Author Archives: Pioneer Library

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Review: Shadow of the Almighty

Rating:

Who: Elisabeth Elliot first became famous as the wife of Jim Elliot, missionary who was killed in Ecuador in 1956. After publishing the bestselling story of “Operation Auca” in 1957 (Through Gates of Splendor) and Jim’s story in 1958 (Shadow of the Almighty), she returned to the Huaorani with Rachel Saint to serve as a missionary until 1963, and became a respected devotional author in her own right.

Overview: Shadow of the Almighty is “the life and testimony of Jim Elliot,” one of five men who were killed in the Ecuadorian interior while trying to make contact with an unknown tribe, then known as the Aucas, now known by their endonym, Huaorani (also spelled Waodani).

Elisabeth Elliot had already shared the thrilling story of Operation Auca in her other bestselling book, Through Gates of Splendor, so this book acts as a prequel in some respects. Chronologically, this book ends where Through Gates of Splendor begins.

Meat: Shadow of the Almighty is essentially a journal of missionary consecration. That is the one secret of its impact. Numerous people first encountered the truth of the missionary call through Elliot’s books. The Elliots may come off to some people as traditional or perhaps stodgy, but no one can doubt this: their story has become a living link between the crucifixion and the Great Commission.

Almost the entire narrative happens in the United States, which emphasizes Elisabeth Elliot’s firm stance on missionary preparation. The story weaves together Jim’s early life, his consecration to ministry, his college days, and rather distanced courtship with Elisabeth. Only in the last few chapters is he on the mission field.

The Elliots’ strong roots in the Holiness movement seems to be the secret of their impact, which has now continued unabated for more than half a century. At the time of this review, Elisabeth Elliot has three books in Amazon’s top 50 books on “Christian Missions & Missionary Work,” which is more than any other author.

Although the book, like many others, could stand to be salted with the grace of tolerating other viewpoints, the Elliots’ no-nonsense speaking style is tempered by plenty of humorous stories and interesting anecdotes both in America and in Ecuador.

Bones: Jim Elliot’s journals, which make up a large percentage of the book, are often a very private space in which he vents his disappointments and criticisms about himself and about the church. At some points, I felt that Elisabeth could have spared us so much detail, or at least so many criticisms of the modern church, which fall short of providing for her a better way.

One case in point is the story of their courtship and marriage, which was very protracted. Elisabeth has made much of their story not only in this book but in several others (Passion and Purity, Quest for Love). She shares Jim’s very negative opinions on marriage ceremonies as a cultural institution, an opinion likely stemming from their background in the Brethren, a nonconformist group with tame anti-establishment leanings. Jim was also flabbergasted when a colleague decided to marry ahead of joining the mission field—not sharing his joy or surprised merely, but actively disappointed. Elisabeth and Jim seemed to see Christian marriage first and foremost as a hindrance to missions, and have presented it that way to many young people.

Quotes:

“Missionaries are very human folks, just doing what they are asked. Simply a bunch of nobodies trying to exalt Somebody.” (p. 46)

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” (p. 108)

“The command is plain: you go into the whole world and announce the good news. It cannot be dispensationalized, typicalized, rationalized. It stands a clear command, possible of realization because of the Commander’s following promise. . . . Rest in this—it is His business to lead, command, impel, send, call, or whatever you want to call it. It is your business to obey, follow, move, respond, or what have you.” (p. 150)

“In my own experience, I have found that the most extravagant dreams of boyhood have not surpassed the great experience of being in the Will of God, and I believe that nothing could be better. . . . That is not to say that I do not want other things, and other ways of living, and other places to see, but in my right mind I know that my hopes and plans for myself could not be any better than He has arranged and fulfilled them.”

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Review: Now and Then (Buechner)

Rating:

Full Title: Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation

Who: Frederick Buechner, preacher and writer of novels and spiritual nonfiction.

Overview: Buechner divides this book into three places he has lived: New York, Exeter (New Hampshire, not England), and Vermont. He gives us a tour through several unspectacular events and places in his life, yet draws the truth out of them like an unlooked-for flavor in a meal prepared by a master chef. The book is along the line of a spiritual autobiography, not giving many details about his life and work, but piecing together the truths he learned along the way.

This book carries forward particularly an idea present in Buechner’s other books, about seeing God as the main character in your own autobiography. “Listen to your life,” he says more than once.

