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My Calvinist Brothers and the Left Foot of Fellowship

“The Charismatic movement is . . . a work of Satan.”
John MacArthur

“[Arminianism] is not damnable heresy per se.”
Phil Johnson, Grace to You

Why are so many Calvinists heresy hunters?

Calvinists are everywhere. I have served Christ alongside many Calvinists, some of whom I respect greatly and love dearly. But I have encountered numerous times my Calvinist friends—who I consider my Christian brothers—going out of their way to create division between themselves and anyone who rejects their yoke. I am not just talking about heresy hunting, which I also deem unbiblical, but about Christians attacking Christians. This article is my own rough attempt to understand why Calvinists are so often the hunters, and so seldom the prey. A few systematically-minded neo-Arminians like Jesse Morrell or Greg Boyd do return the favor and call Calvinism “heresy.” (I believe John Wesley did the same.) But far more often this unsubstantiated insult is hurled in the other direction. By and large, Calvinists hate Christian liberty.

My own position is one that I have gleaned partly by necessity, from living in multiple countries, where culture colors Christianity differently, and I am forced to exercise patience and forbearance if I want any Christian fellowship at all: being “in Christ” is a spiritual position, not an intellectual one. F. W. Boreham and Joseph Parker remind me that a plurality of voices enriches the church. A. W. Tozer and Richard Foster remind me that our unity is spiritual, not doctrinal, and it is found in Christ, not in any human organization. With these facts in mind, we must allow some latitude in the theology and practice of our Christian brothers.

Calvinists against Christian Liberty

When Calvinists speak of the “doctrines of grace,” this evidently does not necessitate the practice of grace. Where they are gracious to fellow believers, it seems to be the exception. Throughout my Christian life, I have encountered Calvinists who heap insults on those that disagree with them. Arminians do this, too; but they are not usually put on a pedestal for it. The most prominent Calvinist teachers in the world regularly speak of Arminians as “barely Christian”, and no feathers are ruffled in the congregations of their megachurches—rather, they are celebrated for their firmness of conviction. I’ll give some examples, and then discuss why I think this happens.

MacArthur vs. Charismatic Christians

I have study Bibles of various theological orientations, but I have gotten the most use out of my MacArthur Study Bible. In spite of this, I would not hesitate to say, John MacArthur is an outright enemy of Christian liberty. He has unabashedly dubbed the entire Charismatic/Pentecostal movement—which today is just about a majority of worldwide believers—”a work of Satan.” He has written three books on the topic, culminating in his 2013 book Strange Fire, which was pompously launched at a conference, hosted at his church, titled after the book. Thousands attended. Strange Fire was a self-serving and, frankly, depressing display of how Calvinists attack Christian liberty, and celebrate each other while doing so.

Wade Burleson wrote:

John MacArthur would do well to imitate Gamaliel and stop his war against Charismatics. [1]

Calvinist Christians vs. Arminian Christians

If MacArthur sees Charismatics as agents of Satan, he and his colleagues are slightly more tolerant of Arminianism. Phil Johnson, editor of MacArthur’s books and director of Grace to You, magnanimously calls Arminianism “not quite damnable”, referencing the words of revered Calvinist Charles Spurgeon.

Spurgeon did not regard Arminians as hell bound heretics. He regarded them as brethren. Did he think they were in error? Yes. Were they guilty of gross inconsistency in their own theology? He would have answered emphatically, yes. Was their main error significant? Spurgeon did not shrink from referring to it as “heresy”—meaning unorthodox doctrine, heterodoxy, serious error. But he was very careful to make clear that he did not regard Arminianism per se as damnable heresy or utter apostasy from essential Christianity. [2]

Insults aside, in the New Testament, all heresy is damnable (Gal. 5:19-21). I think the use of that word here is culturally informed, not biblically informed, and it shows that their Christian community tests its legitimacy on doctrinal, intellectual grounds.

MacArthur and Johnson put great stock in the words of Spurgeon, but they do not imitate him in the practice of Christian liberty. Charles Spurgeon exchanged pulpits with Arminians. His chosen successor at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Arthur T. Pierson, was a Presbyterian, and had not received adult baptism—and Spurgeon was a Baptist. Spurgeon understood something that MacArthur does not: we can trust each other without agreeing—even on major points of doctrine—because doctrine is not the sole grounds for our unity. Christ is.

To be clear, doctrine may limit our Christian unity; but it does not define it.

R. C. Sproul is a little more gracious: in the same breath that he refers to Arminians as “barely Christian”, he goes on to state that he sees such theological debates as occurring “intramurally”—that is, within the confines of the church of God, not equivalent to dealing with unbelievers. It hardly mitigates the force of his “othering” of Arminians!

John Piper vs. Universalism

John Piper, like John MacArthur, is a Calvinist. Unlike MacArthur, Piper believes that spiritual gifts are still legitimate today. When it comes to doctrine, though, Piper doesn’t exhibit any more Christian liberty than MacArthur does. When Rob Bell published a book in which universal salvation was (undogmatically) stated as one possibility on a spectrum of Christian ideas on the afterlife, John Piper famously tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell.” The implication was that Bell had committed the sin of heresy, irreversibly exiting Christian fellowship. I find the idea of universalism as repulsive as the next guy—but I find no warrant in Scripture for considering someone reprobate for entertaining it. Piper treats our Christianity as a matter of intellectual assent; but the Bible says “he who has the Son has life.”

A Case Study: Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker

Another case is Calvinist treatment of Joseph Parker, prolific writer and preacher. Joseph Parker was a close friend to Charles Spurgeon, though Spurgeon was an adamant Calvinist and Parker a confident Arminian. Spurgeon wrote:

There is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism. I have my own ideas, and those I always state boldly. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. [3]

In today’s terms, Parker and Spurgeon would be megachurch pastors. Both preached to congregations of thousands, even multiple times a week, year after year. A. Cunningham Burley, the author of Spurgeon and His Friendships, fittingly described them as “two great lamps”:

It is really difficult today to explain the significance of Spurgeon and Parker, or to make credible the enthusiasm of those who listened to them years ago. Yet there they stood, like two great lamps, burning on each side of the River—Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle and Parker at the City Temple.

There were striking similarities between these two men. They both began as boy preachers in remote country villages . . . They eventually gravitated to London and became the pastors of ‘downtown’ churches. Both men gained the ear of the crowd. Spurgeon’s audience varied from five to seven thousand. Parker was in the habit of addressing three to four thousand hearers a week. They were prodigious workers who put their own church first. When they were able to preach at all, they were always in their place when Sunday came round.

They learned (surely in the school of Christ) to praise each other’s genius and to rejoice in each other’s success. [4]

In spite of all this, I have several times encountered Calvinist writers going out of their way to discredit Joseph Parker. [5]

Even when Spurgeon was alive, a member of his congregation sought to discredit Parker, accusing him of insulting their orphanages. In fact, Parker was working to take up an offering for Spurgeon’s orphanages, and the man had overheard Parker saying that the children needed better clothing and food. On Sunday, as the story goes, Spurgeon blasted Parker from the pulpit, outraged that his friend would insult helpless orphans. Since sermons were reported in the newspapers, all London knew that Spurgeon had done this. At Parker’s next pulpit appearance, thousands flocked to his church, waiting with bated breath for his response. Parker merely took up an offering on behalf of Spurgeon and his orphanage, as he had planned before. Spurgeon had to apologize in person, and they were reconciled. [6]

Why Calvin’s Followers Belittle Christ’s Followers

As an outsider, I cannot truly understand why followers of Calvin belittle followers of Christ. But I can name here some incorrect premises that may drive these ungodly insults against Christ’s followers, who will judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3).

