Author Archives: Pioneer Library

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Review: L’Abri

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: Edith Schaeffer, co-founder of L’Abri, American missionary to Switzerland with her husband, Francis Schaeffer, and their three children. Edith and Francis Schaeffer spent several years serving the Presbyterian church in Missouri and in writing children’s materials as missionaries before they stumbled into a mission to reach Europe’s intelligentsia, which became their full-time vocation and lifelong focus. Edith’s books are very different in tone from those of her husband—but they are at least as good, if not better.

Overview:

L’Abri is the personal faith journey of Edith and Francis Schaeffer, as narrated by Edith. (I hope she doesn’t mind being on a first-name basis, since there are a lot of published Schaeffers.) Like all the great classics of inspirational biography—like God’s Smuggler, Francke’s autobiography, or Pierson’s biography of Müller—the entire narrative turns on specific moments of answered prayer and scriptural guidance. Clearly, God guided the Schaeffers to leave church leadership in Missouri and embark on an innovative and eclectic mission to the travelers and students of Switzerland. At first, they were in Switzerland as Presbyterian missionaries who also wrote children’s ministry materials; later, their mission gained focus as God guided them to establish themselves in Huemoz, which was a hot spot for young travelers.

Meat:

There are many moments of supernatural guidance in L’Abri. Sometimes, one feels that the Schaeffers knew that God would answer their prayers, without a shadow of a doubt. At other times, our narrator doesn’t seem so sure, but God still answers and proves his faithfulness.

Overall, this is one of the most inspirational biographies that I have ever read, and it is also fast-moving and easy to read. I would recommend it to anyone.

Bones:

As I mentioned in my review of Edith’s book, Affliction, Affliction and L’Abri are two books that should ideally be read in sequence. The story of L’Abri may come off as overly optimistic and polished; Christians in times of affliction may feel inspired, but wonder, “is it really so easy?” Affliction balances that by narrating many of the difficulties and challenges to Edith’s faith that came up during her years at L’Abri, and how she and Francis grew in their faith both in spite of and because of those difficulties.

The Armor of God (II): The Belt of Truth

This is the second part in an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It starts here.


Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth . . . (Eph. 6:14)

“Girding your waist,” or putting on “the belt of truth” in most translations, does not refer to cinching up your pants, but a loose full-body garment we would know as a robe or a long tunic. They are usually of one piece, with openings only for the head and arms. It is misleading, in looking at Paul’s meaning, to think of a toga; a “tunic” that is longer than your waist and requires a belt is the best way to think of the intended figure. This was the basic everyday wear of men and women in the Roman Empire two millennia ago, and is still widespread in the Middle East today. English-speakers in the Middle East call them by their local Arabic names (thawb, dishdasha, or jellabiya), because they are difficult to describe in English.

In the Persian Gulf where I live, people walk notoriously slow, partially because of the limitations of the outfit; belts are also never worn with them, and sandals are also the norm for men; many Arab women wear ankle-length cloaks with high heels. Needless to say, running in most contexts is considered very improper. The point of Paul’s metaphor, “the belt of truth,” is that it allows us to run.

Elijah and John’s Claim to Fame

In both the Old and New Testaments, we have reason to believe that a belt is a distinctive piece of clothing. In 2 Kings 1, King Ahaziah could identify Elijah by description with only two items: hairy plus belt.

And he said unto them, “What manner of man was he which came up to meet you, and told you these words?”
And they answered him, “He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins.”
And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”

Given that this belt was the single conclusive item in Elijah’s wardrobe, it’s notable that his New Testament antitype, John the Baptist, wore one as well (Matt. 3:4). The belt was evidently not in vogue or everyday use in Elijah’s day, or John the Baptist’s day, or today in most of the Middle East.

The Belt Means Eternity-Consciousness

When I see someone late for an appointment here, they may run if they are dressed in Western clothes; but you cannot really run in a long tunic and sandals! The garment restricts your knees, like a dress. The best you can do is a shuffle, if you hold on to the lower part of your tunic. For this reason, both Paul and Peter talk about being “girded”:

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:13)

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, . . . (Eph. 6:14)

The key practical element of the belt is that it allows you to run. Strictly speaking, it’s not a piece of “armor.” It doesn’t directly involve defense or attack. It does allow you to be more agile. Paul describes this characteristics as derived from “truth.” In many places, it can mean “reality.”

Understanding reality keeps us from wasting our time. The “truth” prepares us by making us see that we all have an appointment with eternity and with a judgement day. This consciousness was the most notable thing about Elijah and John the Baptist and the belt that they wore symbolized this vigor and diligence.

Lord, make us eternity-conscious so that we can run with vigor the race set before us.

Review: Girolamo Savonarola (Crawford)

Rating: ★★★½

Author: William Henry Crawford (1855-1944) spent much of his career as President of Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. He is also the author of The Church and the Slum.

Girolamo Savonarola was a reformer within Catholicism who boldly opposed the excesses of the Italian clergy. He was greatly beloved by Martin Luther; readers of inspirational books will also remember his prophetic experiences as recounted in James Gilchrist Lawson’s Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians.

Overview:

Savonarola was born in 1452 and suffered martyrdom in 1498. Like Wyclif and Hus, he sought reform within the Catholic church, but too few sided with him to see the reforms accomplished, and he was eventually excommunicated and executed. He was never held guilty of heresy, and it appears that many Catholics revered him after his death. He was a contemporary of many very prominent Renaissance men: Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Lorenzo the Magnificent.

Meat:

The author gives numerous moving quotations from Savonarola’s writings, many of which I have given below. Savonarola began publishing his sermons around the time he took the Duomo pulpit in 1489, and by the end of his life nine years later, he had thirty volumes of published work, including tracts, poems, songs, and sermons. Crawford sums up the great influence of his writings here:

His published sermons were read in France, in Germany, and in England. Even the sultan had some of them translated that he might read them.

