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.

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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.

Excerpts:

  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”).

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

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

Review: Pulpit Aflame

Eds. Beeke and Benge, Reformation Heritage, 2016, 188 pages, 4 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-4-01-53-pmWe named one of our sons Lawson, so I was eager to read a book penned in Steve Lawson’s honor. Foundations of Grace is among the most influential books I have read. He is in the top three preachers I have ever heard and has always been a model of kindness in his conversations with me.

Most striking about Pulpit Aflame is the lineup of contributors. It’s an All-Pro of preachers, a roster including MacArthur, Sproul, Ferguson, Beeke, and Thomas. Chapter one is a biography of Lawson’s life and ministry, with the next twelve chapters discussing the mandate, meaning, motivation, and method of preaching.  Continue reading