Meat: Buechner is consummately skilled as a writer. He speaks truth more unobtrusively than almost any other author I have read, and in that I would see him as a predecessor to Donald Miller. (Or, others would say Donald Miller is a successor of his.)

The main theme, repeated at the beginning and the end, is stated thus:

Here and there, even in our world, and now and then, even in ourselves, we catch glimpses of a New Creation, which, fleeting as those glimpses are apt to be, give us hope both for this life and for whatever life may await us later on.

He also shows a great appreciation for “the dark night of the soul”—an idea I’ve written about elsewhere—and shows that preachers and theologians (such as those he studied under) are not exempt from being mystics to a certain extent. Intellect does not guard us from doubt.

Bones: Where I was less impressed is his theology proper. I sense a deep sympathy in some paragraphs where he mentions times of doubt or depression, but at other times it simply felt like he was hedging with his language. Occasionally I felt that Buechner was betraying more skepticism than is becoming of a preacher, and perhaps that is why he is so popular in theologically mainstream-to-liberal circles.

As just another instance, when he cites examples from Buddhism, they are, for the most part interesting, but I can’t help but feel that it is a ploy to keep less religious readers engaged, especially when he backpedals and says that the Christian view is more encompassing.

Of course, Buechner himself mentions this dillemma of audience, which tries to straddle the line between those who are “in” and “out” of this club we call religion. He is neither the first nor the last to experience this dillemma, but all in all I feel that, whoever his reader is, Buechner truly has something to say, and says it powerfully—not so much like a trumpet, but more like rising string overture, a gentle reminder that your soundtrack is already playing, the camera is running. This is your life. What is God saying through it?

Quotes:

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

“I try not to stack the deck unduly but always let doubt and darkness have their say along with faith and hope, not just because it is good apologetics – woe to him who tries to make it look simple and easy – but because to do it any other way would be to be less true to the elements of doubt and darkness that exist in myself no less than in others.”

Review: Choosing God’s Best

Rating: ★★★★

Summary: This is a pretty good book on relationships, iconoclast in some of the same ways as I Kissed Dating Goodbye, but with a more mature outlook and a wealth of counseling experience to back up the author’s convictions.

Don Raunikar advocates ‘courtship’ over ‘dating,’ characterizing dating as directionless and courtship as an accountable path to marriage. Important distinctives would be that Christian courtship requires accountability (preferably by an older, married couple that walks with God); Christian courtship means spiritual oneness before emotional or physical oneness.

Meat:  Raunikar is basically right. We need more accountability in our Christian dating relationships! Because of the blend of cultures in America, we in some ways have half-baked norms. Unlike other cultures, in America there are few expectations for relationships leading to marriage. Hopefully the man asks the father for her hand, but even that is somewhat optional.

Raunikar says courtship is the silver bullet. What he doesn’t mention is that many Christians are already dating with set boundaries, and what they call ‘dating’ looks a lot like courtship and not much like Harris’ and Raunikar’s caricatures of a 1960s Woodstock-style dating scene. Terminology and prescription is not as important as holiness. It may be possible to date responsibly with pre-determined boundaries, as Joshua Harris now states openly (although why Harris is an authority on the topic has yet to be determined).

Bones: Like Joshua Harris and Elisabeth Elliot, Raunikar takes a few things for granted concerning God:

1. If I set aside two weeks (!) of focused prayer, God will reveal to me whether or not I should court someone (no mention of the ‘dark night of the soul’ or Christian confusion);

2. If I exhibit patience and faithfulness, God will lead me to the mate he has for me (no mention of singleness being a lifelong gift for some);

3. God’s will is something I interact with from the ‘inside’ or the ‘outside’ (no space for a dynamic, redemptive view of history).

The courtship timeline, which gets down to how many weeks before you hold hands, is awfully prescriptive.

Raunikar cites ‘believers’ he knew who ‘stumble’ (more or less) into promiscuous sex before marriage, taking for granted that these people are indeed Christians when they are walking in unholiness. He then seemingly lays the blame at the foot of this broken ‘dating system,’ rather than having the chutzpah to say, “These people’s problem is that they have zero walk with Christ.”