1. “Calvinism is the Gospel!”

Calvinism is received differently from Arminianism. Arminianism and Calvinism surely predate Jacobus Arminius and John Calvin, respectively, but within Protestant theology, the former was delineated as an “ism” in response to the latter. Calvinism is treated by many as a kind of gnostic “special knowledge” required for salvation (“the doctrines of grace”). The native language of Calvinism is both dogmatic and exclusive. Calvinists frequently make it clear: if you do not hold these Calvinist doctrines, you are not in Christ; if you are in Christ, you must hold them at least unknowingly. A litany of quotations from Calvinist theologians show how common this sentiment is:

Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.
Charles H. Spurgeon [3]

Calvinism is pure biblical Christianity in its clearest and purest expression.
Leonard J. Coppes [7]

Calvinism is the Gospel and to teach Calvinism is in fact to preach the Gospel. It is questionable whether a dogmatic theology which is not Calvinistic is truly Christian.
Arthur C. Custance [8]

Arminians deny the efficacy of the merit of the death of Christ.
John Owen [9]

Arminianism is the plague of the church and the scourge of sound doctrine. . . . Arminians do not understand the Bible.
Gordon H. Clark [10]

Salvation as the Arminians describe it is uncertain, precarious and doubtful.
Gordon H. Clark [11]

An Arminian may be a truly regenerate Christian; in fact, if he is truly an Arminian and not a Pelagian who happens to belong to an Arminian church, he must be a saved man. But he is not usually . . .
Gordon H. Clark [12]

I believe that some Arminians may be born-again Christians.
Edwin H. Palmer [13]

They’ll say, “Do you believe that Arminians are Christians?” I’ll usually say, “Yes, I do—barely.”
R. C. Sproul [14]

Is the Arminian Jesus the same Lord and Savior as the Biblical Jesus? Not even a little. . . . If you believe and serve the Christ of Arminianism, you must recognize the fact that you do not serve the Christ of the Bible.
Steven Houck [15]

A religion of conditions, contingencies, and uncertainties is not Christianity—its technical name is Arminianism, and Arminianism is a daughter of Rome. It is that God dishonoring, Scripture-repudiating, soul-destroying system of Popery—whose father is the Devil.
Arthur W. Pink [16]

. . . rank Arminians, preaching another gospel.
Arthur W. Pink [17]

Satanic malice and the natural darkness of the human mind are, no doubt, contributory causes of Arminianism in its various forms.
J. I. Packer [18]

There is a stereotype in North American Calvinist circles that someone who becomes enlightened by “the doctrines of grace”—in their view, Calvinism—often becomes a rabid defender of those doctrines, unable to deal kindly with opposing viewpoints, condemning of non-Calvinist believers. It has been called “cage stage Calvinism”. But in the section above, I’ve quoted many similar reflections written soberly by the greatest sages of Calvinism. The reason that Calvinists old and new think this way is because it is part and parcel of the theological system. It is a system that is transmitted in such a way that prejudice against other Christians is somehow transmitted with it. It is conflated with the gospel in such a wholesale way, that it leaves its adherents with no alternatives.

2. “Calvinism Is Biblical!”

Calvinism and Arminianism tend to correlate with two different approaches to Scripture. In my own experience, Calvinism tends to thrive in an environment of systematic theology, and Arminianism tends to thrive in an environment of biblical/narrative theology. These are two different but complementary approaches to forming theology from Scripture. Systematic theology looks for specific inter-related propositions in the biblical text, unifying them into a coherent theological system. Biblical theology makes context king, over against any overriding need for theological coherence. Systematic theology compares logically-related propositions; biblical theology compares historically-related texts. Both approaches can produce good theology and bad theology. An illustration of this that I frequently come back to is Psalm 139.

In Psalm 139, David is profoundly affected by God’s omniscience. God knows his thoughts (v. 1-6); God sees him no matter where he is (v. 7-12); God knew him even before he was born (v. 13-18); God knows how he is grieved by his enemies (v. 19-24).

A line in Psalm 139:16 is somewhat puzzling for translators. The NIV reads: “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” The KJV fits the context better, substituting “all my members” for “all the days ordained for me”. A Jewish translation, The Israel Bible, sounds more like the KJV: “Your eyes saw my unformed limbs; they were all recorded in Your book.”

For many Calvinist/systematic theologians, this line proves that God has ordained every event of our lives. For many Arminian/biblical theologians, it is affirming the same thing as the surrounding context in verses 13 to 18: God was active in David’s life before he was born.

The proof-text approach, employed, for instance, in the outlines of Lewis Sperry Chafer’s Systematic Theology, can lead to a dogmatic and staunch confidence that your theology is found uncontroversially in Scripture, and anyone who contradicts you is contradicting the Word of God! You could use Psalm 139:16 in the NIV, ESV, or NLT to dogmatically affirm that God foreknows and foreordains every event of our lives, even sin and evil; but looking at the Hebrew Psalm in detail may lead to a completely different understanding of this verse.

3. “Calvinism Is Logical!”

Calvinism is touted as “logically consistent” by its proponents, and as a philosophical system it truly is. But—like Arminianism—some of its logical presuppositions are arrived at and defended somewhat mystically—through intuition, not through the biblical narrative.

Such a premise is found in Calvinism’s philosophy of time. There is no direct, biblical grounding for believing in a timeless eternity, even if there is indirect, philosophical grounding for doing so. There is also no direct, biblical grounding for denying the same doctrine—it is simply not a question that the Bible answers, no matter how fiercely we believe one way or the other.

As I explained above, I believe a systematic approach to Scripture lends itself to intolerance (healthy and unhealthy), but a biblical approach to Scripture lends itself to a plurality and diversity of voices (healthy and unhealthy). Both approaches have their extremes. A biblical approach helps me to gather inspired words about the afterlife, and see what ideas come of them; but a systematic approach teaches that these ideas are not created equal, and some are dangerous!

If I overextend the systematic approach, though, I may discourage or even destroy Christian liberty through my teaching, as MacArthur, Piper, Packer, Morrell, and so many others have done. A systematic approach to Scripture can lend itself to seeing heresy where there is none, because we become trapped by the premises we used to formulate our systematic theology.

A biblical/narrative approach allows me to accept opposing viewpoints with different premises—again, for good or for ill. Joseph Parker states this view repeatedly in his sermons:

Each man has his own view of God . . . The mischief is that we expect every man to speak in the same tone, to deliver the same words, and to subject himself to the same literary yoke or spiritual discipline. The Bible sets itself against all this monotony. Every man must speak the word that God has given to him through the instrumentality of his own characteristics.
Joseph Parker [19]

These words were preached and printed in 1892. They still resonate today. It’s obvious, though, that this way of speaking could easily lend itself to a post-modern viewpoint, in which the Scripture authors themselves may not have even agreed on any basic doctrine. Biblical theology frequently fails to produce a coherent ontology for those with sincere questions about reality. A single biblical theologian can entertain the contradictory theological frameworks of the Reformed, Arminian, open theist, and process theist, exploiting each framework in turn, without any statement about which, if any, is really true!