He wrote Miserere and Exposition of the Thirtieth Psalm. The Miserere was widely published after his death, and in a remarkably short space of time ran through thirteen separate editions. Both were republished by Martin Luther at Strassburg. In the preface Luther declared that Savonarola was a precursor of the Protestant doctrine, and one of the martyrs of the Reformation. “This man,” said he, “was put to death solely for having desired that some one should come to purify the slough of Rome.”

Michael Angelo . . . was wont to read the sermons of the great Prior of San Marco, and talk of the life and character of the statesman-preacher.

Protestants have pointed out, influenced in part, no doubt, by the strong words of Martin Luther, that Savonarola deserves a place among the great reformers in the Protestant movement which had its beginning in the fifteenth century. They hold that when we speak of John Wyclif and his heroic work in England and of John Huss and what he did and suffered in Bohemia, we ought also to speak, and very clearly and emphatically, too, of Girolamo Savonarola as the man who more than any other, and more than all others combined, gave a moral and a spiritual tone and character to the Renaissance.

Bones:

Considering how difficult it is to find Savonarola’s published works in English, I was somewhat disappointed that the author didn’t do more to outline the sources of his many quotations.

I was also expecting, as I mentioned above, to read the story that is retold in Lawson’s Deeper Experiences; and while there are similar stories in this biography, about several prophetic occurrences in Savonarola’s life, the story is not told in the same way. I greatly enjoyed this biography as a great introduction to an important reformer and martyr, but I do hope to find another, more detailed biography of Savonarola in the future. (I would love it if someone would recommend one in the comments!)

Quotes from Savonarola:

“I preach the regeneration of the Church, taking the Scriptures as my sole guide.”

“I have no friend save Christ and the righteous.”

“It is quite a mistake to say that we have entered upon a new mode of life. A return to the principles and example of our saintly predecessors is not the adoption of a new mode of life . . . but . . . to live in a cell handsome enough for a prince; to hold possessions contrary to the profession of one’s Order; to wear rich cloth . . . to pray little; these things are indeed innovations and are a stumbling-block to souls.”

“Forsake pomp and vanities,” he cried out in his pulpit. “Sell all superfluous things, and bestow the money on the poor.”

“The vengeance of the eternal God is hot! From peasant to pope, he will strike sin and break corruption in pieces.”

“In the primitive church the chalices were of wood, the prelates of gold; in these days the Church hath chalices of gold and prelates of wood.”

“In these days there is no grace, no gift of the Holy Spirit that may not be bought and sold.”

“You forsake me, deride me,” said he, “yet shall I gain a few disciples, who will give all up for Christ’s sake; they will dress like the poor … they will be truthful; they will climb the mount of faith; they will have revelations from heaven and more learning, not however, the learning of Scotus or the poets, but that of their own conscience and of Holy Writ.”

“Charity does not consist in written papers, the true books of Christ are the apostles and the saints; the true reading of them, is to imitate their lives.”

“If any one asks why the will is free, we reply unto them, Because it is will.”

“Take the example of the mother with the child. Who hath taught this young woman, who hath had no children before, to nurse her babe? Love. See what fatigue she endureth by day and by night to rear it, and how the heaviest fatigue seemeth light to her. What is the cause of this? It is love. See what ways she hath, what loving caresses and sweet words for this little babe of hers! What hath taught her these things? Love. Take the example of Christ, who, moved by the deepest charity, came to us as a little child, in all things like unto the sons of men, and submitted to hunger and thirst, to heat and cold and discomfort. What hath urged Him to do this? Love.”

“Florence! Jesus Christ, who is King of the universe, hath willed to become thy King. Wilt thou have Him for thy King?”

“Who is he that putteth bounds to the mercy of God, and thinketh to bear the waters of the ocean in his hands?” (Exposition of the Thirtieth Psalm)

“I have embarked on a stormy flood, assailed on all sides by contrary winds. I would fain reach the port, yet I can find no dock; would fain repose, yet find no resting-place … Come, O Lord, since thou dost have me steer through these deep waters, let thy will be done.”

“Now, if Jesus Christ has done all these things without miracles, it is the greatest of all miracles; and if He has accomplished them by miracles this religion is Divine.” (The Triumph of the Cross)

“The time draws near to open the casket, and if we but turn the key there will come forth such a stench from the Roman sink that it will spread through all Christendom, and every one will perceive it.”

“When the torture was over and he was led back to his cell, he immediately knelt down and prayed in the words of Christ, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.””

“I separate thee from the Church militant —and—and—from the Church triumphant.” “From the Church militant,” quickly replied Savonarola; “thou canst do that, but thou hast no power to separate me from the Church triumphant.”

Savonarola’s Relationship to Lorenzo:

“Lorenzo sent rich gifts to the convent. The only allusion to the large benefactions was in a sermon, when the preacher said, “A faithful dog does not give up barking in his master’s defense because a bone is thrown to him.” To the delight of the monks large pieces of gold were found in the boxes of the monastery. Savonarola, knowing well enough where they came from, ordered them sent to the Good Men of St. Martin, a society whose business it was to care for the poor.”

“Lorenzo the Magnificent lay dying. … To the amazement of all he commanded them to send for Savonarola, and said, “I know no honest friar save this one.”

“When Pope Innocent VIII came to the papal throne Lorenzo made friends with him, and through this friendship obtained a cardinal’s hat for his son Giovanni, then only fourteen years of age. This boy-cardinal afterwards became Pope Leo X, whose bull Martin Luther burned at Wittenberg.”

“Florence,” writes Guicciardini, “could not have had a better or more delightful tyrant.”