Although I can’t say it’s been handled better in recent years, the book has a problematic view of decision-making, which implies that I can just pray and fast and I’ll always know what to do. I believe in an open view of history, so there’s no way I could know beforehand if I “should” marry a girl. That’s putting the cart before the horse. Sometimes God invites us to seek wisdom, to get to know everything we can (i.e. in this case by spending time with someone), and to make a decision!

Raunikar doesn’t admit to the limitations of his system. We don’t have to use a new name for it (“I don’t date—I court!” said the home-schooler) to create and embody new norms. On a most basic level these should involve non-negotiables like:

1. Physical Oneness in Marriage: Sex is confined to public, covenantal marriage.

2. Emotional Oneness in Commitment: Unmarried couples should confine their alone time to defined, public spaces.

3. Spiritual Oneness Before Marriage: Unmarried couples should seek to know each other in group settings, especially social and spiritual groups that follow Christian holiness (such as churches and church groups).

Review: Letters to a Devastated Christian

Rating: ★★★★

Who: Gene Edwards is a pastor and spiritual writer who primarily addresses issues related to church life and humility. Many of his other writings are allegorical; his 1980 book A Tale of Three Kings is considered a classic on Christian authority and humility.

Edwards has also worked to put Christian mystics—namely, Brother Lawrence, Madame Guyon, and Fenelon—back into print by creating and managing his own publishing house, SeedSowers.

Overview: This book of nine brief letters de-allegorizes Edwards’ earlier thoughts on humility and authority depicted in his bestseller A Tale of Three Kings. Both books deal with life under unjust authority—an experience that almost everyone goes through at some point in time. The “devastated Christian” of the title is someone that has been “sold a bill of goods” by becoming overcommitted to an unhealthy Christian movement, one where the leader demands more than he gives, and seeks to make overreaching decisions about believers’ personal lives. Sadly, this is not uncommon, since, Edwards points out, no one has unlocked the key to instantaneous sanctification (though a few have tried).

Meat: Many Christians go through this experience of disillusionment coming out of their youth. After spending a few years serving a thriving church movement, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we ripen enough to spot the weaknesses in our leaders. What do you do when you see weakness in your leaders? When should the weakness be a red flag that you are in a truly unhealthy church?

Edwards’ counsel is to look for a few keys which I believe are quite telling:

  • “Specialism”: Beware anyone who says, “We are the move of God in this generation.”
  • “Unity”: This is the idea that, “If anyone doesn’t choose to meet with us, they are damaging Christian unity.”
  • “Covering”: All decisions have to be approved by the elders. After all, every believer needs “covering.” This can easily lead to leaders overreaching in believers’ personal lives—not just issues of holiness, but issues of personality that should be left to Christian liberty.

Later in the book, he also mentions leaders with defensive attitudestreatment of women, and the longevity of a movement.

In the course of the book, Edwards also tackles the idea of following a “New Testament pattern”—an idea fraught with danger when divorced from its cultural context and taken to extremes.

In the last chapter (p. 41-45), Edwards gives concrete counsel to his “devastated Christian,” most of which resonates with his advice in A Tale of Three Kings:

  1. Broadcasting bitter experiences with everyone you meet is an unhealthy way of seeking release. It would be better to seek not to dishonor Christ by bashing those who have served him in an unhealthy way.
    Edwards has right motives here in advising discretion; however, as other reviewers have pointed out, survivors of significant abuse need to find significant outlets to better understand their pain. He only lightly touches on this—
  2. Christian counseling is healthy for those who have undergone significant or long-lasting psychological abuse.
  3. Don’t give up on structured Christianity. For all the weaknesses, there is a lot of good to be found.
  4. Don’t surround yourself with bitter people. Try to find some positivity.
  5. Finally, “You are going to have to start believing. You are going to have to believe that there are movements born of God. You are going to have to trust Christians and [Christian] workers again.” (p. 44)

Bones:

There doesn’t seem to be space, in such a short book, to offer an alternative vision of Christian gathering. As F. W. Boreham says, “The hunger of the human heart can never be satisfied with denials.”¹ So, given Edwards’ repeated advice against authoritarianism doesn’t really give a sense for where to go instead. (In point of fact, Edwards is a supporter of house churches.)