To live by the laws of reality, we must state that of two contradicting alternatives, only one (at most) is true. Likewise, if both alternatives are part of historic Christian doctrine, as Calvinism and Arminianism are, then we do not dismiss or condemn adherents of either doctrine.

End the Heresy Hunt

The Roman Catholic church in medieval times militated against aberrant theology and practice, ordering the execution of thousands, including great ministers like John Hus, Jerome of Prague, and William Tyndale. After the Protestant Reformation, it was Calvin and his friends, such as Zwingli, who kept up this legacy of intolerance in Europe, drowning numerous believers in Switzerland for rejecting infant baptism. Anabaptists were tortured and killed by both Catholics and Protestants. Calvin himself was directly responsible for the execution of Michael Servetus, who denied the Trinity.

There is nothing in the New Testament to motivate, justify, or excuse a Christian condemning to death those with aberrant and even dangerous theology. But John reminds us that “everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). Those who are still on the heresy hunt may not be killing others, but they are reliving the cycle that began before Martin Luther, of seeking to quench opposing viewpoints. Like Job’s friends, they have a corner on the truth (Job 12:2). This kind of intolerance is not found in Christ or his apostles, and was directly rebuked by Jesus (Luke 9:49-55).

Jesus sought to correct the Sadducees on the resurrection (Mark 12:24-27). He did not hesitate to call the Pharisees “evil”, “a brood of vipers”, “a wicked and adulterous generation” (Matthew 12). Many theologians of our day, prone to post-modern thinking, need to learn to call a spade a spade when future generations are on the line. Others—and many of them are Calvinists—need to learn to show grace to those they disagree with, because they are insulting Christ’s body and bringing dishonor to his precious church. They would do well to consider the words of Herman Bavinck:

Arminianism [is] undeniably present in American Christendom. There is much humbug in it. But I think we do better to incorporate and imitate the good things, than to condemn it all. . . . After all, Calvinism is not the only truth. [20]

By the foreordination of God, Jesus himself was killed as a blasphemer, as also were most of the apostles in time. Let us take care that we identify with Christ and the apostles more than we identify with their murderers.


References

[1] Wade Burleson, Gamaliel’s Wisdom and MacArthur’s War: Fighting Strange Fires Can Also Be a Fight Against God. Accessed April 20 2021.

[2] Phil Johnson, “Why I Am a Calvinist (Part 2)”. Accessed April 20 2021.

[3] Spurgeon’s Sermons, p. 129. This passage is also quoted in Spurgeon’s Autobiography.

[4] A. Cunningham Burley, Spurgeon and His Friendships. 1933.

[5] On the Wikipedia page on Joseph Parker, someone wrote that because Spurgeon had a “stricter theological framework” he “tended to distrust” Joseph Parker. Here was cited a short encyclopedia article, which said no such thing. Some Calvinist went out of their way to propagate a lie that Spurgeon distrusted Parker, when they were in fact friends who praised each other’s work and exchanged pulpits. Spurgeon even invited Parker to speak at his fiftieth birthday.

[6] The story is narrated here and is found in many compilations, but I cannot find any primary source for the story. If you have a primary source, please comment!

[7] Leonard J. Coppes, Are Five Points Enough? The Ten Points of Calvinism (Denver: by the author, 1980), p. xi.

[8] Arthur C. Custance, The Sovereignty of Grace (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1979), p. 302.

[9] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), Vol. 10: 13.

[10] Gordon H. Clark, The Biblical Doctrine of Man (Jefferson: Trinity Foundation, 1984), p. 74.

[11] Gordon H. Clark, Predestination (Phillipsburg. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1987), p. 133.

[12] Gordon H. Clark, What Presbyterians Believe (1956), p. 74.

[13] Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), p 26.

[14] Sproul is more winsome here than Owen, Pink, MacArthur, Custance, or Piper in the full explanation of how he sees Arminians, but I still wouldn’t call him if I got a flat tire. R. C. Sproul, “Are Arminians Christians?” Clip from footage filmed for Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism. Accessed April 20, 2021.

[15] Stephen Houck, “The ‘christ’ of Arminianism.” Accessed April 21 2021.

[16] Arthur W. Pink, “Comfort for Christians.” Accessed April 21 2021.

[17] Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings in the Godhead.  Accessed April 21 2021.

[18] J. I. Packer, “Arminianisms.” Chapter in Through Christ’s word : a festschrift for Dr. Philip E. Hughes. 1985.

[19] Joseph Parker, “Prophet of Judgment.” The Minor Prophets, The People’s Bible Book 20. Pioneer Library. Kindle edition.

[20] Quoted in George Harinck, “Calvinism Isn’t the Only Truth: Herman Bavinck’s Impressions of the USA.” Accessed April 21, 2021.

Review: The Welsh Revival

Rating: ★★★

Authors:

W. T. Stead (1849-1912) was a renowned investigative journalist.

G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945) was a prolific Bible teacher and pastor of Westminster Chapel in London.

Overview:

The Welsh Revival (1905) is a brief account of some of the distinctives of the revival that occurred in Wales in the year of its publication. starting with Stead’s own revival experience in Wales in 1860, this little book follows with about 50 pages of accounts from the 1905 Welsh revival. Stead is by no means a theologian, but his account is straightforward and interesting nonetheless.

Morgan then writes on “The Revival: Its Power and Its Source”. Morgan visited Wales during the height of the revival, and attended a meeting which lasted hour after hour, long after he left.

I left that evening, after having been in the meeting three hours, at 10:30, and it swept on, packed as it was, until an early hour next morning, song and prayer and testimony and conversion and confession of sin by leading church-members publicly, and the putting of it away, and all the while no human leader, no one indicating the next thing to do, no one checking the spontaneous movement. (p. 81)

He describes the revival meetings as having no order of service and no thoroughgoing preaching—and yet so many lives were transformed, that crime rates plummeted in the wake of the revival.

These are the three occupations—singing, prayer, testimony. . . .

There are no inquiry rooms, no penitent forms, but some worker announces, or an inquirer openly confesses Christ, the name is registered and the song breaks out, and they go back to testimony and prayer. (p. 80)

Morgan has sometimes been construed as being anti-charismatic. This little book shows that he believed the Welsh revival, at least, to be a work of God.

This whole thing is of God; it is a visitation in which he is making men conscious of Himself, without any human agency. . . . God has given Wales in these days a new conviction and consciousness of himself. That is the profound thing, the underlying truth. (p. 86)

Morgan warns sternly against giving too much credit to any human agent. He speaks of the revival meeting he attended as having “no human leader”.

You tell me that the revival originates with [Evan] Roberts. I tell you that Roberts is a product of the revival. . . .

To my mind, Morgan’s warnings about the Welsh revival are reminiscent of Gamaliel’s warnings in Acts 5:

If their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.
(Acts 5:38-39, NIV)

Below are more quotations come from Morgan’s contribution to the book:

As the meeting went on, a man rose in the gallery and said, “So and So,” naming some man, “has decided for Christ,” and then in a moment the song began. They did not sing Songs of Praises, they sang Diolch Iddo, and the weirdness and beauty of it swept over the audience. It was a song of praise because that man was born again.

