Review: Walking His Trail

Rating: ★★★★★

Authors: Steve Saint is the author of three books, including The End of the Spear, which bridges his father’s martyrdom to his own missionary calling. He also narrated the 2004 documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor. In 1995, Steve and Ginny Saint went to rural Ecuador with their four children to work as missionaries among the Huaorani people; they left Ecuador in 1996, desiring to foster indigenous independence, which led to the founding of ITEC for “Indigenous Training and Equipping”:

Steve Saint started ITEC in 1996 to develop tools and training to equip the indigenous Christ-followers to meet the physical and spiritual needs of their own people. [About ITEC]

 

Overview: The subtitle of the book is “Signs of God along the Way.” Steve recorded these stories of prayer and providence as encouragement—and also to encourage others to remember and record things God has done—like the stone pillars set up by Jacob in Genesis 28 and 31, and by his descendants in Joshua 4 and 7.

The stories in this book span many years and serve the purpose of recording many stories about the Saints that are not in Steve’s memoir, End of the Spear, or the many related documentaries or biographies. It is worth noting that the chapters can be read in any order. In many ways, this book acts as a complement to End of the Spear.

The book is also beautifully designed, with a thick matte softcover and rounded corners (pictured above).

Meat: Although I enjoyed the whole book, my favorite stories from the book were chapters 2 and 7. In chapter 2, “Out of the Sky,” Steve meets a bitter and backslidden man in a tiny town in southeast Texas, and ministers to him in a way that, providentially, only he could.

In chapter 7, “Timbuktu: To the Ends of the Earth,” Steve is on a short-term trip to Timbuktu, Mali, and he meets the one Christian in the area—a man who was profoundly affected by the story of the Palm Beach Five. If you know anything about Mali and the western Sahara, this is a very impressive story.

As someone who could merely be capitalizing on his connection to the most famous missionary martyrdom of the twentieth century, Steve writes and speaks with humility and self-effacement.

I also discovered while reading this book that I have been to many of the locations mentioned in the book: southwest Minnesota, southeast Texas, and even—unwittingly—to the hospital where Steve was born and Ginny worked as a nurse, in Ecuador. There is almost no one famous that I would say this about, but I would really love to meet Steve Saint because of his unique story and his simple heart.

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The Creation of the Angels

In pulses deep of threefold Love,
Self-hushed and self-possessed,
The mighty, unbeginning God
Had lived in silent rest.
With His own greatness all alone
The sight of Self had been
Beauty of beauties, joy of joys,
Before His eye serene.
He lay before Himself, and gazed
As ravished with the sight,
Brooding on His own attributes
With dread untold delight.
No ties were on His bliss, for He
Had neither end nor cause;
For His own glory ’twas enough
That He was what He was.
His glory was full grown;
His light Had owned no dawning dim;
His love did not outgrow Himself,
For naught could grow in Him.
He stirred—and yet we know not how
Nor wherefore He should move;
In our poor human words, it was
An overflow of love.
It was the first outspoken word
That broke that peace sublime,
An outflow of eternal love
Into the lap of time.
He stirred; and beauty all at once
Forth from His Being broke;
Spirit and strength, and living life,
Created things awoke.
Order and multitude and light
In beauteous showers outstreamed;
And realms of newly-fashioned space
With radiant angels beamed.
How wonderful is life in Heaven
Amid the angelic choirs,
Where uncreated Love has crowned
His first created fires!
But, see! new marvels gather there!
The wisdom of the Son
With Heaven’s completest wonder ends
The work so well begun.

Review: When the Swans Fly High

Who: F. W. Boreham, British pastor and author of 49 books. He spent most of his life pastoring in New Zealand and Australia. (See the article “Who Is F. W. Boreham?”)

Genre: On Boreham’s spiritual essays: F. W. Boreham is difficult to place into a genre. A reviewer wrote in Preacher’s Magazine, “There is only one Boreham.” His writing is a mix of essay writing and what I call “literary preaching”—preaching that is intensely informed by both Christian and classic literature. In the main body of his work (“classic Boreham”), some chapters were originally sermons; others were culled from his 3000 biographical essays. In any case, most of his 49 books are a goldmine of suitable (if light) devotional reading. (See my list of his published works.)

Overview: This is a great book of essays, and very hard to obtain. It is definitely one of my favorite volumes from the pen of F. W. Boreham. Thanks to my collaborators, it is now available for Kindle.

“The Order of Melchizedek” illustrates in several ways the meaning of the somewhat enigmatic figure of Melchizedek in Hebrews: “without beginning of days or end of life” (Heb. 7:3).