Another criticism pointed out by other reviewers is the grave possibility of victim-blaming. He advises almost total discretion, which is often great advice for walking out forgiveness, but is not always advisable. Edwards also writes, “I believe the Christian who has joined the worst possible group, if he gets out of it, should take what he learned and treat the lessons he learned as gold.” (p. 32) But this would come across as awfully fatalistic to someone who was sexually abused under a pseudo-Christian cult. I would repeat as a caveat that Edwards’ advice in this book, in general, pertains to unhealthy Christian movements, and not to abusive religious communities or heretical cults.

Quotes:

“Head for the door when a man or a people declare: ‘We are the work of God for this generation.'” (p. 4)

“If a movement is ten years old, you can tell a lot more about it than when it is two years old.” (p. 23)

“Every Christian worker has certain weaknesses, failures, and inabilities, so you can’t hang a man for that. But here is a good yardstick of a man’s internal spiritual strength: When his work is under attack, when pressure has mounted, when a split threatens his work, how does he react?” (p. 24)

“If you cannot totally get healed, I do not think that it is healthy for you to sit around forever, licking your wounds. . . . You are going to have to start believing there are decent and honest workers out there. You are going to have to believe that there are movements born of God.” (p. 44)


¹ F. W. Boreham, “All Fools’ Day.” The Crystal Pointers. 1925. p. 142.

Meet James Hannington

Meet James Hannington, the Jim Elliot of his generation, whose earthly story ended 133 years ago on October 29, 1885. James Hannington was appointed the very first Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa in June 1884, mainly because of the growth of the church in Uganda in the 1870s. Hannington had volunteered as a missionary in 1882 after hearing of two other missionaries murdered at Lake Victoria.

Henry Stanley, the man who found Livingstone, had also reported that the King of Uganda, Mutesa I, was inviting missionaries.

However, that king died in October 1884 while Hannington was on preparing to enter Uganda from the north, and the new boss wanted to establish his power.

Previous missionaries took an arduous southern route that Arab traders had followed to the inland kingdom of Uganda, but Hannington wanted to create a much simpler route from Mombasa. He did not know that the Ugandans had a great superstition about foreigners invading from the north. His colleagues tried to alert him that his new route would cause trouble, but their message arrived too late.

When Hannington got to Uganda, he was immediately imprisoned, and after eight days of confinement during which he suffered fever, King Mwanga II had him speared to death, along with most of his African attendants who helped him enter their territory.

One of his porters, Ukuktu, undid his ropes as he was led away to be murdered. He recounted the following, as retold in the final pages of his biography: “As the Bishop walked to that spot he was singing hymns nearly all the way. As they were in English, he did not know their meaning; but he noticed that in them the word JESUS came very frequently.” His biographer comments, “Ours is the loss, and Africa’s; his the eternal gain.” Despite persecutions under Mwanga II, the church continued to thrive in Uganda during that time period as literacy increased and new gatherings formed. Today Uganda is about 85% Christian.

You can read more about Hannington’s life in his biography by E. C. Dawson, who also afterwards published his last journals.

The Life of Peter Jaco

The Lives of Early Methodist Preachers, no. 4. Edited by Thomas Jackson.

[These little biographies were personally commissioned by John Wesley in examining his associates for ordination. Forty-one of them responded by penning their own biographies; we will be posting a few of the shorter ones here for those interested.]

THE LIFE OF MR. PETER JACO,

WRITTEN BY HIMSELF.

LETTER TO THE REV. JOHN WESLEY.

Rev. and dear Sir,

I am sorry that I cannot comply with your desire so effectually as I could wish; having left the papers containing the particulars of God’s dealings with me some hundred miles off. At present I can only give you some circumstances as they occur to my memory.

I was born of serious parents, at Newlyn, near Penzance, in Cornwall, in the year 1729. When capable of learning, I was put to school, where I continued till I was near fourteen; but, being of a gay, lively disposition, and my master being given to drink to excess, (on which account I soon learned to despise both him and his instructions,) did not make that proficiency which I otherwise might have done. As I could not endure the school under such a teacher, my father took me home, and proposed several businesses to me; but I chose rather to be under his care, and to be employed with him in the pilchard-fishery: first, because I knew him to be a perfect master of his business; and, secondly, because I knew he was a truly serious man.

