About Paul Schlehlein

Follower of Jesus, husband, father of five, and missionary church-planter to the Tsongas in rural South Africa.

Review: John G. Paton: The Autobiography of the Pioneer Missionary to the New Hebrides

John G. Paton, Banner of Truth, 1897/2013, 538 pp. 5 of 5 stars

This is the story of an island of cannibals, their journey out of darkness, and the man who led them to the light.

John G. Paton stands as one of the great missionaries in church history. He was an icon in his day—a household name in Great Britain and Australia. Contemporaries such as C. H. Spurgeon called him the ‘King of the Cannibals’.

After a decade of successful evangelistic and pastoral work in Glasgow, Scotland, Paton (1824-1907) gave the rest of his life as a missionary to a group of remote islands in the South Pacific. In the midst of unimaginable suffering, he still managed to plant churches, translate the Scriptures, spread the gospel and–in this later years–travel the world as a kind of missionary statesman.

But his most enduring legacy is his Autobiography (edited by his brother). His son, who later became a missionary on the same islands, called his father’s autobiography a missionary classic—unable to be excelled. It is still in print over a hundred years later.

Three items make Paton’s life worth studying:

  1. Paton is a model of courage — In our world of emotional sensitivity, the South Seas missionary comes with bare-knuckled bravery. We need men like Paton to put steel in our spines and assurance in our minds that there are times to double the shot and shorten the fuse.
  2. Paton’s pen will arrest you — Paton is clear and vivid and owns that evasive knack for the well-turned phrase. One sample: “I knew not, for one brief hour, when or how attack [against my life] might be made; and yet, with my trembling hand clasped in the hand once nailed on Calvary, and now swaying the sceptre of the universe, calmness and peace and resignation abode in my soul.” (p. 117).
  3. Paton will encourage the faint-hearted — Over a century ago, his autobiography gave hope to worn-out, discouraged missionaries in obscure places when they saw what God had done among the cannibals of the South Seas.

Paton’s autobiography is among the greatest missionary accounts ever written. However, the books length, like many biographies, may scare off readers. Still, this work reads like a thriller and overflows with application and warmth.


Review: Slave

John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson, 2010, 225 pp. 3 of 5 stars

What is the most unforgivable notion in today’s world? Slavery is good.

In Slave, John MacArthur explores the paradox that people never stop being slaves. Pre-conversion, we are slaves to sin. Post-conversion, we are slaves to Christ. “Although you used to be slaves of sin…you became enslaved to righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18, HCSB).

MacArthur calls the mistranslation of “slave” to “servant” a centuries-long cover up by English NT translators, much of it owing to the historical stigma of slavery. But there is a difference. A servant is hired. A slave is owned. Surprisingly, the latter is the most common metaphor for a Christian in Scripture. It speaks of absolute commitment as a requirement for all Christians, not an add-on for extra-spiritual Christians. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jn. 10:27).

This book is really MacArthur’s contribution toward the doctrines of grace from the perspective of total surrender to Christ. After skillfully weaving Scripture with church history (e.g. Luther and Newton), MacArthur uses chapters 8-11 to unpack TULIP (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints).

He closes with four compelling paradoxes about slavery: it brings freedom (to do right), it ends prejudice (since all are slaves), it magnifies grace (we’re undeserving) and it pictures salvation (slavery is the central message of salvation).

This volume is not as popular as The Gospel According to Jesus or perhaps as helpful as the explicit Lordship volume Hard to Believe. Still, it is a message that is rare in today’s churches and invaluable for sinners and saints to ponder.


  1. “The one slavery is terminated precisely in order to allow the other slavery to begin” (140, quoting Murray Harris).
  2. “True freedom begins when slavery to sin ends. And slavery to sin ends only when we have become the slaves of God” (142).
  3. “To my great astonishment I found that the [Scripture] passages which speak decidedly for election and persevering grace, were about four times as many as those which speak apparently against…” (151, quoting George Müller, who had once called election a “devilish doctrine”).

Five Thoughts on South Africa’s Sexual Revolution

Satan has many strategies for making sin palatable. One tactic is the use of language. If he can make wickedness a part of everyday parlance or if he can edit out certain vocabulary with confining baggage and replace it with more appetizing terminology, half the battle is won.

Nowhere are these methods more obvious than in the arena of today’s sexual revolution. This is not merely a Western problem. The vessels of homosexuality washed up on African shores years ago—an innumerable fleet behind them.

As a missionary in rural Africa for over a decade, I have seen first hand the full-throttle pursuit of the West to cram the enlightened sins of the city down the villager’s throat. In a recent article in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian entitled “Searching for New Queer Terms”, the author tries to prove that old demonic scheme: change the vocabulary; change the mentality; change the behavior.

The argument runs like this. Since the LGBT crowd in Africa can only use English for their movement, the people are less likely to embrace it. Adopting African terminology for homosexuality would then make it more acceptable.

What should African Christians conclude amidst so much confusion? Here are five observations.

  1. Sinful behavior does affect the whole community.

The author knows that Africans prize Ubuntu (“I” exist because of “we”). So he must negate the African fear of taboo. He denies “bad things are happening in the community — lack of rain, crime, ritual murders …because of you or your behavior.”

Biblically, however, sin is not just personal. The snarled roots of wickedness are so complex, they contaminate every tool designed to remove it. Sin is never alone. David’s sin brought death to 70,000 men (2Sm. 24:15). Israel’s pride left several dozen soldiers with widows (Jos. 7:5). Achan’s sin brought destruction to his wife and children (Jos. 7). Homosexuals proceed not only to their own hurt, but to the detriment of their surrounding society. Continue reading

An Interview About Singing by Mark Dever and Keith Getty

Be encouraged by listening to this excellent interview between Mark Dever (Capitol Hill Baptist; Nine Marks) and Keith Getty (Getty Music) on topics like congregational singing, hymn-writing, and church music.

(Bonus: Mark Dever, known for his powerful speaking voice, breaks into vibrato at random moments).

Eight Highlights (with minute markers):

  1. (28:00) When it comes to singing in congregational worship, pastors must keep these three things in mind. (1) Curate the songs (“what are the 20, 50, 80 hymns we want our congregation to grow old with.”) (2) Be active in choosing the songs each week. (3) Sing great songs (“life’s too short to sing stupid ones”). (Getty)
  2. (33:00) “Something that wrecked music for congregational singing in churches was when the rock concert of the 1960’s became the youth group of the 1970’s which became the church of the 1980’s.” (Dever)
  3. (36:00) What are four songs you’ve written that are great for congregational singing? (1) Speak O Lord (2) Power of the cross (3) O Church Arise (4) For the Cause (Getty)
  4. (39:00) “In the controversy regarding ‘In Christ Alone’, we refused to change the wording of God’s wrath being satisfied.”
  5. (42:00) In the past, when life got tough, rebellious people went back to church. Now, when life gets tough, people leave church because the songs are so utterly vacuous. (Getty)
  6. (44:00) John MacArthur’s parenting tip to Getty: ‘We filled every car and every room of the house with songs of the Lord. Our family sang!”
  7. (47:00) How can pastors improve congregational singing? (1) The pastor is in charge of singing. (2) Invest in your musicians. (3) Encourage the flock’s family to sing. (Getty)
  8. (59:00) Dever closes by reading a lengthy but incredibly moving email from an African-American young man who loves singing the reverent hymns of the faith.

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.