The Times in Which He Lived:

“We deem this friar to be a good and pious man, thoroughly versed in the Christian faith. He has labored many years for the welfare of the people, and no fault has ever been detected either in his life or his doctrine.”

“On the night of June 14, the pope’s eldest son, the Duke of Candia, was killed by a dagger thrust, and his body thrown into the Tiber. The murderer was the duke’s own brother, Cesare Borgia, Cardinal of Valencia.”

“The plague was now on in Florence. Savonarola was shut up in his convent ministering to the sick, writing letters to friends, publishing small tractates, and finishing his monumental work on The Triumph of the Cross.”

Two Poems:

“Perhaps the most significant event during the seven years spent in this monastery, was the discovery that the corruption which he had seen blighting the world was also blasting the Church. The foul atmosphere of the court and the rabble had touched also the priests and monks. It was in Ferrara that he wrote his poem on “The Ruin of the World.” In Bologna he wrote a new poem. Its title was, “The Ruin of the Church.” In his poetic vision the Church was represented as a chaste and venerable virgin. Burning to speak with her, he asks, “Where is the light of early days? Where are the ancient saints? Where is the learning, love, and purity of olden times?” Taking him by the hand the virgin leads him to a poor cave where she dwells. She shows him her beautiful body “disfigured with the wine red finger marks of evil.” “Who hath done this?” he asks. The Church replies, “A false, proud, harlot; Rome hath done it.” Then it was that the fiery indignation of the future prophet broke forth in strongest passion, “O God, lady, that I might break those spreading wings!”

His Preaching Material:

“He boldly announced that the Church would be scourged; that it would be regenerated; and that all this would come to pass speedily. This announcement was not made as a vision; it was a conclusion supported by rational argument and on the authority of the Bible. ”

“His theme in this series of sermons was the Book of Revelation. … He reproved sin, denounced the corruptions of the time, and pointed out the impending threatenings of God’s wrath.”

“The most powerful impressions made by his preaching were not through his impassioned denunciations of vice and evil-doing, but in his touching and beautiful descriptions of the mercy of God and his love, and in his tender and earnest pleadings with the people to bring their lives into harmony with the divine life of Jesus Christ.”

“He re-read the prophets; the noble and impassioned addresses of Isaiah, and the frightful woes and lamentations of Jeremiah.”

“The iniquity of my sanctuary crieth to me from the earth.”

Reform and Revival:

“His one aim now was to carry out a program of reform…. The practice of manual labor was introduced, the study of painting and sculpture, and the art of writing and illuminating manuscripts were encouraged. …Most earnestly he inculcated on all the study of the Holy Scripture… One reason for teaching the Syriac and the Chaldee was that he might later fulfill his holy purpose of preaching the Gospel to the Turk.”

“He dreamed of a regeneration which would revive the whole Church and bring Constantinople again within the Christian fold. Even in this age, so dark morally and spiritually, Savonarola had the spirit of the true missionary of the first century and the twentieth.”

“The transformations in the social life of Florence, from 1495 to 1497, read like the story of miracles… Theaters and taverns were empty; cards and dice disappeared; the churches were crowded; … the Prior of San Marco was everywhere hailed”

Savonarola wanted to see the entire Catholic church rise up to depose Alexander and choose a righteous pope:

“His plan involved the co-operation of the sovereigns of France, Spain, Germany, England, and Hungary in calling a council of the whole Church.”

On Obedience and Authority

“We are not compelled to obey all commands; … when in evident contradiction with the law of charity laid down in the Gospel, it is our duty to resist them, even as St. Paul resisted St. Peter.”

“It will be observed that the one sin of which Savonarola was guilty was disobedience. He was not pronounced a heretic, but only described as “suspected of heresy.”

“The righteous prince or the good priest,” said he, “is merely an instrument in the Lord’s hands for the government of the people. But when the higher Agency is withdrawn from prince or priest he is no longer an instrument, but a broken tool.”

Relationship to Charles VIII of France

Savonarola “announced his text, “Behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth.” A strange alarm seemed to sweep over the audience. Pico della Mirandola declared afterwards that he felt a cold shiver run over him, and that his hair stood on end. ”

“The flood had come with the French king—so Savonarola believed.”

“France, under Charles VIII, began “the mighty movement that was to bring life to Europe by Italy’s death.” (Villari) This invasion Gibbon describes as “An event which changed the face of Europe.”

“Many carried concealed weapons and more than one steel corslet was hidden under the closely drawn robes of outraged Florentines crowded together in the dimly-lighted Duomo. … There was no allusion to politics. Nothing was said about old party or new party.”

From his sermon after the announcement of the invasion:

“I have long been as a father; I have labored all the days of my life to teach you the truths of straight and of Godly living, yet I have received nothing but tribulation … Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

There came “a message from France announcing the death of Charles VIII. He had died on the 7th of April, the very day of the ordeal of fire.”

Relationship to the Pope:

“I preach,” said he, “the doctrine of the holy apostles, … and am ready, if I should be in error, not only to correct myself, but to avow it publicly, and make amends before the whole people. And now again I repeat that which I have always said, that is, that I submit myself and my writings to the correction of the Holy Roman Church.”

“To him Alexander was “an infidel and a heretic,” who had purchased St. Peter’s chair for money. He was, therefore, not a true pope.”

“The position of Savonarola at this point was thoroughly Protestant.”

“The pope now rose to strike down the reformer of the North, who had dared speak out so boldly against the Church.”

Miscellaneous

“The name Piagnoni, meaning “the weepers,” was given in derision. The Piagnoni were strongly opposed to the Medici, believed in popular government, were in full sympathy with the movement for moral reform, and were the stout defenders of the rights of the people.”

“He said to the boys, “Sing as much as you will, but sing hymns and not immoral songs. I will write songs for you.”