From my infancy, I had very serious impressions, and awful thoughts of God; which, with the care and precepts of my parents, prevented my running into many excesses incident to youth: though in other respects I was bad enough. I was exceeding proud, passionate, and ambitious; and so fond of pleasure, that at any time I would neglect my ordinary meals to pursue it. But amidst all my follies, I was still miserable; and often to such a degree, that I wished I was anything but a rational creature. After many a restless night, I was ready to say, with Job, “He scareth me with dreams, and terrifieth me with visions.” I frequently resolved to leave my sins: but, alas! my goodness soon vanished away. Thus I repented and sinned; and as I was totally ignorant where my strength lay, I was frequently at the point of giving up all striving against the torrent; and of gratifying every passion as far as my circumstances would permit.

About the year 1746 God sent His messenger into our parts, who proclaimed free and full redemption in the blood of Christ. But though this was the very thing my conscience told me I wanted, yet I would not give up all to come to Him. No: I would dispute for His servants, fight for them, (an instance of which you, dear sir, saw the first time you preached on the green between Penzance and Newlyn, when a few lads rescued you from a wicked mob,) but I would come no nearer. However, going one Sunday night to hear Stephen Nichols, a plain, honest tinner, the word took strange hold on me, and seemed like fire in my bones. I returned filled with astonishment, retired to my apartment, and, for the first time, began to take a serious review of my past life, and present situation with regard to eternity. My eyes were now truly opened. I saw myself a poor, naked, helpless sinner, without any plea, but “God be merciful to me.” My convictions became more and more alarming, till I was driven to the brink of despair. And though my religious acquaintance (for I immediately joined the society) did all they could to encourage me, I would often say, “I have no hope.” In this deplorable state I continued near four months, when one Sunday, (may I never forget it!) as I was attending to the exhortation before the sacrament, when the minister pronounced, “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself,” (a very wrong translation,) “not discerning the Lord’s body;” I immediately concluded, “Then I am lost for ever.” Yet, through the persuasion of my father, I stayed; and I resolved, if I did perish, I would perish in the means of grace. Accordingly, in the afternoon, I set out by myself for church, a mile distant from the town, for solitude was all my comfort. I had not walked far, before it was strongly suggested to my mind, “Jesus Christ died for the vilest sinner.” I immediately replied, “Then I am the wretch for whom He died!” In that moment it seemed to me as though a new creation had taken place. I felt no guilt, no distress of any kind. My soul was filled with light and love. I could no more doubt of my acceptance with God through Christ, than I could of my own existence. In this state I continued near two years, and am firmly persuaded might have still continued in it, but for my own unfaithfulness. I was now convinced it was my duty to do all I could for God; and, accordingly, reproved sin wherever I saw it, without regard to the character or station of the person; and, wherever I found a disposition to receive it, added a word of exhortation.

Some years after, my friends thought I might be more useful, if I was to exhort in the society: with much reluctance I made the attempt; but, though God blessed, in a very remarkable manner, my feeble efforts, I was with difficulty persuaded to continue it.

When you, sir, visited us in 1751, you persuaded me to enlarge my sphere, and appointed me to visit several societies. I accordingly complied, but still with unwillingness. In your next visit to Cornwall, you thought I was not so useful as I might be, and proposed my taking a Circuit. This I could by no means think of. I looked on myself as an occasional helper, having a good deal of time on my hands; and if a preacher was ill, or unable to keep his Circuit, I thought it my indispensable duty to fill his place. But, though I knew I was called to this, I could not see that I should go farther, on account of the smallness of both my gifts and grace.

In the year 1753 you proposed my going to Kingswood School: and accordingly, having settled the terms, I set out for Bristol in April, 1754; but, to my great disappointment, I found the school full, and a letter from you, desiring me to come immediately to London. This, together, with your brother’s telling me, that if I returned back to my business, he should not wonder if I turned back into the world, determined me to comply with your desire. At the Conference in London, the 4th of May, 1754, I was appointed for the Manchester Circuit, which then took in Cheshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, and part of Yorkshire. Here God so blessed my mean labours, that I was fully convinced He had called me to preach His Gospel. Meantime my hardships were great. I had many difficulties to struggle with. In some places the work was to begin; and in most places, being in its infancy, we had hardly the necessaries of life; so that after preaching three or four times a day, and riding thirty or forty miles, I have often been thankful for a little clean straw, with a canvas sheet, to lie on. Very frequently we had also violent oppositions. At Warrington I was struck so violently with a brick on the breast, that the blood gushed out through my mouth, nose, and ears. At Grampound I was pressed for a soldier; kept under a strong guard for several days, without meat or drink, but what I was obliged to procure at a large expense; and threatened to have my feet tied under the horse’s belly, while I was carried eight miles before the commissioners: and though I was honourably acquitted by them, yet it cost me a pretty large sum of money, as well as much trouble.

