Tag Archives: Elisabeth Elliot

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.”

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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).