Category Archives: Book Reviews

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.

Review: Journals of Anthony Norris Groves (2 vol.)

Author: Anthony Norris Groves (1795-1853) was a central figure in the founding of the Plymouth Brethren, best known for his Christian primitivism as applied to ecclesiology and missiology. He authored the booklet Christian Devotedness to expound his views, and he also served briefly as a missionary in Baghdad and afterwards ministered throughout India. A 2005 biography calls him “the Father of Faith Missions”.

Overview:

The journals of Anthony Norris Grove record his journey to Baghdad and his mission term there. They were originally published in two volumes:

  1. Journal of Mr. Anthony N. Groves, during a Journey from London to Bagdad, through Russia, Georgia, and Persia. Also, A Journal of Some Months’ Residence at Bagdad.
    This journal covers the journey which took place from June to December 1829. After a hiatus, the journal then contains “observations from Bagdad” from February to April 1830.
  2. Journal of a Residence at Bagdad during the Years 1830-1831.
    The second journal continues in medias res from the first, and covers from April 1830 to November 1831 and was published in 1832. During this time, his wife and youngest child died, as Baghdad was ravaged by a regional cholera epidemic and a city-wide flood, both together prompting a famine. Groves stayed in Baghdad until May 1833.

Long stretches of his journals record current events of the region, as well as Groves’ theological reflections. In fact, in the first sentence, Groves calls the collection “memorandums and reflections (for a journal it cannot be called)” (p. 1). The publishers were, of course, undeterred by the author’s intent!

He was accompanied by his wife Mary Bethia (Thompson) Groves, their two children, “his sister and another lady, a young Scotch missionary,” and John Kitto, who was deaf (v. 1, p. 3). They were joined by Mrs. Taylor, an Armenian and the wife of Major Taylor, who was to await them in Shusha (present-day Azerbaijan). In Tbilisi, they learned that he was in fact in Baghdad, almost 500 miles beyond Shusha. They had already travelled 1700 miles over land.

This was not the only change of plans. After arriving in Baghdad, Groves writes of plans to explore Kurdistan and survey the needs of Assyrian Christians in northern Mesopotamia; he mulls going to Basra, Bushehr, Shiraz, and Isfahan, little knowing the dangers of travelling in the region, or the disasters that awaited in Baghdad.

Timeline of Groves’ Mission to Baghdad

1829—June 12—The band set sail toward Copenhagen.
June 16—They land in Denmark for several days.
July 3—They reach Kronstadt (St. Petersburg).
July 23 to August 3—They are in Moscow.
August 8—They meet a Moravian colony at Sarepta (Krasnoarmeisk, near Volgograd, Russia).
August 11 to 23—They meet a Mr. G. in Astrakhan, working on a Persian Bible translation. Here Groves first mentions the “plague” (cholera) in Yerevan (Erivan), now the capital of Armenia. Cholera would continue to travel and eventually claim his wife, more than a year later.
September 1—They reach Tbilisi (Teflis), and hear that Major Taylor is in Baghdad, not Shusha (Shushee).
September 3 to 29—They spent a month in Shusha (present-day Azerbaijan), their original intended destination.
October 6—They reach Tabriz, lodging with the ambassador Colonel MacDonald and Mohammad Ali Khan, who had an English wife.
November 10—They leave Tabriz for Baghdad.
December 6—They reach Baghdad at daybreak, meeting Major Taylor. Groves’ journal here breaks off.
1830—February 14—Groves’ journal on Baghdad resumes. Having few auspicious opportunities, Pfander and Groves are working toward starting a school for Armenian children, with the hope of also learning (and teaching?) Arabic.
March 29—Roman Catholics (Arabic speakers) agree to send children to learn English. But Major Taylor soon asks them to postpone this aspect, the Muslims being “jealous” about teaching in Arabic.
April 19—School commences, 43 boys and 2 girls. (v. 1, p. 206)
April [May?] 2—The second volume of his journal begins. He says they have 58 boys and 9 girls. (v. 2, p. 1) Dates of the two volumes are somehow misaligned.
July 12—Reports of cholera at Tabriz.
September 14—Mosques ban Muslims from receiving books from the mission band.
October 10—Mary gives birth to a daughter.
1831—March 28—Cholera reaches Baghdad. At its peak thousands are dying every day.
March 29—The school breaks up.
April 10—The Tigris River floods, threatening Baghdad.
April 27—The flood breaks through the city wall, inundating Baghdad. Tens of thousands die as cholera and whole neighborhoods collapse.
May 14—His wife Mary dies of cholera.
May 24—John Kitto falls ill. He recovers.
August—Throughout August, Arab looters break into their home multiple times.
August 24—His baby dies “without a sigh”.
November 7—Groves stops keeping a journal.
1833—May 21—Groves departed Baghdad for Bombay. (See his Memoirs, p. 226.)