For many years I was exposed to various other difficulties and dangers. But, having obtained help from God, I continue to this day! And, all thanks to Him, I wish to live and die in His service. At present I find my mind as much devoted to Him as I ever did. I see and feel the necessity of a greater conformity to Christ. May I never be satisfied till I awake up after His likeness!

Thus, dear sir, I have given you a brief account of my life, as far as my memory would assist me. If it is useful to any soul, my purpose is full answered.

PETER JACO.

London, October 4th, 1778.


It is stated by Mr. Atmore, that Mr. Jaco was remarkably comely in his person, tall and handsome, and possessed an amiable natural temper. His understanding was strong and clear; and he had acquired much useful knowledge, which rendered him an agreeable companion. His talents for the Christian ministry were very considerable; and he was a scribe well instructed in the things of God. In consequence of bodily indisposition, he was compelled, for several years before his death, to desist from his itinerant labours. He died in peace at Margate, in Kent; and his remains were interred in the burying-ground connected with the City-Road chapel, London; where a stone, erected to his memory, bears the following inscription:—“In memory of Mr. Peter Jaco, who died July 6th, 1781, aged fifty-two years.

‘Fisher of men, ordain’d by Christ alone,
Immortal souls he for his Saviour won;
With loving faith, and calmly-potent zeal,
Perform’d and suffer’d the Redeemer’s will;
Steadfast in all the storms of life remain’d,
And in the good old ship the haven gain’d.’”

The following original letter of Mr. Jaco is worth preserving. It was addressed to Mrs. Hall, of London:—

“NEWLYN, NEAR PENZANCE, Sept. 11th, 1776.

“Having a few minutes of freedom from multitudes pressing on every side, to ask me how I do, and bid me welcome once more to the place of my nativity, I with pleasure embrace the opportunity of fulfilling my promise to my much-esteemed and valued friend. Perhaps it may not be unentertaining to give a brief account of my journey to this world’s end, which is upwards of three hundred miles from London.

“On Thursday, August 29th, at six o’clock in the morning, Mr. Folgham and your friend set out. We travelled hard all the day, being allowed fifteen minutes for breakfast, and twenty for dinner; but no tea, nor any supper. We arrived at Salisbury at seven o’clock; stayed half-an-hour for Mr. Folgham, who had some business to do; and then set out for Blandford, in Dorset, twenty-three miles from Salisbury, across the plain and open country, without any enclosures. The night was remarkably fine. The moon was full; and there was not a cloud in the sky to obstruct her light. Not a breath of wind was stirring, nor any living creature near, except large flocks of sheep, penned on each side of the road, whose innocent bleating, reverberating from the adjacent hills, rendered the scene awfully delightful. All the fine sentiments dispersed through the ‘Night Thoughts’ crowded upon my imagination; more especially those in the ‘Ninth Night,’ where the author has given us a picture at large, which I would recommend to your serious perusal. I was much affected with that instructive passage:—

‘Night is fair Virtue’s immemorial friend;

The conscious moon, through every distant age,

Has held a lamp to wisdom.’

“But, alas, like all transitory scenes, this pleasant night gave way to a gloomy rainy morning, when the bleak winds, coming down from the stupendous mountains, attended by impetuous floods, formed a contrast the most disagreeable.

“Nothing memorable happened till Saturday afternoon, when I had the pleasure of seeing our worthy friend Mr. Wesley, who received me with the warmest affection.

“At Plymouth-Dock I stayed till Tuesday morning, and then set out on horseback for this place; full ninety miles. Through the infinite mercy of God, I arrived safe on Monday evening, to the great joy of an affectionate father.

“My apartment here is, perhaps, the most agreeable that you ever saw. I have two neat chambers, built upon the extreme margin of the shore. A large bay opposite my windows is twenty-one miles long and twelve wide; so that at this moment I can see nearly twenty sail of ships, and upwards of a hundred large fishing-boats, passing and repassing. Nothing on earth can be more agreeable to me. Yet I must soon part with it. I have no home but heaven. God grant that I may not fall short of it!

