On the Importance of Biographies

Biographies are one of my favorite types of books. I thoroughly enjoy learning about different people. I especially enjoy biographies about Christians. From Jonathan Edwards to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Karl Barth to William Wilberforce, reading about men and women who have contributed mightily to the Church always spurns an excitement and a desire to do more.

Adoniram Judson is one of those gentlemen by whom I am always encouraged and convicted. In the February 2017 print of the Banner of Truth journal a brief recap of the life and ministry of Mr. Judson is given. I am amazed at the difficulties this man overcame. Personally, I do not think I could handle the death of one of my children, let alone all of them. Added to that the death of my wife? I would find myself as an irrecoverable wreck. But Adoniram Judson pushed on (though he definitely experienced a difficult road).

(I have also received much encouragement from other materials printed through the Banner of Truth journal. Read about it here.)

One of the aspects of his life that I am always touched by (and incidentally reminded by) in Philip Arthur’s address is the letter to Miss Ann Hasseltine’s father. In pursuing his love for Ms. Hasseltine Judson writes a letter to her father, John. I am overwhelmed at the severity and seriousness of the note. I am convicted at how wonderfully real the issue of preaching the Gospel is to Mr. Judson. I felt led to share the contents of that letter, as reprinted in the journal of the Banner of Truth. I imagine, as a father, this letter would make me extremely proud but also quite terrified.

“I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress to degradation, insult, persecution and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations [sic] of praise which shall redound to her Saviour [sic] from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”

[Philip J. Arthur, “Adoniram Judson”, The Banner of Truth, February 2017, 15-28.]

I am overcome with both excitement and grief. How could one turn down such a request? How, as a parent, would I be if my son proposed to a girl in such a manner? What are we doing, as parents, to encourage this seriousness of the task to which the Christian is called?

I am reminded, upon the reading of this section, of the importance of biography. My brothers and sisters, read biographies!

 

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Helpful Tips from the Banner of Truth

I am a subscriber to the Banner of Truth magazine. It is a great blessing, as many of the articles come from sermons preached. They challenge my thinking, warm my heart, and draw my attention and focus to God.

While catching up on my reading of them, I thoroughly enjoyed the July 2016 copy, issue 634. The article is titled, “Evangelising [sic] Muslims: Five Points of Entry” by Peter Barnes.[1] I do not want to review the article; rather, I want to share some of the insights that I gained. I also would like to draw attention to some of the ideas that I have been pondering but have yet to put to paper.

The introduction to the article was perhaps the best portion. Barnes writes, “In seeking to make the gospel known to Muslims, we will struggle if we simply follow the guidelines in the book of Acts.”[2] In my opinion, some Christians overemphasize the Scriptures. Now, before you write me off as a heretic please read my explanation. It is possible to follow the Scripture to such an extreme that it violates proper interpretation. For example, the Bible teaches that witches should be executed (Exodus 22.18). Some people attempt to place this command to the nation of Israel on followers of God today. Of course there is a lengthy discussion that should take place on why believers do not follow this practice, but many pick and choose what to follow from the Tanakh. Some people follow marriage advice from the Torah (such as the teaching on divorce and remarriage- see Exodus 24.1-4), or dressing advice (specifically the Scripture that commands men not to dress like women and women not to dress like men- see Deuteronomy 22.5), but they fail to follow the command to execute witches. On the same line, some people desire to strictly follow the teachings of the New Testament on the church. An example of this can be found in the first chapter of C. Douglas Weaver’s book In Search of the New Testament Church: The Baptist Story.[3]

In accordance with this desire to be Bible-based and Scripture-laced, people want to follow the ‘New Testament guide’. While I definitely believe that Scripture is the foundation of faith and is to be sought and practiced, I also see the truth that it is a book with historical grounding in a specific time and culture. This has profound implications on what we practice and how we practice. Zuck clarifies this thought when he writes, “In approaching the Bible it is a self-evident truth that the Bible is a book. Like other books it is written in languages spoken by people for the purpose of communicating ideas from the writers to the readers.”[4] This seems to have been forgotten by many individuals in the church today.