The Medicis were temporarily deposed during Savonarola’s lifetime and ascendency in Florence’s most prominent pulpit. Wikipedia states simply that he became “de facto” rule of Florence. Crawford writes that “the Piagnoni were, for the time, the absolute masters of Florence.” but that Savonarola “held himself utterly aloof from narrow and party spirit.”

Bonfire of the vanities:

“Gambling devices of all sorts were there, musical instruments which had been used in the revelries of former carnivals, lascivious books both in Latin and Italian, indecent pictures and pieces of sculpture, women’s dresses with immodest figures on them, and gay and fantastic carnival trappings of all sorts. The apex of the pyramid was crowned with a personification of old King Carnival.”

“The white-robed children arranged in front of the old Palace and the Loggia dei Lanzi! Singing their lauds and hymns in honor of King Jesus, they cried out their childish invectives against the carnival, and shouted with fine enthusiasm, “Viva Gesu Christo, nostra Re!” At a given signal torches lighted the pyramid at the four corners, and the .mighty pile blazed and flamed in mad fury! The children shouted louder than ever! The trumpeters of the Signory sounded their trumpets; the bells from the Palace tower pealed forth notes of triumph, and all the people in the Piazza shouted with the children, shouted as they had never shouted before, “Long live Jesus Christ, King of Florence.” So ended the carnival of 1497.”

On Peacekeeping:

“Do not stain your hands in blood; do not disobey the precepts of the Gospel, nor your superior’s commands.”

“Prayer,” he said to the friars, “is the only weapon to be employed by a minister of the Gospel.”

On Prophecy:

“Perhaps a word ought to be said just here with reference to Savonarola’s claim to prophetic gifts. It will be remembered that from the beginning of his public ministry he saw visions, in which it seemed to him that God actually spoke to him and gave him a message for the people. The word which he proclaimed was not his word but God’s word. This he said over and over again. More than once, too, he foretold events which actually came to pass. There were two notable instances, however, in which he failed. First, in the case of Charles VIII, whom he described as the scourge of God, who would punish the princes of Italy and be the means of regenerating the Church. This Charles did not do.”

“The second notable failure was in the prophecy that he would “turn the key,” and that the princes of the nations would rise up to depose Alexander, and adopt means for the reformation of the Church.”

“in some instances Savonarola failed to distinguish between human discernment of the inevitable results of a course of action and direct, immediate revelation.”

“The prophet is a discerner rather than a foreteller.”

Notes From: William H. Crawford. “Girolamo Savonarola: A Prophet of Righteousness.” iBooks.

Review: A Short History of England (GKC)

Rating: ★★★

Author: G. K. Chesterton was a devoutly Catholic journalist, poet and novelist of the early 20th century. His most apt nickname is “The Prince of Paradox.”

Overview:

This book is difficult to summarize except to say that it is not at all what you expect based on its title; but it is 100% what you expect based on its author. Where others would see cause and effect, Chesterton sees principles and personalities. He is not aptly suited to introduce the layman to English history; but he is aptly suited to make comments to someone who knows English history well.

I would commend this book to readers who enjoy Chesterton’s works of criticism, such as Heretics.

Meat:

In my opinion, there is not much remarkable about this book except that Chesterton wrote it, (which makes it almost impossible to give it less than three stars, because of the wit and interest that pervades everything his pen touches). Much of this book was inscrutable for an American such as myself, who is not already versed in English history before beginning the book.

At the time Chesterton wrote this, it had become popular to try to focus more on daily life through history rather than just reciting and dates and battles as so many others had done. Chesterton, however, seems to do neither—rather, he tries to trace changes in English thought.

Bones:

As someone very poorly versed in European history as a whole, I had thought how pleasant it would be to be introduced to it through the pen of Chesterton; but I believe now that Chesterton did not write this to introduce anyone. Rather, he wrote it to respond to what others British authors had said in their own histories of England. After all, books of English history were quite in vogue in the Victorian period.

Chesterton was a journalist, not a historian; and the book, if not for John Richard Green, could have been titled therefore, A Short Commentary on a Short History of England. It simply does not read as a history book.

Despite all my caviling and criticisms, as I implied above, it is a remarkable thing that Chesterton wrote it. He is still his snarky, pithy, paradoxical self, as my quick collection of quotes will prove.

Quotes:

“It is an excellent habit to read history backwards.” (ch. 7, loc. 708)

“All government is an ugly necessity.” (ch. 8, loc. 856)

“The scientific age comes first and the mythological age after it.” (ch. 3, loc. 198)

“All men bear the image of the King of Kings.” (ch. 15, loc. 2031)

“It is sometimes valuable to have enough imagination to unlearn as well as to learn.” (ch. 5, loc. 425)

“The visionaries are the only practical men.” (ch. 4, loc. 367)

“Slavery was for the Church not a difficulty of doctrine, but a strain on the imagination.” (ch. 2, loc. 136.)

“The very work ‘monk’ is a revolution, for it means solitude and came to mean community—one might call it sociability.” (ch. 4, loc. 377)

“I would maintain that thanks are [is?] the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” (ch. 6, loc. 582)

Chesterton is critical of John Calvin’s ideas, which he summarizes: “that men must be created to be lost and saved.” (ch. 13, loc. 1671)

His conclusion is reminiscent of his poem, The Ballad of the White Horse:

“At least, if there be anything valid in my own vision of these things, we have returned to an origin and we are back in the war with the barbarians.” (ch. 18, loc. 2414)

Read: This book is free on Kindle and free as an audiobook on LibriVox (which I recommend).

For more free books by G. K. Chesterton, follow this link to get links to just about all of them and in any format imaginable.