Evan Roberts is no orator, no leader. What is he ? I mean now with regard to this great movement. He is the mouthpiece of the fact that there is no human guidance as to man or organization. The burden of what he says to the people is this: It is not man; do not wait for me depend on God; obey the Spirit. (p. 82)

When these Welshmen sing, they sing the words like men who believe them. (p. 82)

On the origin of the revival:

In the name of God let us all cease trying to find it. At least let us cease trying to trace it to any one man or convention. You cannot trace it, and yet I will trace it tonight. Whence has it come? All over Wales I am giving you roughly the result of the questioning of fifty or more persons at random in the week a praying remnant have been agonizing before God about the state of the beloved land, and it is through that the answer of fire has come. You tell me that the revival originates with Roberts. I tell you that Roberts is a product of the revival. You tell me that it began in an Endeavor meeting where a dear girl bore testimony. I tell you that was part of the result of a revival breaking out everywhere. If you and I could stand above Wales, looking at it, you would see fire breaking out here and there, and yonder, and somewhere else, without any collusion or prearrangement. It is a divine visitation in which God let me say this reverently in which God is saying to us: See what I can do without the things you are depending on; see what I can do in answer to a praying people ; see what I can do through the simplest who are ready to fall in line and depend wholly and absolutely upon me.

Review: Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In

Rating: ★★★★

Author: Louis Zamperini (1917-2014) was an Olympic runner and World War II veteran. He survived 47 days in a raft on the Pacific Ocean, only to be captured by the Japanese. After the war ended, Zamperini met Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade in Los Angeles in 1949.

This book was written with David Rensin, who has co-written a number of biographies, including a Zamperini’s 2003 biography, Devil at My Heels.

Overview:

Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In: Lessons from an Extraordinary Life (2014) is a collection of brief, inspirational anecdotes and life lessons, compiled up until days before Zamperini’s death. It was written with David Rensin and preserves Zamperini’s unique voice.

Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In is not a full biography, but it covers the main events in Louis’ story for those who have not learned the story elsewhere. Louis retells, for instance, of surviving on the Pacific by eating shark liver, and provides plenty of anecdotes about survival skills he used and where he learned them. We hear in his own voice some of his earliest memories of growing up as an immigrant. Much of the book tells interesting anecdotes about Louis’ conversion, his business dealings, his work with at-risk youth, that would not make it into biographical depictions.

This book is a light read that gives numerous glimpses into Zamperini’s life after World War II. It is inspirational but also filled with humor.

In my opinion, the most telling story in the book was about Zamperini’s dealings with gangsters, after he had given his life to Christ at the Billy Graham Crusade in 1949. A notorious gangster told Zamperini that he wanted to become a Christian, and had a number of conversations about it. At first, Zamperini thought that he was sincere; later, the gangster told him that he would only accept Christ if Billy Graham himself would come. Zamperini showed discernment by not pandering to this powerful man.

Louis Zamperini’s full biography is given in three other books: 1) His initial autobiography, Devil at My Heels, was written with Helen Itris and published in 1956. It had a foreword by Billy Graham. 2) A second autobiography was published in 2003 under the same title but completely rewritten with David Rensin. 3) Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken (2010) was soon transformed into a critically acclaimed film, mainly due to the efforts of Angelina Jolie.

Those who enjoy Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In, will probably find their appetite whetted for a longer book about this fascinating man.

Review: The Whisper of God

Rating: ★★★★

Author: F. W. Boreham, British pastor and author of more than 50 books. He spent most of his life pastoring in New Zealand and Australia. (See the article “Who Is F. W. Boreham?”)

Genre: Sermons.

Overview:

The Whisper of God (1902) might not include Boreham’s best sermons, but they are very different in style from his other books. Most of Boreham’s books straddle the boundary between essays and sermons; here, there is little doubt that we are dealing with sermons. In spite of the difference of genre, there are some real gems here.

Boreham always excelled at making biblical material accessible and interesting. In the course of his sermons, he brings out a number of fascinating and unusual anecdotes from the lore of Christian biography. He brings out the long-forgotten stories of Girolamo Savonarola, W. C. Burns, Joseph Neesima, and others.

He also quotes, not only from theologians, but from classic novels by Dickens, poems by Dora Greenwell, Washington Gladden, and others.

We can see here the beginnings of the creativity and voracious reading that characterized his career.

The titular sermon, “The Whisper of God”, is one of the best things he ever wrote and worth the price of the book.

God with all His omnipotence at His disposal never wastes anything. He never sends a flood if a shower will do; never sends a fortune if a shilling will do; never sends an army if a man will do. And He never thunders if a whisper will do.

“Left-Handed Warriors” deals with a number of interesting themes that were lifelong favorites with Boreham: unity in diversity, forgetfulness, and “the law of compensation”. (Boreham also wrote about “Being Left-Handed” in The Silver Shadow (1918).)

If you have never read any Boreham, I would recommend starting with one of his more typical books of essays, like The Blue Flame, The Uttermost Star, or Ships of Pearl. But if you are just looking for something a little different from those, you may be blessed by reading The Whisper of God.

Review: Nuggets of Romance

Author: F. W. Boreham, British pastor and author of 49 books and thousands of articles. He spent most of his life pastoring in New Zealand and Australia. (See our article “Who Is F. W. Boreham?”)

Overview:

Nuggets of Romance (2016) is a collection of never-before-published articles by F. W. Boreham. During his lifetime, Boreham published thousands of newspaper articles, many of them biographical. In putting together his books, he focused on drawing together the longer articles and sermonic materials that would be edifying to believers.

The articles here are mostly biographical, not devotional. There is a change in audience; we get to hear Boreham addressing a different crowd than he did on Sundays. Nonetheless, we still have here the classic voice of Boreham—a man keenly interested in bringing eternal truth out the histories and destinies of famous people.

Nuggets of Romance is a relaxing read. The essays are short and cover a litany of famous persons: Samuel Johnson (lexicographer), William Caxton (printing press), Thomas Carlyle (historian), Charles Darwin (naturalist), Edward Gibbon (historian), Christopher Wren (architect), Jules Verne (science fiction novelist), Lord Lister (surgeon, innovator of antiseptics), Victor Hugo (novelist), and many others. My favorites were those about Harriet Beecher Stowe, Victor Hugo, Lord Lister, and William Caxton.

Lord Lister, for instance, practically invented modern medicine by working towards sanitizing operation rooms to prevent infections. Wikipedia says that he “revolutionised surgery throughout the world” and calls him “the father of modern surgery”. Obviously, he eventually received a peerage for his contributions to public health. But this was an honor granted to him after many years of his ideas being generally rejected. Few believed that something invisible or infinitesimal was the cause of post-surgical infections; at the time, there were a variety of incorrect ideas about how these infections occurred and spread. This is an important story with bearing on our present day, seldom mentioned.

Many of the famous people covered here had important contributions all but forgotten by modern readers. Some of them, like Jules Verne or Lord Lister, experienced long periods of failure or obscurity before finally being recognized for their work. Boreham briefly and compellingly brings out these ironies.