“Rainbow Gold” compares the human longing for eternity to the search for the gold at the end of the rainbow.

“The Rainbow” speaks of the meaning of the biblical symbol of the rainbow in its several uses (Genesis, Ezekiel, and Revelation), and also tells the fascinating tale of a etiological myth about the rainbow among the Maori where Boreham spent his first pastorate. (On the rainbow, see also this fine passage from missionary Temple Gairdner.)

“A Pair of Spectacles” is about the tendency to see things, not through your own eyes, but through the eyes of the crowd.

Quotes:

“One of the highest forms of courage is cold-blooded courage, four-o’-clock-in-the-morning courage, the kind of courage that is born of no excitement, is witnessed by no spectators and evokes no cheers.”

“In his Areopagitica, John Milton says that a man may hold an orthodox creed and yet be the worst of heretics.”

“God committed to paper the choicest thoughts of His divine heart.”

“‘Come, wander with me,’ she said,
‘Into regions yet untrod;
And read what is still unread
In the manuscripts of God.'” (quoted from Longfellow in “A Midwinter Holiday”)

“Each man’s individuality is itself a message to mankind, a message which he, and he alone can faithfully deliver. And the whole art of life lies in giving such genuine and accurate and rational expression to that unique individuality of mine that, by the things that I do and the way in which I do them, men may receive a message from my Father that could have come to them in no other way.”

“He cares, we feel, for certain things—the making of worlds, the control of the universe, the destinies of mighty empires. But does He care for the individual soul with its individual needs? Does He care for Barbara with her passionate prayer for the boon of a quiet night? Does He care for John Ridd? Is He prepared, not only to steer the planets on their fiery courses, but to guide John’s heart amidst its complicated entanglements? Does He care for ordinary mortals? Does He care for me?” (“The Doll’s House”)

Review: Rubble and Roseleaves

Author: F. W. Boreham, British pastor and author of 49 books and thousands of articles. He spent most of his life pastoring in New Zealand and Australia. (See our article “Who Is F. W. Boreham?”)

Genre: On Boreham’s spiritual essays: F. W. Boreham is difficult to place into a genre. A reviewer wrote in Preacher’s Magazine, “There is only one Boreham.” His writing is a mix of essay writing and what I call “literary preaching”—preaching that is intensely informed by both Christian and classic literature. In the main body of his work (“classic Boreham”), some chapters were originally sermons; others were culled from his 3000 biographical essays. In any case, most of his 49 books are a goldmine of suitable (if light) devotional reading. (See my list of his published works.)

Best Essays:

“The Fish-Pens” is my favorite in the book. He describes fish kept muscular for the market by a predator fish in the fish-pens—”an animated compliment”—so that they are forced to struggle and swim. Though this is certainly inspirational for believers in adversity, it also points toward the possibility of a theodicy:

I am the prey of antagonisms of many kinds. . . . Life is full of irritations. . . . I am not my own master. Like Paul, I find a law that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. . . . Paul found it extremely exasperating, and so do I.

In the same essay, he quotes from Martin Luther:

It was my temptations and my corruptions that best prepared me for my pulpit. The devil has been my best professor at exegetical and experimental divinity. Before that great schoolmaster took me in hand, I was a suckling child and not a grown man. It was my combats with sin and with Satan that made me a true minister of the New Testament.

“Whistling Jigs to Milestones” recounts an outback pastor’s feeling that his work and preaching had no results. In the end, the feeling shows how seriously he takes his call, but his pessimism might not be the most accurate reflection of reality.

“Achmed’s Investment” tells of an Egyptian casting seed abroad in a floodplain (the Nile). Like “Whistling Jigs to Milestones,” it deals with feelings of futility in ministry. This essay is an incredible exhortation to risk and unselfishness.

The only way to keep a thing is to throw it away.

“A Box of Blocks”, describing Jesus as Alpha and Omega, asks:

Which, I ask myself, is the greater—the literature or the alphabet? And I see at once that the alphabet is the greater because it is so inexhaustible. . . .

As the disciples discovered on the road to Emmaus, I cannot understand my Bible unless I take Him as being the Key to it all.

“Be Shod with Sandals” also has an interesting take on ministry and work”

The ox is ready for service in the field or for sacrifice in the temple. . . . “Be shod with sandals;” so that, whether the Revelation or the Road shall call you, you are ready for either. The ministry is neither mundane nor monastic; the minister wears sandals that he may keep in touch with two worlds.

Who Is Watchman Nee?