The Armor of God (I): Introduction

Today we are starting an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. After the introduction (v. 10-13), we will be looking at the seven metaphors used by Paul: the belt of truth (v. 14), the breastplate of righteousness (v. 14), feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace (v. 15), the shield of faith (v. 16), the enemy’s fiery darts (v. 16), the helmet of salvation (v. 17), and the sword of the Spirit (v. 17).


Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (v. 10-13)

Cosmic Battle

The letter to the Ephesians is written in the frame of a cosmic battle. In the context of this epic battle, God knew that he was going to make a people for his name “before the foundation of the world” (1:4); God’s power towards us is the same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him “far above principality and power and might and dominion” (1:21); through our testimony, God is revealing his “manifold wisdom” to the “principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (3:10); and Paul concludes the letter with a sweeping reminder of how to prepare for this battle.

Spiritual warfare is a Christian distinctive. Muslims believe in a personal devil, but their only recourse in trouble is to amulets, charms, folk remedies, and Quranic chanting. The spiritualists and polytheists of the world live in constant fear of demons, and the modern era has seen whole nations of Africa, South America and Asia choose the gospel over a life of fear. Other religions have no concept of invoking help from a personal God who is daily empowering us to win.

God’s Suit of Armor

The phrase “whole armor,” used twice in this passage, is a single word in the original, which we have in English as panoply, which means a splendid display, since we think of suits of armor as historical artifacts used for decoration. For Paul’s readers, they probably would have thought of a suit of armor stored in readiness, waiting to be “taken up” (v. 13).

Of the six pieces of armor he describes, two are for preparation (the belt and shoes), one is for attack (the sword of the Spirit), and three are for defense (breastplate, shield and helmet). So he’s mainly talking here not from a position of expanding or winning new territory; he’s talking about how we defend what’s already won.

This defensive stance is also expressed in his use of the verb “stand” (v. 11, 13). In his book, Sit, Walk, Stand, Watchman Nee sees the Christian life expressed in three verbs used in Ephesians: 1. We sit with Christ in the heavenly places (2:6); 2. We walk with Christ on earth (4:1); and 3. We stand against the devil’s tricks (6:11).

Principalities and Powers

In several places, Paul lists types of cosmic powers, which are somewhat prone to over-interpretation. In Middle Eastern cultures, one of the ways of emphasizing a point is to list synonyms or near synonyms: principalities, powers, rulers, and hosts. In 1:21 and 6:12, as well as Colossians 1:16, these lists are not meant to be a guide to the academic study of angels; rather, they should be taken in concord.

Be Empowered in the Lord

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.[1] Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

The first three verbs that he uses sound very similar in Greek: “Be strong” (ἐνδυναμοῦσθε) . . . “Put on” (ἐνδύσασθε) [the armor] . . . [that you may] “be able” (δύνασθαι). Paul uses complex structures and careful word choice in his Greek epistles, and it’s possible that this alliteration was meant to add beauty to his letter or make the words more memorable, in the same way we would use alliteration in a sermon.

The opening verb “be strong” (ἐνδυναμόω) is also used by Paul in a number of other letters. It is the same verb for “strengthens” in the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Acts 9:22 says the Paul “increased in strength.”

Paul also uses this verb to describe the Lord’s faithfulness at the end of his life:

Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me. (2 Tim. 4:17)

It is clear from Hebrews that this word has a supernatural sense, because of the way it is listed with other miracles:

Time would fail me to tell of [the faithful who . . .]  quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. (Heb. 11:32-34)

Being “strong in the Lord,” then, as Paul commands, is a supernatural receiving of power through God’s grace, which is why all of the elements of God’s armor described here are paired with spiritual characteristics: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God.


[1] “Power of his might” sounds awkward in English, but the figure probably means “his mighty power.” This is a pretty common construction in the epistles, whereby a noun is used like an adjective. It’s especially common with the word “glory”; Colossians 1:11 says, literally, “the power of his glory,” but the traditional rendering is “his glorious power.”

 

Imitation Is Not Discipleship

The Master Plan of Evangelism

[This introductory section is for those not familiar with the book, and may not be a necessary refresher for some of my readers.]

Robert E. Coleman’s book, The Master Plan of Evangelism, was first released more than 50 years ago, in 1964. This book has caused a revolution of sorts, not so much in Western local churches, but more so in parachurch ministries like campus ministries and missions organizations. Coleman boldly sets forth that Jesus’ plan was never that a select few Christians—those gifted in evangelism or missions work—would preach the gospel to all nations; rather, Jesus’ master plan has always been a church that multiplies through personal discipleship.

The key text where we see this most clearly is 2 Timothy 2:2:

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

As Coleman unpacks in his book, in the context of a single verse, Paul is referring to four different layers or “generations” of disciples:

  1. Paul (“me”)
  2. Timothy (“you” and the “many witnesses”)
  3. Timothy’s disciples (“faithful men”)
  4. Timothy’s disciples’ disciples (“others”)

Coleman also examines Jesus’ choice of the twelve apostles (à la A. B. Bruce). These twelve were not chosen at random. In fact, Jesus prayed all night before choosing them (Luke 6:11-12). Coleman contends that Jesus’ plan all along was that through daily, continued contact and teaching of these twelve disciples, they would incarnate and proliferate his gospel message through those that they would come in contact with. This is a needed corrective to impersonal mass evangelism efforts, and Billy Graham even agreed that this was a needed corrective to his own ministry.

A number of terms have been used both inside and outside Coleman’s book to describe this sort of chain reaction, such as multiplication, faithful (i.e. steadfast) discipleship and multi-generational discipleship. Francis Chan, an able teacher, adopted Multiply as the title of his book on discipleship. And while I understand that the overall teaching is powerful and effective, there are some destructive and confusing mistakes that I see creeping into the body of Christ through hierarchical organizations of discipleship.

