This book explores the relationship between mission and suffering. It represents an excellent combination of theology, biography and challenge.
The theology is contained in the introduction. This short chapter is vital, establishing the grid through which we should view the real-life sufferings recounted later on.
The trials experienced by Tyndale, Judson and Paton were not coincidental or unfortunate. Piper demonstrates that there is an inevitable, theological connection between mission and suffering. He focuses particularly on Colossians 1:24, arguing that what is ‘lacking’ in Christ’s afflictions is the presentation of them to the nations of the world.
That role is left to the church, and the way the church presents Christ’s afflictions is through its own afflictions. ‘God really means for the body of Christ, the church, to experience some of the suffering he experienced so that when we proclaim the cross as the way to life, people will see the marks of the cross in us and feel the love of the cross from us’ (p.24).
The biographical section of the book is moving. William Tyndale suffered violent Roman Catholic opposition. His determination to translate the Bible into English was unwelcome because it threatened the church’s control. He was pursued, imprisoned and ultimately martyred.
John Paton suffered the daily stress of living amongst the cannibalistic peoples of the South Pacific. On one occasion he even had to hide in a tree from bloodthirsty natives who were seeking his life. Adoniram Judson suffered the relentless assaults of cholera, malaria and dysentery in Burma. He lost two wives, seven children and numerous colleagues, and at one point was driven by depression to live alone, deep in tiger-infested jungle.
The challenge comes in the book’s conclusion. Piper wants readers to understand that mission in the 21st century is neither less necessary nor less costly than it was for our forebears. He refers to 3,500 ‘ethnolinguistic’ peoples which remain unreached with the gospel.
The author acknowledges that most of us are probably called to carry on serving God in our present situations. However, he also flags up the great need for modern equivalents of his historical case-studies; those willing to venture into unevangelised areas of our planet and suffer, in order to show forth the greater sufferings of their Saviour. I recommend this book unreservedly.