A few articles are purely devotional, like “Pastels of Sound,” which was wonderfully reminiscent of the old sermon “The Whisper of God.”

Review: The Romance of Missionary Heroism

Rating: ★★

Author: John Chisholm Lambert (died 1917) was a Scottish minister most famous for his missionary adventure stories. He also worked on several Bible dictionaries.

Overview:

The Romance of Missionary Heroism (1907) is an illustrated compilation of chapter-long missionary stories. These stories were also printed in four smaller volumes, divided by region into Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific. Most chapters summarize the biography of a British missionary from the nineteenth century, which has been called the “Great Century” for Protestant missions. It does not cover the biggest names like David Livingstone or Hudson Taylor, but it summarizes the lives of many who were well known in Lambert’s day, but are forgotten in ours.

The book focuses on the difficulties many of them faced in travelling new territory for the cause of Christ. As such, it does not grapple much with the relational tasks of evangelism or church planting. In spite of this, some readers may find it a worthwhile read. Personally, I was underwhelmed.

The Romance of Missionary Heroism is a fun ramble but is lacking in the true spirit of pioneer missions. It focuses on the messenger at the expense of the message. Flexibility and endurance allowed the subjects of these vignettes to advance the cause of Christ, but we glorify the vessel and forget what it holds.

Many of these workers were integral to the cause of pioneer missions in the lands in which they worked: who, having read their stories, can forget souls like James Gilmour, Jacob Chamberlain, John Paton, Mary and James Calvert? Such short chapters merely whet the appetite for book-length treatments.

Other portraits, like that of Captain Allen Gardiner, are stirring but quite tragic; a few, like those of Annie Taylor, or A. B. Lloyd, are downright tiresome. Chapter XII, and the biography it’s drawn from, are among the most deplorable examples of white superiority complex that I’ve seen among missions books, and this coming from the twentieth century.

Ultimately, the cultural context that’s on display to some extent is a spirit of triumphalism. Sobhi Malek points out in his book Islamic Exodus (ch. 4), “a spirit of triumphalism appeals to many people and attracts them to Islam”—not Christianity. In reading the Bible, Muslims find it offensive that Yahweh “raises the poor from the dust” (Ps. 113:7). Theologian John Goldingay, in a book of reflections on living with his wife’s disability—points out that “the resurrection stories are non-triumphalist and not especially joyful.” (Walk On, p. 145)

It’s certainly interesting to learn stories of adventures missionaries went through, but, for that matter, one might as well read the life of Captain Cook, or, better yet, Treasure Island, if it is adventure you thrist for. I am hesitant to say whose stories have more value for a young boy to read—John Chisholm Lambert’s or Robert Louis Stevenson’s.

The Romance of Missionary Heroism would be a decent starting point for someone with no knowledge of nineteenth-century missions to explore new stories and find longer biographies of the ministers mentioned here. They are listed below; I’ve also included links to biographies I have published. Especially recommended are those of Gilmour, Chamberlain, the Calverts, Selwyn, and Paton.

  1. James Gilmour (Mongolia)
    James Gilmour of Mongolia; Among the Mongols; More about the Mongols; The Far East (A. Little)
  2. Jacob Chamberlain (Telugu states, South India)
    In the Tiger Jungle; The Cobra’s Den
  3. Joseph Neesima (Japan)
    Life and Letters of Joseph Hardy Neesima; A Maker of New Japan
  4. George Leslie MacKay (Taiwan)
    From Far Formosa
  5. Annie R. Taylor (Tibet)
    Pioneering in Tibet
  6. A. MacDonald Westwater (North China)
    [Here Lambert’s research is original.]
  7. Alexander MacKay (Uganda)
    MacKay of Uganda; The Story of MacKay of Uganda; Two Kings of Uganda
  8. James Hannington (Uganda)
    James Hannington; Lion-Hearted; Through Masai Land; Last Journals of Bishop Hannington
  9. Robert Laws (Malawi)
    Daybreak in Livingstonia; Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi; Among the Wild Ngoni; The Life of Robert Laws of Livingstonia
  10. François Coillard (Zambia)
    On the Threshold of Central Africa
  11. Fred S. Arnot (Congo River region)
    Garangeanze, or Seven Years’ Pioneer Mission Work in Central Africa
  12. A. B. Lloyd (Uganda)
    In Dwarf Land and Cannibal Country
  13. John Horden (Ontario)
    Hudson Bay (Ballantyne); Forty-two Years Amongst the Indians and Eskimo; John Horden, Missionary Bishop
  14. James Evans (Manitoba)
    The Apostle of the North; Hudson Bay (Ballantyne)
  15. James and Mary Riggs (U.S. Great Plains)
    Mary and I: Forty Years with the Sioux
  16. William Henry Brett (the Guyanas)
    Mission Work in Guiana
  17. Allen F. Gardiner (Patagonia)
    Captain Allen Gardiner of Patagonia
  18. Allen W. Gardiner (Patagonia)
    The Story of Commander Allen Gardiner; The First Fruits of the South American Mission
  19. George Augustus Selwyn; John Coleridge Patteson (South Pacific islands)
    Memoir of the life and episcopate of George Augustus Selwyn; George Augustus Selwyn
    The Life of John Coleridge Patteson (Yonge); Bishop Patteson
  20. James Chalmers (New Guinea)
    Adventures in New Guinea; Pioneering in New Guinea; James Chalmers; Tamate
  21. Jozef De Veuster (Hawai’i)
    Father Damien, Apostle of the Lepers of Molokai
  22. James Calvert (Fiji)
    Cannibals and Saints; At Home in Fiji; Dawn in Fiji; The Story of Fiji; Mary Calvert
  23. John Gibson Paton (Vanuatu)
    Autobiography of John G. Paton; The Story of John G. Paton
  24. The American Mission to Hawaii (Hawai’i)
    Fire Fountains: The Kingdom of Hawaii

Read: If you want to read The Romance of Missionary Heroism, you can get the PDF for free, or you can listen to the audiobook on LibriVox.

Review: Christmas Eve and Easter Day

Rating: ★★★★

Author: Robert Browning (1812-1899) was an eminent English poet of the Victorian era, known for his ambitious and dramatic lyrics and monologues. He had an evangelical upbringing, and had a home-grown love for learning. His wife of many years, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, was an equally revered poet, though her career was much shorter due to a chronic illness.

Genre: Poetry, theodicy.

Overview:

Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day (1850)—the British spelling hyphenates both—is titled as one poem with two parts, and 55 small sections. It has also been published as two separate poems. Quite regardless of its visionary settings, the poem take a mostly introspective stance typical of Browning’s poetry.

Though Browning is often philosophical, this is one of his most overtly Christian poems, and some attribute this to the influence of his recent marriage to Elizabeth Barrett. She told a correspondent concerning this poem, “Certainly the poem does not represent his own permanent state of mind, which was what I meant when I told you it was ‘dramatic.'”

In the first part, Christmas-Eve, a young man enters a chapel alone for a holiday service. During the service, though, he becomes restless and begins contemplating the preacher’s hypocrisy, as he perceives it, and his own doubts of God’s goodness. He leaves the service, choosing to think to himself out in the cold. He ponders on his own faith and that of the preacher.