The main danger I see here is that multi-generational discipleship can so easily mix spiritual and non-spiritual motives in an intensely communal context. (I’ve dealt with some of these problems in my review of Gene Edwards’ book Letters to a Devastated Christian, but in this article I am looking closely at specific biblical language.) Jewish rabbis and Sunni imams make detailed decisions about the lifestyles of those under their authority, often down to how to trim their beards and wear their clothes. But Christian discipleship has always been a distinctly spiritual activity.

With this in mind, I wanted to delve into some of the biblical terms related to this multi-generational discipleship model, with the hope that they help us to better orient our spiritual discipleship:

  1. “Multiplication”
  2. “Imitation”
  3. “Regeneration”

Conversion Is Not Multiplication

There is a major problem with the term “multiplication” as applied to discipleship: believers are never multiplied in the New Testament. Here are some of the things that are multiplied (πληθύνω) in the New Testament:

  • The Israelites (Acts 7:17, Heb. 6:14)
  • Grace and peace (1 Peter 1:2, 2 Peter 1:2, Jude 1:2)
  • Churches (Acts 9:31)
  • The word of God (Acts 12:24)

In Acts 6, Luke tells us twice that the number of the disciples was multiplied (v. 1 and 7), but he never says that “believers” or “disciples” multiplied. It is a contradiction in terms.

Multiplication implies that what is produced is a copy of what came before. But in the gospel, every new believer is an addition. Every time Christ is born in a human soul, we behold an act utterly unique to human history; the stamp of Christ on that soul has never happened before and will never be repeated in this cosmos. Conversion is an epitome of the creative miracle of God; and evangelical biography is always the exposition of a miracle. Chesterton expresses this unforgettably in Orthodoxy:

It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun. It may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

The word multiplication is used to describe the growth of the Israelites because they grew through natural reproduction (i.e. the copying of DNA). This kind of parental/ancestral language is never used for Christian discipleship. In two passages, Paul uses parenthood as a metaphor for his fatherly and affectionate relationship to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:15) and the Galatians (4:19-20), but he does not adopt it as a primary term for his relationship to whole groups of people. (More on this below.) There may be spiritual children, in a sense; spiritual grandchildren, never. This is the meaning of John’s explanation of regeneration at the outset of his gospel (1:12-13):

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood [i.e. not through a human mother], nor of the will of the flesh [i.e. not through sexual intercourse], nor of the will of man [i.e. not through a husband (Gk. ἀνδρὸς)], but of God.

Attempts to trace a “spiritual lineage” in hierarchical discipleship-based ministries bolster the egos of those involved, but they don’t honor the miracle of Christ in the soul. Discipleship is neither multiplication nor replication; it is two spiritual siblings working out the miracle of Christ in the soul together. They may be unequal in knowledge or experience but the clearest way to express their spiritual relationship is still that of “brother” or “sister,” not “father” or “mother.”

Imitation Is Not Discipleship

Among ministries that take Coleman’s model, it can also be common to quote scriptures on imitation. There are many New Testament scriptures where Paul enjoins his readers either to imitate their teachers, or their teachers’ faith, or something they have seen or heard from Paul himself. Here are the key examples:

Remember your leaders . . . Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (Heb. 13:7, ESV)

The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do . . . (Phil. 4:9, cf. 3:17)

Therefore I urge you, imitate me. (1 Cor. 4:16)

Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (1 Cor. 11:1)

Does Paul Call Churches to Imitate Him?

It sounds like Paul is asking for a blank check here. I would contend, though, that Paul never teaches unqualified imitation. The kind of imitation that some leaders expect of their disciples is carnal, not spiritual. In the epistles in which Paul calls for imitation, he is not talking about his diet, his music, his car, his hair, or even his talk style. He is talking about teaching, doctrine, and spiritual life. In what follows, I show why I believe that “follow” is probably the better translation for the group of New Testament Greek words that have been translated “imitate.”

This is one point where the King James Version is more careful in rendering the Greek than the modern versions.  Here are some scriptures for comparison:

1 Corinthians 4:17
New King James Version
Therefore I urge you, imitate me.

King James Bible
Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.

1 Corinthians 11:1
New King James Version
Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.

King James Bible
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.

When translating Greek into English, it is difficult to resist the pull of related words or cognates; the phrase for “be ye followers of me” uses the word μιμηταί, “followers,” which is etymologically related to “mimic” and “mime”. The idea that this word must mean “imitators” because it is etymologically related is bad exegesis and is known as “the etymological fallacy.” In a nutshell, it is not true for the same reason that butterflies aren’t flies made of butter—word origin does not equal word meaning. In this case, it seems that the modern versions are translating over-literally. This is fascinating because the usual complaint is that the King James Version is too literal! Using “imitate” to translate this verb is puzzling in 1 Peter 3:13, for example, because the verb is used with a non-human object—how does one “imitate good”?

Another verse uses this verb in a way that does not work with English “imitate”:

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word . . . (1 Th. 1:6, ESV)

How could they imitate the Lord by receiving his Word, when the Lord cannot receive his own Word? It seems like overall, the King James Version’s choice of “followers” may cover the word’s usage better. In fact, the KJV translators translated the verb as “follow” and the noun as “follower” every time they showed up.

Another interesting point on the second verse involves the conjunction “just as” (καθὼς). It may not mean that the Corinthians were to imitate Paul in the same way that Paul imitated Christ; it may also mean that they were to imitate Paul inasmuch as Paul imitated Christ. It is the same conjunction used here:

He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. (Mark 4:33)

With this in mind, a possible translation of 1 Corinthians 11:1 would be “follow me inasmuch as I also follow Christ.” I cannot say certainly that this is the correct translation, but I know that taking these verses in a very literal way has led to many abuses of discipleship. I remember seeing a famous worship leader post a picture of a student who had copied her exotic hair style. It should be emphatically stated: copycatting your pastor in every area of life has nothing to do with spiritual growth. Your pastor’s job is to help you succeed spiritually, not to be your all-around life coach.

