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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
David Wells, Eerdmans, 2008, 253 pages, 5 of 5 stars
The Courage to Be Protestant condenses the central points of the author’s previous four volumes (No Place for Truth, God in the Wasteland, Losing Our Virtue, and 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.
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
Eckhard Schnabel, IVP, 2008, 518 pages, 5 of 5 stars
From time to time, most missionaries have asked themselves why their ministry is not as successful as the Apostle Paul’s. “I must be using the wrong strategy,” we groan. And it is certainly understandable to search for patterns in his ministry in hopes of garnering the same triumphs. But Paul was fruitful, Schnabel argues, not because of methods but because of the Holy Spirit’s work.
This theme is among the many reasons I consider Paul the Missionary among the top five books I have read on missions. It is a challenge to missionaries to (re)evaluate the goals and methods of their ministry in light of the work of the apostle Paul.
Schnabel’s goal is to examine “Paul’s missionary work—proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and establishing communities of believers—in terms of the goals that he had and in terms of the methods he used” (30).
And just in case we were wondering what a missionary is, he defines him as one who establishes contact with unbelievers, proclaims to them the gospel, leads them to Christ, and integrates them into a local church.
Did Paul have a missionary strategy? Schnabel says no in that he didn’t use a carefully nuanced, well-formulated game plan but yes in that he did have a broad and flexible goal to preach the gospel to as many people as possible while relying predominantly upon the Spirit’s power to change lives.
Common Misconceptions about Paul and Missions
Schnabel’s greatest strength is exposing popular misconceptions about missions and Paul’s ministry. I have consolidated six of them: Continue reading
Martin Luther, Baker, 1525/1957, 322 pages, 5 of 5 stars
Early in the 16th century, two great minds collided on a topic with tremendous implications. On one side was Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, a humanist scholar of unsurpassed learning. No one in Europe could rival his deftness in linguistics. His witty tongue was evident in his best-selling satire In Praise of Folly.
Though Erasmus was an ardent Roman Catholic, he was not a theologian, nor did he care to be. And the amicable Erasmus would rather do his fighting behind a desk than brawl behind a pulpit. As one author put it, he could never stand contra mundum.
It would be difficult to find an equal mind with greater dissimilarity than Martin Luther. He was the antithesis of everything Erasmus valued. Bombastic and brash, Luther had been convinced monasticism was the surest way to heaven—that is, until he found the Gospel in Romans 1:17. His Ninety-Five Theses, previously idling in the parking lot, would now be parked just outside the Vatican. Continue reading
Robert Louis Stevenson, Amazon Digital, 1886. 82 pages. Five of Five stars
In 1885 and at the age of 36, Robert Louis Stevenson published his third and most popular larger novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is a dark and complex tale about corrupt human nature.
In real life, Stevenson experienced a grim story of his own. Always tormented by poor health, Stevenson dropped out of his law profession, married a divorcée against his parent’s wishes and died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 44.
The protagonist is Dr. Jekyll, an elderly scientist who has discovered how to change himself into the grotesque form of Mr. Hyde. It began as an innocent experiment by which Hyde could indulge in carnal delight by night and Jekyll could maintain his high social standard by day. It was the perfect life of two identities.
The doctor made systematic provisions for his evil nature, including his own quarters, wardrobe and bank account. Though Jekyll was confident that he could control Hyde, he soon found that his evil nature was gaining strength.
If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure…
But Hyde had energy and the will to be alive. One morning, Jekyll awoke to discover that he had transformed into Hyde without taking the potion. “My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring.” He then realized that a choice had to be made between the two. Continue reading