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.
“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.”