Living Stream Ministry has kindly kept Watchman Nee’s entire written works available online, barring three or four in which copyright belongs to the publisher.

I was going to just post a list of his books, but I thought it would be better to put down some thoughts about his life, suffering, and theology, since these are so much less known than his books, which are sold everywhere.

Watchman Nee’s Life and Suffering

Watchman Nee (Chinese name: Ni Tuosheng) was a Chinese pastor who was considered a key pioneer in a Chinese church-planting movement from 1922. His parents baptized him as a Methodist; from age 13 he was educated at a CMS (i.e. Church of England) school; and he was profoundly impacted by the writings of the Plymouth Brethren. He was a great lover of the works of T. Austin-Sparks and helped to keep them in print. You can see how, theologically, he was not just connected to one stream, though the Brethren probably had the largest influence on him.

Nee suffered ongoing persecution for much of his lifetime. Churches in China came under great pressure from the government after the 1949 Communist Revolution under the infamous Mao Zedong. Watchman Nee was arrested in 1952 under trumped-up charges, and had to undergo “re-education.” Many of his co-workers were arrested or coerced into bringing accusations against him. His scheduled release date in 1967 came and went, and the years continued to roll by. Nee’s wife, Charity, died during his last year in prison, but he was not allowed to attend her funeral. Finally, in 1972, Watchman Nee himself died after twenty years in prison.

His Theology and Writing Style

Because of his orthodox preaching, his voluminous writings, and his endurance under pressure, he is regarded as one of the treasures of the Chinese church.

His treatment of Scripture is always accessible and written in simple language. Perhaps because he is not European, his illustrations rarely come from expected directions; but they are always homely, brief, and straightforward.

Theologically, he was orthodox, but never dull. On the central topics, like soteriology or Christology, his stance would be utterly orthodox; he approaches other topics in ways that are more speculative.

Essential Books By Watchman Nee

His most popular books are those where he talks about the basic elements of walking with Christ:

  • Sit, Walk, Stand is my personal favorite, where he pulls the titular metaphor for Christian life from Ephesians;
  • The Normal Christian Life deals with topics like Christ’s blood, sin, and “the flesh” and “the spirit”;
  • Several of his books, like The Messenger of the Cross, Spiritual Knowledge and The Release of the Spirit, have been deeply challenging to me as they focus on the meaning of being conformed to Christ in his death and resurrection.

Other books include straightforward, devotional Bible studies. Three that come to mind are:

  • The Practical Issues of This Life (on various topics);
  • Changed into His Likeness (on the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and
  • Love Not the World (1 John 2:15).

On some topics he takes more of an independent or speculative line—usually with great confidence. In some places, he is following the ideas of Brethren writers, but in other places his thought processes are quite novel. I can think of four books that I have read with mixed enjoyment, where he is (for good or for ill!) definitely outside of mainstream evangelical thought:

  • Mystery of Creation promotes gap theory, an idea which had several prominent Brethren advocates, but is definitely not in the main stream;
  • His book on The Song of Songs is mainly allegorical, a mode of interpretation roundly criticized in Western seminaries;
  • The Latent Power of the Soul is not exactly recommended for family devotions, as it deals with the occult;
  • Lastly, whatever your pastor says, Nee’s ideas on Authority and Submission (or Spiritual Authority) were undoubtedly influenced by East Asian culture!

The “Local Churches”

Before I conclude, Watchman Nee’s connection to the local church movement needs to be mentioned. The “local churches” are a global movement that grew out of the church-planting movement with which Nee was connected. Some sources say that he founded the movement, but this is probably a little misleading, since the movement has obviously metamorphosed over the decades since his death. “Local church” leaders say that, according to a strict interpretation of 1 Corinthians 3, adopting a name (or denomination, which is just a fancy word for a name) or organization other than the name of Christ is heresy——and, I might add, I have argued elsewhere that this kind of exclusion itself is exactly what Scripture means by ‘heresy’! “Local churches” only take names like “the church of Jesus in Owensville,” and they typically can be found handing out their “approved” Recovery Version of the Bible, another sign of their cultish tendencies.

It is not easy to trace Nee’s connection to the “local church” movement, but it didn’t spread to the West until Nee had already been imprisoned for many years. Apparently, Witness Lee—whose books are also online—is the one who more or less codified their mode of worship and ecclesiology, following off of Nee’s principles. And it is not all wrong. I sympathize with their point that denominations can be unhelpful. But I find it to be an utter abomination to cast off the billions of Christians who accept a church orientation or a theological name like “Protestant,” “Baptist,” or “Calvinist.” These names are only powerful inasmuch as we believe what they entail; and they are only divisive inasmuch as we empower them to be so. In a rare inversion, I believe the “local church” movement is actually right about what’s right but they’re wrong about what’s wrong.