The contemplations he enters into are reminiscent to the relational theology of George MacDonald, or “Ugo Bassi’s Sermon in the Hospital” by Harriet Eleanor Hamilton-King. Browning reflects on the relationship between free will and creation. How can God create a good creation when he must grant his creatures some autonomy?

The main character speaks cynically of the preacher at first, but, in time, he is compelled to separate those aspects of religion that are merely social or traditional, from those aspects of faith that are real and deal with the unseen.

I recommend this poem, especially if you are dealing with doubt (or “deconstruction”) or enjoy relational theology. It starts slow but when it gets going it is very good.

Read: This little book is available to read online on Project Gutenberg (here), and in PDF format on the Internet Archive.

Review: George Müller of Bristol and His Witness to a Prayer-Hearing God

Rating: ★★★★★

Author:

Arthur Tappan (A. T.) Pierson (1837-1911) was an American Presbyterian pastor and a prolific author of biography, theology, and especially missions. He succeeded Charles Spurgeon in the Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit and was a key influencer in the Student Volunteer Movement.

Overview:

George Müller of Bristol and His Witness to a Prayer-Hearing God (1899) is one of the great classics of Christian biography. George Müller served Christ for more than sixty years, managing Bible schools and an orphanage, as well as being a prominent public supporter of overseas missions. He is most famous for his orphanage and his lack of soliciting funds. The BBC writes,

When Müller died at the age of 92 in 1898, the Daily Telegraph wrote that he had “robbed the cruel streets of thousands of victims and the workhouses of thousands of helpless waifs”.

The author, Arthur Pierson, was his son-in-law, and had a personal knowledge of Müller’s life. The book was published in the year after Müller died and, brief as it is, is the authoritative biography of George Müller. It also masterfully explains the principles by which Müller lived, Pierson himself being a famous preacher and teacher.

Müller was strongly influenced by Anthony Norris Groves, who went to Baghdad in 1829 under a banner of Christian primitivism—meaning, he chose to travel with salary or no institutional backing. George Müller married Mary Groves in October 1830, and thus, Anthony Norris Groves became his brother-in-law; around this time, Müller also renounced his salary, believing that God called his ministers to live without a fixed income. This is known among evangelicals as “living by faith”, though it is something of a misnomer—implying, as it does, that those with fixed incomes are not living by faith—and thus, I place it between quotation marks for lack of a better term. For historical context, it’s worth noting that Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission and popularizer of “faith” missions, was not yet born at the time! Groves and Müller were very early adopters of the principles of evangelical “faith” missions.

In 1831, the Memoirs of August Hermann Francke was published, Müller soon read it. Francke had been a seminal figure in the beginnings of Protestant missions in the late 1600s and early 1700s, and he also educated and supported thousands of poor children.

Reading the life of Francke was likely a watershed moment for Müller who became, according to Pierson, “in [many] respects [Francke’s] counterpart”. Both Francke and Müller were Germans; both supported and educated poor children; both lived and ministered for decades without a fixed income; both distributed over a million Bibles and New Testaments; both supported the work of pioneer missonaries.

In February, 1832, [George Müller] had begun to read the biography of A. H. Francke, the founder of the Orphan Houses of Halle [in Germany]. As that life and work were undoubtedly used of God to make him a like instrument in a kindred service, and to mould even the methods of his philanthropy, a brief sketch of Francke’s career may be helpful.

August H. Francke was Müller’s fellow countryman. About 1696, at Halle in Prussia, he had commenced the largest enterprise for poor children then existing in the world. He trusted in God, and He whom he trusted did not fail him, but helped him throughout abundantly.

The institutions, which resembled rather a large street than a building, were erected, and in them about two thousand orphan children were housed, fed, clad, and taught. For about thirty years all went on under Francke’s own eyes, until 1727, when it pleased the Master to call the servant up higher; and after his departure his like-minded son-in-law became the director. Two hundred years have passed, and these Orphan Houses are still in existence, serving their noble purpose.

In 1834, Müller began a school in Bristol for teaching children the Bible. In 1836, this work was expanded to include an orphanage. This orphanage was the work for which Müller became most well known; but, like Francke, he was involved in a vast variety of charitable and educational endeavors. As he is presented here, Müller led a profoundly impactful life of charity based on faith and biblical principles.

The chapter on “The Word of God and Prayer” is noteworthy and is worth reading by itself. I have no other work that so clearly states the importance and practicality of using scripture in prayer. According to Pierson, Müller’s prayers were steeped in the Word of God, and were grounded in God’s promises.

The author gives ample space to describing both the principles and outcome of Müller’s prayer life; throughout the book, he often departs from the narrative to describe the theological background in which the events took place. In my view, this book is a perfect blend of biography, theology, and devotion. It constitutes a transition point between nineteenth-century memoirs, which merely list dates and events, and modern reflections which merely meditate on their meaning without giving a full historical account.

Plymouth Brethren and “Faith” Missions

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the description of Plymouth Brethren principles practiced by Müller, which are unfamiliar to many Americans. Several of my favorite theologians came out of the Plymouth Brethren, and they were a profound influence on Watchman Nee. As Pierson describes it, Plymouth Brethren doctrine involves an outright rejection of hierarchy in church organization. Thus, even group meetings do not have an appointed leader. “you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” (1 Corinthians 14:31, NIV)

There are certain aspects of this book that have been exaggerated in the context of Christian fundraising. In certain circles, greatly influenced by lives like August Francke, Hudson Taylor, and George Müller, direct soliciting of funds is practically taboo, and ministers must be supported on a “faith” basis. In reality, Francke and Müller at least, had important believing patrons that had some awareness of the day-to-day needs of their institutions. Nonetheless, these lives are remarkable confirmations of Jesus’ words:

Food and clothing “dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.” (Matthew 6:32, NLT)

I highly recommend this book to anyone embarking on a faith venture without a fixed salary. I would not advocate any restrictive version of this wherein no one may make their needs known to believers who are willing and ready to help. That’s not a principle I see in the New Testament. In my opinion, it is similar to denying medicine because you believe in healing; medicine may also be a method of healing! For all that, I have personally tested Jesus’ principles and found that our heavenly Father does know all our needs, and he does provide for his people out of his abundant mercy.

Read: You can read this book for free at Project Gutenberg, in the Kindle Store, and you can listen to it on LibriVox.

The Blue Flame and other new releases

The new hardback edition of The Blue Flame is in stock and ready to ship for just $36. With only 120 copies left, you will want to order it now before it runs out. If you haven’t bought one of the Boreham Signature Collection through Kickstarter or pre-orders, you can now order here on olddeadguys.com! You can also join our F.W.B. mailing list for exclusive updates and discounts related to new hardback releases.

We also have a few copies of Ships of Pearl left. If you missed the Kickstarter, you can still order it here.

We have several new paperbacks and ebooks issued in the past month. Here are some of the new releases we’ve put out since 2021 started.

The Footsteps of Divine Providence

In 1695, August Francke, a professor of biblical languages in Prussia (now part of Germany), was asked to take in an orphan girl; but when he went to receive her into his home, she had brought three of her sisters!

I ventured, in the Name of God, to take them all four. . . .