Imitation of a teacher in every area of life is something you see only in cults. In his book on unhealthy movements, Letters to a Devastated Christian, Gene Edwards writes that alarm bells should be ringing when we see pastors and leaders trying to make personal decisions for their disciples, like who to date or not to date. This is tricky, though—clearly, every believer should submit to sound wisdom and advice from their believing elders; but believing elders can never force sound wisdom and advice on those they work with. That is not discipleship.

In a nutshell, here is my informed opinion on spiritual authority and on men and women in leadership summed up in two sentences: everyone submits. No one lords it over others. (See Eph. 5:21, Matt. 20:25, 1 Peter 5:3, and cross-references.)

Regeneration Is Not Reproduction

Another common term used for growing movements is multi-generational discipleship. This is used to refer to one leader that disciples another group, some of whom will become leaders and disciple new groups. But, like “multiplication”, this term also desperately needs some qualification. It must be stated that “generation” is being used in a secondary sense, “a group of individuals contemporaneously sharing a status”, and not its first sense, “a body of living beings constituting a single step in the line of descent from an ancestor.” We are not regenerated through any human relationship, and being a part of a hierarchical structure doesn’t legitimize our conversion.

In many Asian societies (at least, in the Middle East and South Asia), you can speak with accuracy of someone being “born Muslim” or “born Christian.” Social norms more or less preclude the possibility of choosing a different religion from that of your parents and ancestors. Any choice to the contrary (in whatever direction) is a confrontational statement that has the power to change the whole of that person’s life and relation to their community.

It can get even more confusing: I have met Filipinos who told me they were “born again” because, literally, that is the brand of Christianity they were born into. What an ironic misuse of biblical terms!

When Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again, Nicodemus took it so literally, that he thought he needed to return to his mother’s womb and come out again! It is amazing that the term has become for many a term frozen in meaning, descriptive only of a certain set of beliefs or dogmas. When Jesus first said it, it was meant to describe a radical spiritual re-ordering such that you become a new person.

Being “born again” should be something that does not depend on any human relationship, whether you’re thinking of your parents, pastor, or discipler. I have seen believers lose their faith because the person who led them to Christ lost their faith. I have also seen believers divorce their wives because the person who led them to Christ divorced his wife. Referring to “children in the faith” is something that should never be done flippantly.

Does Paul Refer to His Disciples as “His Children”?

Paul did refer to a few people as his children, but it was unusual. His usual way of addressing the churches was “brothers.” He uses this word in its vocative form (i.e. as a personal address) 68 times in his epistles; it is used in other epistles 20 other times.[2] In contrast, the word “children” is used as a personal address 11 times in all the New Testament epistles, all of them in the diminutive form (τεκνίον) as a mark of affection.[3] Ten of these are in 1 John—and John calls himself “the elder.” In these cases, it was probably a culturally appropriate way of addressing those younger than you, not necessarily carrying at-issue meaning.

This should interest us because the relation between Father and son (or parent and child) is the single most common metaphor in the New Testament for the way we relate to God. Childhood, or sonship, is Grand Central Station for New Testament concepts.[4] George MacDonald—who probably has the best preaching on this topic—justly said in one of his sermons:

The relation of the Father and the Son contains the idea of the universe.

But the relationship of discipleship is only compared to this central metaphor in very limited ways. As I mentioned earlier, Paul refers to himself as “fathering”  the Corinthian believers in 1 Corinthians 4:14-17; but in Galatians 4:19, he “labors in birth” for the Galatians! Overall, Paul describes himself in relation to his churches as father, mother, servant, sower, steward, apostle, but, most often, brother.

Does Paul Call Certain People “Son”?

Paul does call Timothy his son to the churches, but, as far as I can tell, only when he’s sending him to them and needs to commend him in the highest way possible. He does this only twice, in 1 Corinthians 4:17, and by simile in Philippians 2:22. When he calls Timothy his son, he is not referring flippantly to the fact that he led him to Christ or discipled him.[5] Clearly, Paul had a intimate mentoring relationship with Timothy that did not extend to everyone that he taught (see Acts 16:3!).

In personal letters to Timothy, Paul calls him his son more often, but mainly in salutations (1 Tim. 1:2, 1:18, 2 Tim. 1:2), and he does the same with Titus (1:4). Interestingly, in all three of these salutations, Paul uses terms of affection. This hints to the idea that “son” here has expressive meaning but not denotative meaning.

In summary, calling someone your “spiritual son” or “spiritual daughter” is a biblical and powerful way of commending a believer whom you have personally mentored. It is not a natural, normal or normative way of referring to your disciples or group members as a whole.

Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. (Matt. 23:9)

Conclusion: Discipleship is Spiritual Work

There is a certain stage in life when young believers are more prone to imitation. We are  prone to confound the spiritual and the earthly. But Christ never calls us to imitate other believers. All of life is spiritual; but you have to admit that certain decisions have no bearing on your sanctification. No one has a right to a “blank check” in terms of your schedule or personal decisions. If you have been taught that it’s part of your job as a Christian to copy your pastor’s behavior, join their workout plan, follow their diet, imitate their beard, copy their shoes, listen to their music, or gesture like them when you teach—you need to realize, none of these make you closer to Christ.