The Theology of Anthony Norris Groves

The following are some theological distinctives of Anthony Groves, which he shared with the Plymouth Brethren movement:

  • Literal reading of Scripture, which included pacifism and head coverings. Groves treated the New Testament as his “missionary manual”.
  • Rejection of church hierarchy, including ordination. Groves writes that the laying on of hands has no meaning if it does not confer the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  • Rejection of a state church. Groves speaks disparagingly of churches with state backing. In this the Plymouth Brethren are aligned with the Moravians, Anabaptists, and other “Free” churches (Free Church of Scotland, Congregationalists, Evangelical Free, etc.).
  • Pacifism. Groves takes literally Jesus’ injunction to “turn the other cheek”. Thus, he travelled through Kurdistan with no armed guard, which was considered highly unusual.
  • “Faith” missions. In a well-known pamphlet published several years before he left for Baghdad, Groves taught that ministers should never solicit funds. This idea found its roots in Pietist thought, and was further popularized by George Müller and Hudson Taylor. (I plan to assess this teaching in upcoming posts.)

Lessons from Groves’ Journals

There are many valuable statements in Groves’ journals showing the need for reform in churches and missionary sending agencies. Most of these are directed toward his Anglican upbringing; Brethren teaching is very disdainful of centralized, state-controlled churches.

Groves also criticized a colonial spirit, in which missionaries depended on trade or the colonizing state for finances, mixing moral and material incentives.

“The colonizing spirit extinguishes that of the missionary.”

Anthony Norris Groves, Journal (vol. 1), p. 65, dated August 18, 1829

Several times in his journals, he portends an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that would make language study needless.

“Much time will be required in acquiring a facility in the language . . . till the Lord is pleased to pour down from on high, his gifts of the Spirit.”

Anthony Norris Groves, Journal (vol. 2), p. 252, dated September 14, 1831

In the same year and volume, he makes similar statements on March 16 (p. 84) and October 28 (p. 281). These are interesting as showing the radical, missionary roots of the Plymouth Brethren. For more on missionary tongues, see this review.

Criticisms

Overthinking Circumstances

Anthony Norris Groves is a very important figure for missiology. One biographer calls him “the Father of Faith Missions”. Groves is also hailed as one of the earliest Protestant missionaries to Arabic-speaking people. He hardly ministered to Arabs, though, and does not have a positive word about them in all his journals. Although five-sixths of Baghdad (by his estimate) is Arabic-speaking, he interacts mainly with Armenians, and is distracted by Persian and Turkish. I believe that his mission band could have made more headway with any one of these groups if they had been more focused and strategic. As it was, they taught Armenian (Christian-background) children because this was the only work read for them to do—but it doesn’t seem that anyone got very far in any of the languages. This is not surprising for a first term; but it’s not exemplary either.

As soon Groves’ wife Mary fell ill with cholera (May 7, 1831), he speaks of her being “taken away”, and what a wife she “has been” to him. On June 17, his daughter also falling ill, he writes, “when the Lord takes from me this sweet little flower, I shall indeed be desolate.” But his daughter did not die for several months! This seemed morbidly pessimistic, and not a Christian attitude to take—especially for someone who writes so much of “faith”. It was characteristic of the religion of the time period (early 1800s) to fatalistically over-interpret the circumstances as “Providence”.

Literal Interpretations and the Old Covenant

It is a major fault of his theology that he tries to take all Scripture at face value, practically ignoring context, author, and audience. As a result, he lives on the wrong side of the covenant. If something good happens, he’s full of praise for God’s favor. If something bad happens, God was taking away an idol because of the hardness of their hearts. Scripture invites us to see God’s activity everywhere, but it is dangerous to try to see divine motive in each and every circumstance.

Before the plague reaches his house, he writes first that it has not reached Baghdad; then that it has not reached the Christian Quarter; then that it has not reached his house. He thinks God has kept the “angel of death” away from their doorstep, and that the Lord has “commanded the man with the ink-horn to write [them] down to be spared” (alluding to Ezekiel 9). He quotes Psalm 91, that the plague will not touch them. Finally, when his wife, her servant, and their daughter all die, he is left in a shambles. He writes that he has misunderstood Psalm 91. After he is bereft, he says Mary must have been an idol to him, that God had to take away.

“I had intentionally renounced the world, yet the Lord saw that I held more of it than I knew in the dear object he has removed.”

Anthony Norris Groves, Journal (vol. 2), p. 162, dated May 21 1831

How selfish and self-centered, to think that God would “remove” your family by death for your own spiritual formation! This blended image of the bright, resurrected Jesus as the darkly angel of death is the bastard child of his imbalanced theology of faith, which yields an ascetic obsession with “unlimited dependence” on God. It sees God’s agency and purpose in the sick room where Jesus instead took the hand of the dying and bid them stand. Death is an enemy and the human response is to grieve. David sings, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (Ps. 119:71, NIV) Celebrating a God who “turns evil to good” is a far cry from saying that God ordained the death of a family member for your spiritual good.