The Footsteps of Divine Providence, p. 41

Believing that God was the “Father to the fatherless”, he took care to see that these girls were provided for, and not long after, took in others. Eventually, his small endeavor grew to house and educate two thousand poor children.

Francke was responsible for teaching (Count) Nicolaus Zinzendorf, starting in 1710, when Nicolaus was 10 years old. Count Zinzendorf and August Francke, with help from Frederick IV of Denmark, sent many of the first Protestant missionaries.

The Footsteps of Divine Providence by A. H. Francke (paperback)
The Footsteps of Divine Providence by A. H. Francke (ebook)

Ion Keith-Falconer: The Scholar-Missionary

Ion Keith-Falconer was a record-breaking cyclist and scholar of Semitic languages who chose to live in Sheikh Othman, Yemen, to bring knowledge of the Gospel to the people of Arabia. In his twenties, he used his family’s wealth to support a number of evangelistic endeavors. He died at just 31; as his legacy, his own money supported a successor in the mission field, and many others followed him to the mission field on hearing of his life story. If you are unfamiliar with his life, I recommend starting with one of his biographies, either McEvoy’s or Robson’s; if you want the fullest version of the story, read Sinker’s, which we have published as an ebook.

Ion Keith-Falconer: The Scholar-Missionary by C. McEvoy (paperback)
Ion Keith-Falconer: The Scholar-Missionary by C. McEvoy (ebook)

Consider the Lilies: The Parables of Lilias Trotter

Lilias Trotter, founder of the Algiers Mission Band, was a friend of John Ruskin and regarded as an up-and-coming artist when she left the United Kingdom for Algeria. She devoted her life to the people of North Africa. She also wrote a number of pamphlets and articles in English and Arabic.

Three of her pamphlets—Parables of the Cross, Parables of the Christ-Life, and Parables of Hope—used plants as modern “parables” for the work of Christ in the heart. These have been collected for the first time into compilation, preserving her own original illustrations.

Consider the Lilies: The Parables of Lilias Trotter by Lilias Trotter (ebook)

The Life of Bernard Gilpin

Bernard Gilpin was a minister who lived in the early days of the English Reformation. Most famously, Gilpin’s execution was ordered by Queen Mary, but she died after he was apprehended, and he lived another twenty years. He was regarded at that time as “The Apostle of the North” because of his labor on behalf of the people of north England. You can read more about him here.

The Life of Bernard Gilpin by George Carleton (ebook)

Coming Releases

Here is a list of some titles that we expect to release before 2021 is over:

The Great Themes of the Bible (Louis Albert Banks)
Christ and His Friends (Louis Albert Banks)
The Sinner and His Friends (Louis Albert Banks)
Thinking Black: 22 Years in the Long Grass of Africa (Dan Crawford)
Back to the Long Grass: My Life with Livingstone (Dan Crawford)

A Historical and Biblical Appraisal of “Faith” Missions

The biographies of ministers like George Müller, of the Bristol Orphan Homes, and Hudson Taylor, of the China Inland Mission (now OMF International), dramatically popularized the concept of “faith” missions—meaning that missionaries or ministers are prohibited from soliciting financial help and do not receive any fixed salaries. It is worth asking, where did this idea originate, and is it a biblical model of missions?

The Beginnings of “Faith” Missions

Francke’s Foundations in Germany

In founding his orphanage, Müller was strongly influenced by the work of August Hermann Francke in Halle, Germany. In his autobiography, The Footsteps of Divine Providence, which we have just published, Francke tells of many answered prayers. In 1695, Francke set up a box for anonymous donations for the support and education of poor children. At first, he took in four; within a few years, his boarding house grew to became the largest charitable institution in the world, supported by King Frederick I of Prussia, who was a loyal patron to local Pietists.

While Francke did not outline any philosophy of giving per se, his dependence on prayer and anonymous gifts, and his living “without any settled provision” (p. 42) was an inspiration to George Müller, who read Francke’s Memoirs.

Having thus made a beginning, in the Name of GOD, to take effectual care of some poor, without any settled provision, and without any regard to human supports, I relied entirely upon Him, and so did not scruple to make daily addition to the number of our children.

The Footsteps of Divine Providence, 2021 edition, p. 42

Passages in Francke’s autobiography (published in 1701) are nearly identical to those from Müller’s biography (published in 1899):

All our provision being spent, I closely adhered in my mind to this saying, “Seek first the kingdom of GOD, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you“; avoiding temporal cares, and turning the whole bent of my soul upon a close union with GOD: and when I was now laying out the last of the money, I said in my thoughts, “LORD, look upon my necessity.” Then going out of my chamber, I unexpectedly found a student in my house, that waited for [me], and presented me the sum of seventy crowns, sent by some friends from a place above two hundred English miles distant.

The Footsteps of Divine Providence, 2021 edition, p. 61

Francke was himself of a well-to-do family, with a strong network. The charter and building materials for his boarding house were provided directly by the Elector of Brandenburg, later King of Prussia. Francke also trained and sent the first Protestant missionaries in 1706, with help from the King of Denmark. He printed more than one million Bibles in around a dozen languages. In spite of his noble connections, it is remarkable what Francke accomplished without fixed donations. Halle became a global hub for the spread of Protestant and Pietist ideas through Francke’s Foundations.

Anthony Groves and the Plymouth Brethren

Anthony Norris Groves was the first to expound the concept of “faith” stewardship, in his 1825 booklet, Christian Devotedness. Groves was one of several figures who were crucial to the beginnings of the Plymouth Brethren, alongside John Nelson Darby. Their primary theological distinctives are primitivism and literalism: Primitivism means that early church practices are considered to be normative today; literalism for the Brethren means that no Scriptural command may be side-stepped by any “cultural” interpretation. All are relevant for practice today, including the prohibition of fixed income, commands to pacifism, and head coverings for women.

Groves believed that the missionaries of the early church did not have regular incomes, which he considered “trusting in man” (Jeremiah 17:5), and he believed that societies providing a generous income for overseas missionaries had led to extravagance and became a scandal to the gospel.

In his 1825 booklet, Groves took as his theme the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth.” Groves interpreted this command as a blanket prohibition against saving money. He interprets Matthew 19:24 as stating that wealth directly inhibits spiritual growth, and works against salvation: “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” He refers to Luke 18:22—”sell all that thou hast”— and Acts 2—”they had all things in common”—as evidence that we believers should not have property.

In spite of his strict interpretation against salaries for missionaries, Groves did not oppose missionaries working a trade overseas (“tent-makers”), as he states several times in his journal while in Baghdad.

The Growth of “Faith” Missions

In 1852, Hudson Taylor was baptized in a Brethren assembly. He joined the Chinese Evangelisation Society, arriving in China in 1854 at the age of 21. During his first term, he faced a number of problems and prejudices, surviving a fire and an attack by bandits. In 1857, encouraged by George Müller, he left his mission society.

It was not until 1865 that Taylor founded the China Inland Mission. By the time they left in 1866, with a team of more than twenty adults, Taylor had gained the support of Charles Spurgeon and had published China’s Spiritual Need and Claims, which went through numerous editions.

Taylor became the best known figure in evangelical missions and China Inland Mission became the largest missionary society in the world. Missiologist Ralph Winter wrote:

“More than any other human being, James Hudson Taylor, that young upstart, who did not heed his station in the social order, made the greatest contribution to the cause of world mission in the 19th century.”

