Jesmond URC (formerly Presbyterian), Newcastle upon Tyne, in the late 1970s and into the 1980s.
He is especially remembered for the time after he returned to England from his long missionary service and travel, when he tried to communicate the serious need for the church to once again take the Gospel to post-Christian Western culture, which he viewed not as a secular society without gods but as a pagan society with false gods.From Newbigin's perspective, western cultures, particularly modern scientific cultures, had uncritically come to believe in objective knowledge that was unaffected by faith-based axiomatic presuppositions. Newbigin challenged this ideas of neutrality and also the closely related discussion concerning the distinction between facts and values, both of which emerged from the Enlightenment. It was during this time that he wrote two of his most important works, Foolishness to the Greeks and The Gospel in a Pluralist Society in which the strong influence of thinkers such as Alasdair MacIntyre and Michael Polanyi is apparent. He returned to these themes in his small volume Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty in Christian Discipleship, published in 1995, in the closing years of his life. Besides MacIntyre and Polanyi, the influence of Martin Buber and Hans Wilhelm Frei is also noticeable in Newbigin's work.