Author Archives: Pioneer Library

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Review: The Resurrection (E. M. Bounds)

Rating: ★★★★

Alternate title: The Ineffable Glory: Thoughts on the Resurrection (1921)

Who: E. M. Bounds (1835-1913) was a chaplain in the Confederate Army and held a pastorate in Franklin, Tennessee. During his time in Tennessee, he led a spiritual revival and eventually began an itinerant ministry. He only published two books during his lifetime (The Resurrection (1907) being one of them), but nine others were arranged from manuscripts and published after his death—most of them on prayer. He spent three hours a day in prayer and emphasizes a life of prayer as the one essential of the Christian life.

Overview: The Resurrection is not about the Resurrection of Christ, as readers might expect, but about the bodily resurrection of the dead at the end of time, which is hinted at in the Old Testament but confirmed and prefigured in Christ’s resurrection. This important Scriptural topic is often neglected but provides a wealth of understanding and comfort for believers.

Meat: Bounds shines here as an expositor of the Word in a way not seen in his books on prayer. He writes in the same poetic, forceful style used in his beloved books on prayer. He defends the bodily resurrection of Christ, and of the dead in Christ, mostly on theological grounds within an assumption of biblical authority. This is meant to arm believers against liberal arguments current in his day (for instance, Swedenborgianism) which sought to deny the bodily resurrection and spiritualize the afterlife.

Bounds handles key Scriptures, especially 1 Corinthians 15, by expositing, comparing scripture to scripture, and giving key quotes from commentators.

For those wanting a biblical view of the afterlife, I would point out this little book by Bounds and another title similar in length and content called The Christian After Death by Robert Ervin Hough.

Bones: Especially towards the end of the book, Bounds has a theological axe to grind against the modernism of the day. He loses his biblical thread somewhat in his passion to defend the faith. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend this book as a whole for its unique subject matter and accessibility.

Quotes: 

“The deathless nature of the soul has been taught in the philosophies of earth, pagan and Christian, but the resurrection of the body is distinctively a Christian doctrine. It belongs to the revelation of God’s Word. It is found in the Bible, and nowhere else.” (loc. 86)

“The resurrection of the same bodies which we put in the grave is the doctrine which pervades the Bible through and through.” (loc. 572)

“With another sweep of that terrible scimitar He broke death’s scepter, smashed his crown, captured his keys, then plunging through the ashes of damnation and lunging on the gates of hell, tore them from their sockets, cutting the bars of iron in pieces and ascending the throne of his imperial majesty the devil, He hurled him into the burning marl and sulphurous flame, then placing His right foot upon the neck of the devil and His left foot upon the jaws of death, He lifted his hand to heaven and shouted through the gloom of eternal night ‘I am He that liveth and was dead; and behold I am alive forevermore and have the keys of death and hell.'” (loc. 1168)

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On Preaching a Dead Christ

Tell me that Christ died some nineteen centuries ago, and I will say it was a pathetic incident, but it does not fill me with inspiration and confidence, and a determination to preach something to every creature; tell me that he died and rose again, and is alive, and is alive for evermore, and with me unto the end of the world: then you feed me, stir me, impassion me, until every faculty of my nature burns with new life, feels upon it the touch of eternity. You have lost the resurrection, and therefore any competitor can overthrow Christ’s claims to your confidence. There are men outside who are laughing at you because you are preaching a dead Christ. The men are right. The laughter may be a divine rebuke. If we can affirm that Christ is alive, why, not a council in any county, not a parliament in any country, can for a moment compare with our message.

Joseph Parker, “The Living Christ.” Studies in Texts, vol. 1. Available for Kindle.

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 give them a very countercultural stance, which must increase the notoriety of their books. Shadow of the Almighty‘s popularity 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 this 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.”

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.