Ralph D. Winter, “Why is the China Inland Mission/North America‘s 100th year celebration so significant for us today?” Mission Frontiers, June 1988. [link]

In 1899, A. T. Pierson—a mobilizer of the Student Volunteer Movement and Charles Spurgeon’s successor at the Metropolitan Tabernacle—published George Müller of Bristol and His Witness to a Prayer-Hearing God. Pierson had married Müller’s daughter and held a high respect for the man whose biography he wrote.

“Not once, or five times, or five hundred times, but thousands of times in these threescore years, have we had in hand not enough for one more meal, either in food or in funds; but not once has God failed us; not once have we or the orphans gone hungry or lacked any good thing.”

George Müller to A. T. Pierson, in George Müller of Bristol, ch. VI, p. 81

The lives of Francke, Taylor, and Müller are wonderful exhibits of God’s faithfulness, and that is a faithfulness that extends, not only to missionaries, but to the merest sparrow. It is interesting, though, to contemplate how well known these men were. All three were heavily involved in writing and publishing, and all three circulated printed accounts of the progress of their ministry. None solicited funds, but continuous publishing clearly maintains the attention of like-minded believers. Though serving the poor, all three also had high connections. The monarchs of Denmark and Prussia supported Francke’s evangelical and charitable endeavors. Taylor and Müller had the ear of Charles Spurgeon, who had the ear of thousands of Londoners on a weekly basis.

“Faith” Missions Under the Microscope

What Is Faith?

From reading his journals, it becomes clear that Groves writes with an ascetic turn of mind. As a habit, he takes Scriptures “in their most unrestricted sense” (Christian Devotedness, p. 4). He speaks of being “compelled to live by faith on the divine promises day by day” (p. 30). He writes that the “primary object” of God’s government is “the development in us of the character of dear children, the essential feature of which is unlimited dependence” (p. 2).

This axiom of “unlimited dependence” has stark implications. For Groves, they mean rejecting welcome help. First, it means ministers cannot ask for money. While travelling to Baghdad, it causes Groves to write that he “foolishly” placed too much trust in his carriage (Journal, v. 1, p. 35). He goes unarmed and unescorted in Kurdistan, in a region riddled with bandits (v. 1, p. 104); not long after, a similar group is murdered (v. 2). When his wife dies, he speaks of her death as caused by his own dependence on her, and God as allowing her to die to teach him dependence (v. 2, p. 162)! He speaks of language learning as if God might at any moment give him the gift of tongues, bypassing all his labor (v. 2, p. 252).

At what point do we stop interpreting everything by “dependence”? Should we not study because the Holy Spirit leads us into truth? Should we never eat because we live not by bread alone? “Dependence” describes the act of salvation, but it is by no means an exhaustive description of the Christian life.

When Müller, Groves, and others write of doing missions “by faith”, their implication is that living with a fixed income—especially as a minister or missionary—is decidedly not living by faith. But where does this leave laymen, who toil to feed their families? Do they not live by faith? Groves allows that missionaries may work for their money (v. 1, p. 204). If working for your money is “by faith”, and tent-making is “by faith”, how is soliciting funds not “by faith”? He reduces faith to “not asking for material help” whereas biblical faith is a spiritual dependence for forgiveness and empowerment.

In the end, Groves’ theology points to a dualism in which all material things (“the flesh”) are evil, and spiritual dependence encompasses everything. This is notable when he views the beautiful God-created landscapes of the Caucasus, and can only morbidly reflect that all be destroyed (v. 1, p. 72).

Testing Brethren Hermeneutics

As mentioned earlier, “faith” missions is built on the biblical hermeneutic principles of primitivism and literalism. Both principles tend to create imbalanced practice, and not just in the area of stewardship.

In his book, Letters to a Devastated Christian, Gene Edwards points out that primitivism as it is usually expounded relies on several shaky premises. First, primitivism assumes that all aspects of the first-century church recounted in the Book of Acts are still normative. Needless to say, Edwards contends that they are not—a key example being the denial of personal property in Acts 2. Second, primitivism assumes that we know enough about early church practice to answer our questions. In defense of “faith” missions, Groves asks, “Why has this spirit for so many centuries been slumbering?” (p. 15) He presumes that, like him, the apostles never solicited funds.

Literalism is likewise appealing on the surface, but reductionist upon further inspection. Brethren doctrine “resurrected” a literal reading 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 in favor of head coverings for women. This is a passage that almost no one in recent church history has taken literally, and if Lucy Peppiatt is to be believed, no one should. One passage taken literally may involve a direct contradiction to another passage taken literally. In the case of 1 Corinthians 11, Paul writes that “long hair” is a “disgrace” on a man, but in Acts 18:18, he does not cut his hair while at Corinth! Either Paul is contradicting himself, or he has changed his mind, or there is some rhetoric involved in 1 Corinthians 11.

Testing “Christian Devotedness

In Groves’ booklet, Christian Devotedness, he advocates the “most unrestricted” interpretation of Jesus’ saying, “lay not up treasures upon earth” (Matthew 6:19). He teaches that it is an outright prohibition on saving or planning for “future or possible” needs. But Paul uses the same verb for “lay up” in 1 Corinthians 16:2, exhorting the Corinthians to prepare to be generous to the church.

“Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.”

1 Corinthians 16:2

When Paul says this, he is speaking of them accumulating a fund, so that when he comes he can transfer the money to those who need it in Jerusalem. He is also making a direct financial appeal for a specific, known need. If we can labor and save for the church’s needs, why not for our own?

Paul uses the same verb for “storing up” money again in 2 Corinthians, in an analogy:

“. . . The children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.”

2 Corinthians 12:14

Here is only appealing by analogy to the way of the world; but Paul considers only natural that parents would save up for their children. Groves employs some sleight of hand here, saying that Paul is not asking for money. In any case, Paul is appealing to a universal principle, that parents store up provision for the needs of their children.

Pride and Faith Missions

Finally, I want to point out that “faith” missions appeals to human pride. “Faith” missions exploits monergist language to put on an air of spirituality while simultaneously setting up a new law that is not founded on sound Scripture. It sounds very noble-minded to never ask for needed funds and only direct your appeals to God in prayer, but we are never restricted to doing so in the Scriptures. In fact, asking for help from other believers may be the more Christian practice, and only seeking help in prayer may be an indicator of spiritual pride.

“The church is a company of people who have learned how to be ill and to ask for help . . .”

John Goldingay, Walk On, p. 60, paraphrasing Stanley Hauerwas, Suffering Presence, p. 80

We cannot reduce all practice into godly “dependence” and sinful “independence”; rather, we depend on Christ for spiritual help, and we also take initiative in providing for our own material needs and co-laboring with Christ in obedience to his commands.

Throughout Jesus’ life, people of all stripes pleaded with him pointedly and repeatedly for material help, and he gave it to them. The apostles did the same. There are certainly specific dangers attending financial appeals, which tempt some to give up this practice. But we address these dangers by applying sound hermeneutics, not by rejecting the whole enterprise. As Paul did, we show love by prioritizing people over finances (2 Cor. 12:14; Phil. 4:17). And we also humble ourselves in making our needs known to God and each other.