Friday, February 12, 2010

The Golden Shore

One of my favorite genres of literature is the biography and my favorite biographies are those of missionaries. I recently finished one that was, for the most part, hard to put down and a very enjoyable read. It was a biography of the first Protestant missionary to be sent from the North American continent. A story of a man who, through much suffering, was the first to bring the gospel to a land utterly foreign to anything he had known before. He had to learn the language of this people from a man who didn't speak English, he was imprisoned in the worst conditions imaginable, had one wife die, remarried and had his second wife also die, and also lost children to sickness in the mission field.

If you haven't guessed it yet the man is Adoniram Judson, a Congregationalist descended from Puritans, who sailed in 1812 from Salem, Massachusetts to India and then on to Burma, now Myanmar, where he would accomplish much, by God's grace, for the propagation of the gospel. I had first heard of Judson from a CD of John Piper preaching about the lives of missionaries that a friend gave to me my first year of med school. When I got sick with a bad cold in January, Judson came back into my life when another friend loaned me the biography, To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson. After reading it I jokingly accused my friend, who is a Credo-Baptist, of placing Baptist propaganda in my hands as Judson converted to the Baptist faith and was re-baptized after he struggled with what was the true teaching of Scripture on his ship-ride to India. I was not converted to the Baptist understanding by this book but it was certainly a blessing to read and to be encouraged by Judson's steadfastness through the intense struggles he underwent in Burma.

One quote which stood out to me impressed me because it stands in such sharp contrast to comfortable American Christianity and speaks a strong word against the so-called "prosperity gospel." In this quote Judson reflects on the difficult position of the Burmese converts. Judson writes: "But it is really affecting to see a poor native when he first feels the pinch of truth. On one side he sees hell; on the other side, ridicule, reproach, confiscation of goods, imprisonment, and death."


Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,
I found a sermon by John Piper on the prosperity gospel on youtube. It's hard to not be affected by his passion. Although I'm still coming to terms with how I've been affected. To me, it appears he is attempting to equally prioritize family relations with material possessions. Certainly I am misunderstanding this. How can I say that my family is no more important than my car, or my shoes? It is because of the gospel of Christ that I love my family so much. Or have I in fact been led away by "comfortable American Christianity"?
Maybe you can help me understand this better. But for heaven's sake, don't work too hard.

Scarlet Pimpernel

PS: Happy Valentine's Day!

Matt Perkins said...

Hey SP,

Just to make it clear, I'm as much a part of "comfortable American Christianity" as anyone. I think my point in saying that was that we should not see this as "the norm" for what it means to be Christians but instead be aware of the sacrifice being a Christian has meant in most times and places throughout the history of the Church. I related that to the prosperity gospel because that teaching would suggest that if you're obedient or you have enough faith then you should be healthy and prosperous. This is obviously not the experience of the great majority of Christians throughout history.

When it comes to the Piper video I'm not sure what you saw so it's hard to comment. I'm sure Piper would never say that a family member or any person was no more important than an automobile. The one Piper thing I know about the prosperity gospel is where he's basically saying that people will take Jesus because he'll give them material riches or protect their family instead of desiring Christ because He is desirable above all else. In this case I can agree with Piper.

Thanks for the comment and the Valentine's Day wishes.


Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,

Many people that I have encountered at worship services express the opinion (belief?) that they are healthy, prosperous, etc, because God is blessing them for their righteous living. Certainly all blessings come from God, but not because we deserve them. Perhaps you are also acquainted with some people of a similar outlook. I have mixed feelings about this. Certainly The Bible teaches that the Lord will bless those that obey and serve Him. Nonetheless, I think most of us accept that these blessings will be awarded in the life to come. But as you have pointed out, this should not be the source of anyone's faith. But, even if it is not the source of their faith,
how can someone feel this kind of entitlement--strongly enough to publicly express it--with so many examples (particularly historical ones) of righteous people being persecuted?
I'm just wondering aloud here. What do you think? no rush:)

Have a good Monday,

Scarlet Pimpernel

Matt Perkins said...

I think your statement "Certainly all blessings come from God, but not because we deserve them," expresses well what I think and I agree with your thoughts on the subject. The big problem with Christians expecting prosperity in this life because of their righteousness or the amount of their faith is that when it comes to our relation to Christ the clearer promise in the New Testament seems to be persecution, trials and hatred from the world. I know Christ Himself promised some of these things but some verses that come to mind now are 1 Peter 4:12-13: "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings..." Also we have the example of Paul from whom God would not remove the "thorn in the flesh" in order to humble Paul. In that case the "blessing" from God was a painful reality that Paul desired to be free from. Also in Hebrews we see that God "disciplines" the ones He loves and this discipline is described as "painful." My point with these verses is that often people will thank God for the blessings of good health and prosperity but what about the painful things in life that are also promised as coming from God? Most people I've known who believe in the prosperity gospel seem to have no place for suffering, or illness, or lack of prosperity being seen as a blessing from God. Instead they will always claim that it comes from Satan and then rebuke whatever trial in the name of Jesus. I'm not sure where I stand on this last point. I'm always thankful when brothers and sisters pray for healing for me and often this prayer is seen in rebuking the devil. But I appreciate it more when someone prays and acknowledges that God is sovereign, that He will use whatever trial I might face for His glory and my good and then prays that this trial would be removed. I think that is a way of praying for healing which is more faithful to Scripture.

David Goran said...

Hey Matt, I read this book a few years ago, and now it is falling apart. I too was so impressed with Judson's unwavering committment and honestly effectiveness despite everything that he went up against. Keep posting man, I love to read it.