Missions Myths: Missionaries are Mavericks

Samuel Maverick (1803-1870) was a Texas lawyer so preoccupied in his business that he failed to brand his cattle. His neighbors soon dubbed his large herd of stray, unbranded calves “mavericks” and in time the term came to mean an independently minded person.

This is not a picture of St. Paul

To many, this is the perfect description of a missionary. He’s an individualist, a free spirit, and a dissenter, roaming the foreign fields without the branding of any higher authority save God himself. Off he goes to distant lands, a cowboy throwing caution to the wind—a kamikaze itching to make his mark.

The heroes adorning his wall are men like David Livingston—pioneer explorer to Africa—and Robert Morrison, the father of Protestant missions in China who sailed for the Orient alone. And couldn’t one add St. Paul to this list, for it was the apostle who wished bachelorhood upon everyone (1Co. 7:7)?

Truth be told, the New Testament model of missions is nothing of this kind. A quick survey of Acts reveals over a hundred proper names, many connected to Paul. Just as Jesus surrounded himself with disciples, Paul hemmed himself in by a large troupe of fellow laborers. The number of Paul’s friends is astounding. Continue reading

Review: The Ministry

Charles J. Brown, Banner of Truth, 2006, 112 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Charles Brown (1806-1884) was a gifted preacher and faithful minister in the Free Church of Scotland for over a half century.

The four chapters of this little volume on The Ministry cover godliness, prayer, preaching and pulpit power. The chapter on preaching was the most engaging, full of Puritanic metaphor (sermons “skillfully feathered and discharged from the bow”) and personal illustrations (he never used a manuscript or preached through books).

Surprisingly, the best takeaways come from the second and third appendix, “Pastoral Visitation” and “Communion Table Addresses.” In the former he shows the value, timing, and method of visiting parishioners and how this changed over his ministry. The latter gives several reasons for brief addresses prior to the Lord’s Table.

This paperback began as various addresses to seminary students, making it a great little gift for young pastors. Or, get a taste of the book by interacting with it here.

Review: Amy Carmichael: Beauty for Ashes

Iain Murray, Banner of Truth, 2015, 168 pages, 4 of 5 stars

If I may audaciously use a baseball analogy for a book published in a country not at all sympathetic to “America’s pastime”, Iain Murray’s Amy Carmichael was an unexpected curveball.

As perhaps the premier Christian biographer of our day, Murray has specialized in lengthy tomes on the lives of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Jonathan Edwards, and J.C. RyleCarmichael, then–barely 150 pages–was a pleasant surprise. I suspect this brevity was in part due to Elisabeth Elliot’s already lengthy bio of Amy.

Murray keeps the story moving with colorful descriptions of Amy’s life as a missionary in India. Several things made her a non-conformist and a woman ahead of her time. She never married and yet was the unquestioned leader of the orphanage–even when qualified men arrived. She was Keswick in her theology and determined by nature. She arrived in India in 1895 and died there in 1951 without ever taking a furlough. She is known primarily for her deep affection of the Indian orphans at Dohnavur and the dozen or so books she penned, including If and Things as They Are. 

Murray doesn’t hide her flaws but does not succumb either to today’s unmitigated penchant for discovering something (anything!) to criticize about the hero of the story. For example, he is insightful enough to see that Amy’s ugly split with Stephen Neill–though heartbreaking–was the right thing to do. Neill (A History of Christian Missions) certainly made many contributions to missions, but some of his liberal ideas would later vindicate her.

On a personal note, our ministry is already benefiting from this bio. Amy’s “brown eye/blue eye illustration” I used in a sermon recently has been making its way through our rural African congregation to the great delight of the villagers. This is an excellent read for young people, laymen, mothers, and girls interested in missions, though the gold standard of Amy’s life still remains the work by Elisabeth Elliot.

Review: The Courage to Be Protestant

David Wells, Eerdmans, 2008, 253 pages, 5 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-03-06-at-10-47-47-amThe Courage to Be Protestant condenses the central points of the author’s previous four volumes (No Place for TruthGod in the Wasteland, Losing Our Virtueand Above All Earthly Powers) and emphasizes the same five themes: Truth, God, Self, Christ, and Church.  Wells argues it takes no courage to call oneself a Protestant but much of it to live Protestant truths. This book is a damning and unfettered critique of modern-day evangelicalism.

Overview

In chapter one, Wells divides evangelicalism into three teams so the reader knows who Wells is scoring against. The first group he calls “classical”, the deeds and creeds of fundamentalism/Neo-evangelicalism that held tightly to sola Scriptura and penal substitution but lost its way by discarding secondary doctrines (viz. Christianity Today) and minimizing the local church. Second are the marketers comprising the fashionable world of Hybles, Warren and George Barna. Third are the emergents (i.e. doctrinal minimalists). Wells asserts that all three of these groups in American Evangelicalism–now more ubiquitous than ever–are in differing degrees more interested in sola cultura than sola Scriptura.  Continue reading

If Polygamy Is Wrong, Why Does God Commend It?

image-2-22-17-at-6-18-pmNot only does God condone polygamy, the story goes, but he actively promotes it.

Exhibit A: The Lord’s words to King David in 2 Samuel 12.

7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8 And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’ (2Sm. 12:7-11).

Many of Israel’s rulers were polygamists–most in rebellion against God. Discrediting their marital choices, then, is not difficult. If the kings couldn’t figure out a stump was not celestial, surely they aren’t models of matrimony.

But there are three apparent exceptions. Solomon, Joash, and David were good kings– the latter being a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14).  Continue reading

Review: This Horrid Practice: The Myth and Reality of Traditional Maori Cannibalism

Paul Moon, Penguin, 2008, 304 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-10-28-29-pmExactly 130 years ago some Swiss missionaries living just a stone’s throw from our village drew attention to some particularly gruesome scenes of cannibalism in Elim.

The missionaries recorded most of these accounts in their private journals. And yet, the modern author (and revisionist) I was reading–now looking back at such claims–believes this material was most likely invented. “Missionaries embellish,” he would say cynically. “Foreign churches expect dramatic stories.” On and on.

Fast forward now to this book. I typically read the last chapter first. It’s one of the privileges of reading non-fiction. So when I picked up This Horrid Practice, I was struck by Moon’s conclusion about modern historians who like to whiteout the ugly parts in foreign cultures:

The revisionists would argue that reports of cannibalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were frequently made to excite audiences back in Europe–that their creators used the widespread ignorance of many indigenous cultures to conceal their falsifications….It all seems to make sense, but it is all totally wrong.

Anyone who takes jabs at post-modernists and multi-cultural progressives has my ear. So I decided to start from the beginning and read the whole thing through. Here’s what I found. Continue reading

Missions Myths: Antioch is the Model Sending Church

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-6-14-53-pmPaul’s missionary endeavors did not begin in Antioch but well over a decade earlier. The apostle’s mission exploits are commonly divided into three journeys: first (Acts 13-14), second (Acts 15:36-18:22) and third (Acts 18:23-21:16).

Since Paul and Barnabas began the first journey in Antioch, and Acts 13:3 says the church “sent them off”, this assembly is often considered the model mission sending church.
Not only is this assertion be misleading but it could also mask a valuable application for the church. Here are two reasons Antioch is not the model sending church.

Paul arrived in Antioch as a veteran missionary

Most people estimate Paul’s conversion around A.D. 32 and his departure from Antioch around A.D. 45. What was he doing in the thirteen years between his conversion and his “first” missionary journey in Acts 13? Missions! Let’s follow his itinerary. Continue reading