Review: New Testament Greek for Teachers and Preachers

Rating: ★★★★★

Author:

Neal Windham is Professor of Spiritual Formation at Lincoln Christian University in Illinois.

Overview:

New Testament Greek for Teachers and Preachers: Five Areas of Application (1991) is an intermediate-level manual for getting the most of the Greek New Testament. He gives step-by-step instructions on how to do a word study, or a passage study, and how to use it in a sermon or lesson. The book also includes a great introduction to textual criticism, which is seldom covered in such books. Discourse is also seldom more than mentioned, and his chapter on it was brief, useful, and could easily be understood by beginning Greek students and beginning linguists. Thus, the topics covered are textual criticism, morphology, word study, syntax, and discourse. It is a very practical treatment.

Windham includes a wealth of examples of studies he’s done with applications. These examples include exactly the kinds of insights into the Greek text of the New Testament that a beginning Greek student is longing to be able to make.

My favorite part of the book was his explanation of textual criticism. In New Testament studies, textual criticism is frequently confused with higher criticism (epitomized in the Jesus Seminar), and is thus sidestepped by many theologians and popular authors. But if you buy the most popular Greek New Testament, the Nestle-Aland text, you will be faced with a “text-critical apparatus”, often taking up half of the page, giving details of minor differences in New Testament manuscripts. Windham gives a straightforward and memorable explanation for how you can get the most of the text-critical apparatus. He gives the principles by which textual experts judge what must be the original wording of a passage. We would expect to hear about the age of manuscripts and the number of manuscripts supporting a certain reading; Windham adds that we also need to assess the logical or theological difficulty of a reading. Counterintuitively, the more logically difficult reading is often judged to be the original reading, because difficulties are prone to be ironed out—not introduced—during transmission.

All of this is presented in a way that can be used for discipleship and teaching.

This book also explores the interface of modern linguistics and Koine Greek in a way that few works do. If you want more along that line, I would recommend David Alan Black’s Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek.

The audience of this book is intermediate-level Greek readers. It assumes that you are at least conversant with the text of the Greek New Testament and at least know basic terminology about Greek. It would probably be difficult for beginners, unless, perhaps, they were a strong beginner or had a background in linguistics.

If you’re interested in a summary, you can read another informative review of this book here.

Review: Purpose in Prayer

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: E. M. Bounds (1835-1913) was a clergyman in the Methodist Episcopal Church South and held a pastorate in Franklin, Tennessee. During his time in Tennessee, he led a spiritual revival and eventually began an itinerant ministry. He only published two books during his lifetime, but nine others were arranged from manuscripts and published after his death—most of them on prayer. He spent three hours a day in prayer and emphasizes a life of prayer as the one essential of the Christian life.

Overview:

Purpose in Prayer (1914) is a compilation of E. M. Bounds’ writings on prayer, with exhortations. If you enjoyed Power Through Prayer, I would recommend this as the next follow-up. Homer Hodge, the editor, calls Purpose in Prayer the companion volume to Power through Prayer. It was published the year after Bounds died.

The theological background in this book is a development on Wesleyan understandings of prayer. The first chapter bears the title, “God Shapes the World by Prayer.” This is a theme that was developed by Wesley himself.

This book contains strong medicine against fatalism and complacency. Bounds, like Wesley, sees our prayer as effecting real change in the history of the world. Some events only become possible through prayer. Prayer is not trivial; it is not just something ordained before an already-ordained event, having no power of decision in it. It creates new possibilities. There is purpose in prayer.

Some reviewers complain that Bounds doesn’t provide enough biblical backing for his assertions about prayer. In my opinion, that probably shows that they were expecting a theology book, which this is not. Moreover, Bounds does provide plenty of biblical grounding for purpose in prayer, but this is secondary to the goal of the book; his classic books are written to inspire you to pray, not to convince you of his specific theory of prayer.

I don’t recommend reading this book in a compilation (if you have a choice) because I think the compilation obscures the unity of theme that is found in this book, apart from his other books.

Read:

Like all of E. M. Bounds’ books, Purpose in Prayer is available for free in PDF format on the Internet Archive.

Similar:

If you enjoy Bounds’ books on prayer, you might enjoy Praying Clear Through by W. J. Harney. It is written in a very similar theological stream.

Quotes:

“I think Christians fail so often to get answers to their prayers because they do not wait long enough on God. They just drop down and say a few words, and then jump up and forget it and expect God to answer them. Such praying always reminds me of the small boy ringing his neighbor’s door-bell, and then running away as fast as he can go.”