“I hope this will find you resolved to be a Christian indeed; determined to take heaven by violence. Nothing short of this will do. Christ cannot approve of any sacrifice but that of the heart; and not even of this, without a surrender of the whole. O, give it Him. He is worthy of it. It is His undoubted right. He has paid dearly for the purchase. Let Him have it, in God’s name. This is perhaps the most critical period of your whole life. [* At this period Mrs. Hall had lately become the youthful and unencumbered widow of a negligent spendthrift. She was possessed of great personal beauty, and of sprightly conversational talent. In her second choice, she profited by the advice of her friend.] You have need of all your understanding and prudence. Above all, you have need of much prayer, that God may direct and keep you in every step you take.

“How long I shall stay here I know not. I have done nothing yet; and when I shall do anything I cannot tell. Perhaps I shall do nothing, after all my expense and trouble, except that of getting a few fair promises of amendment from my brothers, which may last while I am on the spot.

“Your affectionate and obliged friend,

“PETER JACO.”

 

Review: Psalms (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Rating: ★★★★★

Alternate title: The Prayer Book of the Bible.

German title: Das Gebetbuch der Bibel: Eine Einführung in die Psalmen.

Who: Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who became a leader in the Confessing Church, an evangelical anti-Nazi movement which supported several plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler. After two years of imprisonment, he was executed at Flossenbürg in 1945, just as World War II was coming to a close.

Bonhoeffer’s book on the Psalms was his last popular work to be published (after Creation and FallThe Cost of Discipleship, and Life Together). It is sometimes given as a companion to Life Together, since both books are brief and suitable for devotional reading.

“Soon after this little book on the Psalms appeared, the Nazis prohibited him from further publishing and dissolved the seminary at Finkenwalde” (p. 78), presumably because the book gave great honor to the Old Testament, the sacred book of the Jews. (See also Metaxas, p. 367.)

Overview: Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible is a brief, Christocentric guide to the Psalter. Bonhoeffer introduces the Psalms as a guide to praying in the name of Jesus. He sees the Psalms as through and through a Christian collection, capable of reorienting a believer’s thinking and prayer life toward the cross of Christ.

Bonhoeffer himself prayed through several psalms a day, and inculcated the same practice at his innovative seminary in Finkenwalde.

After finishing his introductory points, the largest portion of the book tackles major categories of psalms under expected headings such as “Creation,” “Suffering,” and “The Messiah.”

Meat: This little book is extremely useful as an introduction to the Psalms for devotional use, of which Bonhoeffer was an important proponent. Although he in no way attempts to cover every psalm, he covers major interpretive pitfalls such as: Is David praying in the Messianic psalms or Jesus? How can one pray through instructional psalms like Psalm 1? Why do the psalms seem repetitive? How can a Christian make use of imprecatory psalms?

The biography of Bonhoeffer included in my Kindle edition, written by Eberhart Bethge, is also a very useful introduction to his life and work—and much shorter than that tome by Metaxas!

Bones: Bonhoeffer was quite demanding for the men he discipled, and in his other books he has a tendency to be prescriptive in explaining Christian practice. In Life Together, for example—an outstanding book—Bonhoeffer argues that congregational singing should always be in unison (not harmony).

More to the point, in Psalms, Bonhoeffer enjoins the reading of several psalms a day by every Christian believer. He believes this is the intended use of the psalms, as a “prayerbook.” I take no issue with this, but with the headstrong prescription of practice for spirit-filled believers.

Quotes: 

On praying the Psalms:

“The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.” (p. 15)

“The Psalms are given to us to this end, that we may learn to pray them in the name of Jesus Christ.” (p. 15)

On the creation psalms:

“The creation psalms are not lyrical poems, but instruction for the people of God. The creation with all its gifts is there for the sake of Jesus Christ.” (p. 29-30)

On the psalms of lamentation:

“Even in the deepest hopelessness God alone remains the one addressed.” (p. 47)

“There are no theoretical answers in the Psalms to all these questions, as there are none in the New Testament. The only real answer is Jesus Christ.” (p. 48)

On imprecatory psalms:

“The crucified Jesus teaches us to pray the imprecatory psalms correctly.” (p. 60)