Conclusion

Watchman Nee’s life speaks for itself. China was known for many years as one of the places of dire need in evangelical missions; now it is known for its vast networks of underground churches, often functioning, as far as we can tell, without any institutional backing (like in Korea), or any British colonial influence (like in Uganda and Fiji), or any unscriptural prosperity preaching (as is disappointingly widespread in Kenya and much of subsaharan Africa). In terms of both Nee’s writings and the Chinese underground church, “great is the company that has published” the word, and it would be as unjust to give all the credit to a simple preacher like Watchman Nee as it would to give him none.

Review: Zigzag Journeys in the Camel Country

Rating: ★★★★½

Authors: Amy E. Zwemer is the co-author of Topsy-Turvy Land and Zigzag Journeys in the Camel Country. A native Australian, she met Samuel M. Zwemer while she was serving as a pioneer missionary in Basra, present-day Iraq.

Samuel M. Zwemer was a pioneer missionary among Arabs along the Persian Gulf. His later career was spent writing, teaching and mobilizing for missions among Muslims while he was based in Egypt for many years, and later at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Overview:

Where Topsy-Turvy Land was focused on daily life in the Arab world—which has, needless to say, changedZigzag Journeys has a narrative basis. Although it’s not always clear who is narrating (whether Amy Zwemer or her husband), the chapters that recount journeys are easy to read and fascinating in their detail.

Meat:

There is a wealth of interest and irony in the Zwemers’ accounts of their journeys, such as “A Pioneer Journey on the Pirate Coast” and “Along Unbeaten Traces in Yemen.” “The Jews in Kheibar” is a particularly interesting and seldom-told tale of the Jews who once inhabited the Arabian Peninsula.

Bones:

This book maintains everything that’s best about Topsy-Turvy Land but in a much less childish style. Adult readers who felt patronized by Topsy-Turvy will find this book much more engaging.

The Father of Evangelical Missions—And It’s Not William Carey!

321 years ago, on September 19, 1698, the Francke Foundation’s orphanage was officially chartered in Halle (now Germany) by the King of Prussia, without any . Most evangelicals haven’t heard of August Hermann Francke, but in 1893, the Missionary Review of the World called him “the father of evangelical missions.” Here are a few of the things accomplished under the umbrella of Francke’s multifaceted foundations:
 
• Along with many friends A. H. Francke was at the epicenter of an evangelical revival among university students at the University of Leipzig. The keynotes of the movement were love of the Bible and personal conversions: “collegia philobiblica” was the name used for their Bible study sessions, and many testified of being “born again” through these meetings.
• At the revival in Leipzig, they were first called “Pietists” (Pietisten). Count Zinzendorf’s parents were connected to the Pietist movement, and so the influence of Pietism on the Moravians, and afterwards the Methodists, is incalculable; John Wesley also personally edited and published some of A. H. Francke’s works.
• Professor Francke was eventually forced out of Leipzig because of institutional disdain for their small group-style meetings.
• Francke started providing personally for orphans in 1695 after he found that the poor in his city did not know the most foundational truths of the Christian faith.
• Francke funded his orphanage “by faith” along the lines of Hudson Taylor and George Müller, although he preceded them both by more than a century. The account of his many answered prayers was published in English as The Footsteps of Divine Providence.
• Francke personally chose the first Lutheran missionaries for the Tranquebar mission, including Bartholomew Ziegenbalg who went to India in 1706—87 years before William Carey sailed for the region.
• Francke relentlessly supported the Tranquebar mission with his famous “Halle Reports.” After corresponding with the missionaries, Francke (and his son after him) published reports of their progress in India, which perhaps did more than anything to make Europeans aware of the possibilities overseas missions.
• A friend volunteered to set up a printing press and bookshop, funded by Francke’s Foundations. Over the years, this printing press distributed more than a million copies of Scripture in Europe.
• Although the Reformation had been around for almost two centuries, the “Pietists” of Germany were the first European Christians whose theology closely aligned with the distinctives of modern evangelicals: personal prayer life, daily Bible reading, overseas missions, and the importance of conversion.
 
If this summary of A. H. Francke’s life has piqued your interest, you can read a 55-page biography of Francke in the Kindle Store for just $5.99.
 
Be on the lookout, too, for an announcement about Francke’s remarkable account of his orphanage, Footsteps of Divine Providence, which we hope to put back in print as well!