[1] In verses where Paul uses the related verb μιμέομαι, he is usually talking about imitating specific attitudes and behaviors:

  • The Thessalonian church imitated Paul and the Lord by receiving the Word (1 Th. 1:6)
  • The Thessalonians imitated the Judeans in persecution (1 Th. 2:14)
  • The Hebrews should imitate those who through endurance inherit promises, that is, by doing the smae (Heb. 6:12)
  • The Ephesians should imitate God in forgiving (Eph. 4:32-5:1)

[2] Rom. 1:13, 7:1, 7:4, 8:12, 10:1, 11:25, 15:14, 15:15, 15:30, 16:17; 1 Cor. 1:11, 1:26, 2:1, 3:1, 4:6, 7:24, 7:29, 10:1, 11:2, 11:33, 12:1, 14:6, 14:20, 14:26, 14:39, 15:1, 15:50, 15:58, 16:15; 2 Cor. 1:8, 8:1, 13:11; Gal. 1:11, 3:15, 4:12, 4:31, 5:11, 5:13, 6:1, 6:18; Eph. 6:10; Phil. 3:1, 3:13, 3:17, 4:1, 4:8; 1 Th. 1:4, 2:1, 2:9, 2:14, 2:17, 3:7, 4:1, 4:10, 4:13, 5:1, 5:4, 5:12, 5:14, 5:25; 2 Th. 1:3, 2:1, 2:13, 2:15, 3:1, 3:6, 3:13; Heb. 3:1, 3:12, 10:19, 13:22; James 1:2, 1:16, 1:19, 2:1, 2:5, 2:14, 3:1, 3:10, 4:11, 5:7, 5:9, 5:10, 5:12, 5:19; 2 Peter 1:10; 1 John 2:7, 3:13.

[3] Gal. 4:19, 1 John 2:1, 2:12, 2:13, 2:18, 2:28, 3:7, 3:18, 4:4, 5:21. Cf. also the figures of speech in 1 Cor. 4:14, 2 Cor. 6:13, 12:14, 3 John 1:4.

[4] Wycliffe translated the Greek word υἱοθεσία as “adoption” (Rom. 8:15, 23, Eph. 1:5) and virtually all English translations have followed suit. Luther, however, translated the same word as “Kindschaft” (“childship”) and I have not found any German translation that did not use some variation of this. Tyndale hit somewhat close to the mark when he translated Ephesians 1:5 as “heirs,” but for some reason he did not translate the word this way in the other two verses, where he used “adoption.”

[5] Here are the ways that Paul refers to Timothy in the third person in his epistles:

  • Our brother (2 Cor. 1:1, Col. 1:1, 1 Th. 3:2, Heb. 13:23, Phm. 1:1)
  • A servant of Jesus (Phil. 1:1, 1 Th. 3:2)
  • My son (1 Cor. 4:17, 1 Tim. 1:18, cf. Phil. 2:22; also as an address in 1 Tim. 1:2, 2 Tim. 1:2)
  • My workfellow (Rom. 16:21, 1 Th. 3:2)

Review: Apostle to Islam

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: J. Christy Wilson (Sr.) (1891-1973) was an influential missionary in Persia. He published Apostle to Islam in 1952, the year after Samuel M. Zwemer died. (His son, J. Christy Wilson, Jr., (1921-1999), was a pioneer missionary in Afghanistan, and was also nothing to sneeze at.)

Samuel M. Zwemer (the subject of this biography) was a pioneer missionary among Arabs along the Persian Gulf. His later career was spent writing, teaching and mobilizing for missions among Muslims while he was based in Egypt for many years, and later at Princeton Theological Seminary. (Click here for more on Samuel M. Zwemer, or read his biography.)

Overview: This is probably the most comprehensive biography involving Christian work in the Muslim world. It is engaging, multi-faceted, well-researched, and well-written.

Like Ion Kieth-Falconer and others, Zwemer’s life must be divided into several streams:

  • His academic career, which included a chair at Princeton Seminary in his later life.
  • His literary career, which spans 48 volumes—one writer quips that, like Luther, he “threw his inkpot at the devil”.
  • His pioneer work—Zwemer was one of the earlier student volunteers, and he held a position of influence in the movement—with Lansing and Cantine, he also founded the Arabian Mission, which was remarkable for its ambition and sacrifice.
  • His publishing work—Zwemer was the editor of The Moslem World Quarterly from 1911 to 1947.
  • His mobilization work, which, according to Ruth Tucker, was his most important contribution. Year after year, his annual schedule involved platforms and pulpits in three languages in America, India, South Africa, Indonesia, China, Persia, etc.

With so much travel and so many contributions, Wilson mainly focuses on his work; there is not much “table talk” or personal touch. This book is too big-picture for that. The biography itself reads as an account of the revival of interest in evangelical missions to Muslim-majority people groups, and for that reason it is indispensable.

Meat: One of the high points for me was reading about Lucknow 1911 for the first time—a watershed moment in missions history, in which modern missions to Muslims became focused, intentional and organized.

Zwemer seems to have been steadfast, if a little grave; and orthodox, if a bit staunch. His life work is remarkable and unparalleled, and this is one of the best books it has been my high privilege to bring back into publication.

Bones: Something that will disappoint some readers, as Ruth Tucker points out in From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, is that Zwemer had very few converts in his lifetime. He was an eagle in theology; a seer in writing; a “steam-engine” in mobilization, as his close colleague testified; but he himself did not win many people to Christ in the Arab world. For that reason, some reviewers take this book to be uninspiring; I felt—quite the opposite—that his mobilization work undoubtedly has resulted in innumerable converts through the next generation, and from this I took great encouragement as a missionary in an all-but-forgotten field.

Some personal takeaways from Zwemer’s life as a whole: I take a spur and a warning both from this biography. First, mobilization, writing, and conference work are critical elements of our global task. They must not be neglected. Second, the most important work in ministry will always be not publishing, but people—one at a time—and loving your neighbor is harder and more glorious than a mile-long trail of print. This is exactly why mobilization was Zwemer’s greatest contribution; because that is where he was relationally invested.