To bring this circle to a close, let us return to Barnes’ statement in his opening paragraph. “In seeking to make the gospel known to Muslims, we will struggle if we simply follow the guidelines in the book of Acts.”[5] It is helpful to remember that the main method of spreading the Gospel initially (see Acts 2-9) was primarily to and through Jewish individuals. Thus the preaching focused on the Messiah and the teaching of his suffering and death.[6] If we were to strictly follow the practice of the early believers found in Acts, our evangelistic efforts, specifically to the Muslim people, will be borderline impossible. My point is not to delve into the methods of evangelism to the people of Islam. Other writers have done an excellent job at this.[7] My point has more to deal with the need for creative and a freedom for believers to engage in different methods of evangelism. Barnes notes Paul’s various methods as referenced in 1 Corinthians 9.19-23.[8] We need to rely on God’s Word for everything. But we also need to realize that there is freedom within that.

Another part of the article that really impressed me was Barnes’ call for peace in discussions. He writes, “We must be kindly interest in them. We ought not begin with a frontal assault on the character of Muhammad or the integrity of the Qur’an.”[9] Since 11 September 2001 the treatment of Muslims has been poor at best and borderline hate crime at worst. And while Barnes’ article focuses on interactions with the Muslim community, the application can be made broader. People of different faiths, genders, sexual orientations, etc., are all treated with contempt and degradation. Paul encourages us to address people “in love”.[10] We commanded to love one another.[11]

Believers should be incredibly careful in their discourse, both personally and digitally. Disagreeing on an issue is not the problem, it is our demeanor. It is no wonder that people do not have a positive view of Christianity when its adherents are so demeaning, arrogant, and rude. Here are some helpful suggestions that I have utilized and have found to be helpful.

  • Never be rude- while this may seem simple, it is profound. I have seen posts referring to those who are voting for Hilary Clinton suggesting that they raise their hands and slap themselves because they are idiots. How in the world is this helpful? Does one actually think that a supporter of Hilary Clinton will see that and suddenly change his or her views? That is almost as ludicrous as posting such a mean-spirited image.
  • Ask questions- generally speaking, questions are much more helpful in interactive dialogue than statements. Of course, it is possible to be rude when asking questions. But assuming we are starting from that point, questions help further mutual understanding. It implies incomplete understanding, and it takes humility to acknowledge that. It also encourages questions from the opposite party, and thus differences and misunderstandings are greatly reduced.
  • Treat that person like you would Jesus- I do not mean bow down and worship them. I do mean that each person you interact with, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, race, age, height, weight, favorite band, and so on, is created in the image of God. That means that every human being you interact with in person or digitally is an image bearer of God Almighty. Treat them that way. Oh, and by the way, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. That is a hefty pill to swallow.
  • Study other people, faiths, etc.- Ignorance means “a lack of knowledge, understanding, or education.”[12] Ignorance is forgivable, but only for a time. If you are attempting to dialogue with another individual, learn as much as you can from that individual’s perspective. If you want to learn more about the Democratic Party, do not go to Fox News. Look into the original sources. Educating yourself on issues, beliefs, and practices will help you understand where the individual is coming from and will help to alleviate misunderstandings.

[1] Peter Barnes. “Evangelising Muslims: Five Points of Entry.” The Banner of Truth, Volume 7, Issue 634, 2016, 7-15.

[2] Barnes, 7.

[3] https://books.google.com/books?id=shbpTq7wqAIC&pg=PA9&dq=new+testament+churches&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjssOya0P3PAhVCGz4KHSugAY8Q6AEIRzAI#v=onepage&q=new%20testament%20churches&f=false. Accessed 28/10/2016.

[4] Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (Colorado Springs, Cook Communications: 1991), 59.

[5] Barnes, 7.

[6] Simply peruse through the chapters referenced above and it will become painfully obvious what materials the early evangelists used to spread the good news.

[7] See Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross (Grand Rapids, Baker: 2002) and Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press: 2012).

[8] I preached a message on this titled “Pauline Advice on Blessing Your Block”. You can access that here under that title: http://tnova.org/media.php?pageID=22. Accessed 28/10/2016.

[9] Barnes, 8.

[10] Ephesians 4.15, NIV

[11] 1 John 4.7-21

[12] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ignorance. Accessed 28/10/2016.