Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Book Review: Filling up the Afflictions of Christ

"Few things inspire me to live radically for Christ more than the story of those who did. I pray that this will be the effect on you as well. The nations are in desperate need. And Christ is a great Savior" (pg. 10).
 
Filling Up the Afflictions of ChristFilling up the Afflictions of Christ is a book about three men who took seriously the command to take up their cross daily and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). In it, Piper contends that "...suffering is part of God's strategy for making known to the world who Christ is, how he loves, and how much he is worth" (pg. 14). He seeks to explain, through the Scriptures, what it means to fill up the afflictions of Christ and to exemplify his primary thesis, "...that missionary sufferings are a strategic part of God's plan to reach the nations" (pg. 19), through the lives of William Tyndale, John Paton, and Adoniram Judson.

Piper draws heavily from well-written, classic biographies including: WilliamTyndale: A Biography by David Danielle, John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography Edited by His Brother, and To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson. In doing so, he whets the appetite of his reader to digest these 440 to 530-page tomes. However, for those who are limited by time, Filling up the Afflictions of Christ is a concise, easy-to-read, thought-provoking, and encouraging summary of the lives and ministries of these men.

Piper highlights God's providence and the importance of theology and doctrine. He includes relevant warnings for our day. Furthermore, the reader will be encouraged to count the cost of following Christ and to persevere in the midst of criticism and opposition, regardless of whether fruitfulness is readily apparent.

Perhaps one of the most rewarding themes throughout Filling up the Afflictions of Christ is that Piper demonstrates how theology shapes practice. Of John G. Paton, Piper writes: "The courage to risk the loss was remarkable. But the courage to experience the loss and press on alone was supernatural" (pg. 60). He then quotes Paton's autobiography to give the reader a "...glimpse of the theology that we will see underneath this man's massive courage and toil" (pg. 60):
"I felt her [his wife's] loss beyond all conception or description, in that dark land. It was very difficult to be resigned, left alone, and in sorrowful circumstances; but feeling immovably assured that my God and father was too wise and loving to err in anything that He does or permits, I looked up to the Lord for help, and struggled on in his work" (pg. 60-61).
Again, Piper illustrates how theology informed Paton's practice resulting in a peaceful demeanor in the midst of harrowing journeys and significant trials. He writes: "The peace God gave him in these crises was not the peace of sure escape but the peace that God is good and wise and omnipotent and will do all things well" (pg. 78). Piper continues to quote Paton's autobiography, allowing Paton to "speak" for himself.

Likewise, Adoniram Judson's theology informed his practice during times of suffering. Piper purposes "...to stress that this deep confidence in God's overarching providence through all calamity and misery sustained him [Judson] to the end" and quotes Judson to drive home the point:
"If I had not felt certain that every additional trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings" (pg 87).
In spite of the fact that bringing the Gospel to the Nations cost Judson several wives and children, Piper confirms that "...a rock-solid confidence that God is sovereign and God is good" sustained him. Judson recognized that "...all things come from his [God's] hand for the good--sometimes the incredibly painful good--of his children"(pg. 88).

Filling up the Afflictions of Christ is faith building. As Piper recounts the life stories of Tyndale, Paton, and Judson, we see "...that 'the blood of the martyrs is seed,' the seed of new life in Christ spreading through the world (pg. 25). We readily see God's faithfulness as we examine the fruitful results of the sacrifices of these men. We are encouraged as we see again and again that the Gospel is powerful and effective; it "...can and does transform the most unlikely people and their societies" (pg. 68). Additionally, studying the lives of the saints who have gone before us allows us to witness some of the benefits of trials, further building our faith for the trials we are sure to encounter. Piper quotes Paton to reveal how opposition drove him close to God in prayer (pg. 59). Paton's faith stirs my own. Reflecting on a time when he sought refuge in a tree while being pursued by cannibals, Paton writes:
"Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior's spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship" (pg. 82).
Filling up the Afflictions of Christ is filled with helpful and inspiring words. It shows the influence of godly parents who are devoted to prayer, models prayers of faith, and reminds the reader that there is much more to life than comfort and ease. And yet, Tyndale, Paton, Judson, and the women in their lives were just ordinary men and women. It was encouraging to read that they had doctrinal and emotional struggles, darkness of the soul, and second-guessed the motives of their hearts during times of trouble. Piper successfully relays the story of each of these lives in such a way that the reader is able to identify and relate and therefore, be greatly encouraged.

Piper closes with a reminder that "life is fleeting" and a plea to "be a part of what Judson and Christ died for" (pg. 106). He writes:
"Are you sure that God wants you to keep doing what you are doing? For most of you, he probably does. Your calling is radical obedience for the glory of Christ right where you are. But for many of you, the stories in this book are among the hundred things God is using to loosen your roots and plant you in another place. Some of you he is calling to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, to fall like a grain of wheat into some distant ground and die, to hate your life in this world and so to keep it forever and bear much fruit...The question is not whether we will die, but whether we will die in a way that bears much fruit" (pg. 106-107)
 While Filling up the Afflictions of Christ contains a challenge and call to evaluate our lives, it is also so much more. It is an encouragement to run the race that is set before us, as the author of Hebrews so eloquently writes:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV).
"If we must suffer along the way to put Christ's sacrificial love on display, it will be a small price for the inheritance to come" (pg. 117).

I highly commend Filling up the Afflictions of Christ for your edification and the building up of the Body of Christ!

*Many thanks to Crossway for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!