Elliot Clark, Crossway, 2022, 253 pages, 4 of 5 stars (Full summary)
I’d much rather eat a cheesecake baked by a great cook than a Black Forest gateau baked by PhD-holder in cuisine. And I’d much rather read a missions book by a missionary than a missions book by a missiologist. Missiologists are often armchair missionaries. They write from a comfortable desk in their homeland.
I want the book to smell of dusty pathways and busy marketplaces, to sound like foreign voices, to taste of danger, sadness and joy. This is why great missionary biographies are the best books on missions. They’ve been there and done it.
There are exceptions, sure. Some great books on missions were not written by life-long missionaries (e.g. Paul the Missionary by Schnabel; Missionary Methods by Allen). But a main reason Clark’s work takes flight is because he’s labored on the mission field himself.
What should motivate missionaries to go to the field? Clark says that Paul was consumed with God’s approval on the final day. Though Paul’s motivation was multi-faceted, Clark argues that one of the greatest (and often forgotten) ambitions for missionaries is future reward.
Clark is well-read, accurate, insightful and loaded-down with Scripture. The Scripture index in back is nine pages, double-columned.
The strength of Clark’s book wasn’t the main point he was trying to make. The strength was the insight he sprinkled throughout. Example: Paul was sometimes pulled away from pioneer evangelism to help existing churches but not vice verse. Or, individual-only support for missionaries is a problem because it skips the church’s stamp of approval. Or, missionary volunteerism and the general call to missions is a recent phenomenon, as in the Bible missionaries were hand-picked.
Or, even though Paul didn’t want to build on another man’s foundation, he still wrote Romans to a church he never planted. Or, the phrase “the natives can do ministry better than us” is overstated. Or, Insider Movements are dangerous. Or, Paul wasn’t only interested in unreached groups but in influencing already planted churches.
I can imagine taking any one of these phrases and sitting down with him for hours dissecting each one.
For sure, Clark has thought deeply and biblically about missions. But he doesn’t always write like a long-entrenched, church-planting missionary. We’re told he used to be a missionary in a lesser reached place, perhaps Turkey. But we’re not told for how long or what he did exactly.
The personal illustrations he gives are almost always in the context of short-term missions. He’s in Haiti, then the Balkans, then Romania. But any Christian can do that. The ethos of the book would have been stronger if he had personally illustrated that for which he argued: how to be a faithful, missionary witness in one place over the long haul.
I do not know the circumstances that may have precluded this. On the surface, though, personal, long-standing church planting/evangelistic examples would have improved the book.
While Clark tells enough inspiring stories from missions history to keep the reader engaged, I’m not sure this book is for the common man in the pew. The chapters get quite thick sometimes, occasionally sounding like a doctoral paper turned into a book.
But Clark gets my recommendation because he knows his Bible, knows the mission field and knows his Savior. And don’t miss out on page 62. It’s the most inspiring page of the book.
- “The goal of missions isn’t quick gains but lasting results.” (56)
- “Divine commendation is not the birthright of every missionary.” (57)
- “It’s not enough to listen to national believers. You need to need them.” (103)
Love your reviews, Paul. Helps me know what books I should get for future reading. Thanks for taking the time to write, brother. Always enjoy your articles.