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: Paul the Missionary

Eckhard Schnabel, IVP, 2008, 518 pages, 5 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-10-59-09-amFrom 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