Friday, October 3, 2014

"Faithful Witness" by Timothy George: A Review

Dr. Timothy George has written an outstanding biography on one of the greatest Baptists in history, William Carey. No one in the history of the Baptist has influenced a denomination and shaped it’s approach to missions, ministry, and Bible translation like Carey. George has written a biography that not only summarizes this great man’s life, but also gives the reader lessons to learn from his life.

SUMMARY

Carey sets out to tell the story of William Carey. He does so in chapters tracing his life from his birth all the way to his death and legacy. Carey was born into a poorer family. Though they never went without, Carey was anything but rich. Whenever he became an adult, due to ailments and other reasons, became a cobbler.

Shortly after he was baptized, Carey quickly became burdened for the lost. Eventually, he was ordained into the ministry and took his first pastorate job in Moulton. There he was involved in a successful ministry and served there for several years. It was here that Carey became fluent in several languages including Greek, Hebrew, and French.

Carey’s love for the ministry eventually became a burden for the heathen. Carey was frequently seen staring at a large map thinking about the many lost souls in the world. As time continued, Carey vocalized his desire for world missions and then, Carey published his landmark book, "The Enquiry" and preached his "deathless sermon." From there, with his friends William Ward, Andrew Fuller, Samuel Pearce, and others started their plans to build the infamous Baptist Missionary Society. They sent Carey to India.

Though Carey and his family struggled in India, God slowly began to grow a church and several of the locals became converted. In the meantime, Carey began to translate the Bible into the local people’s language, something he would do for the rest of his life in many languages.

Eventually, the church was large enough in India and they had the Bible in their own language, Carey moved on to another place. He would do this for the rest of his life, planting churches, translating the Bible, leading souls to Christ, training new converts, and then moving on.
Over the scope of Carey’s forty year ministry in India, Carey achieved many things. He became a great translator, school teacher and professor, church planter, and minister trainer. All of these things in which he was involved with were strategic in bringing the Gospel to the nation, and he never lost sight of that.

Carey died at the age of 73 while still on the mission field. But that is not where the story ends. The author gives the reasons several lessons one can learn from this great man of God. The author zooms in on several issues that Carey was faced with during his life that still affect ours.

For example, Carey was always faced with contextualization in missions. The author takes the life of Carey and how he dealt with contextual issues and applies them for us. He does the same with issues like the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Bible, and many other key issues.
The point of this discussion is to show the reader that there is more to history than just dates and names. Rather, great men like Carey faced issues that we still deal with today. In the case of Carey, we can learn a lot about how to do missions, why to do missions, and the lasting impact such a godly work can do. Along the way, the author provides the reader with Carey’s theology and strategy for world missions. It is a helpful tool of information.

CRITICAL EVALUATION

There is good reason why Faithful Witness is the standard biography for William Carey. The author has written a well research biography that covers his entire life and ministry along with all of successes, struggles, failings, pioneer work, theology, and lessons from his life. George writes with skill and clarity. He never dwells on one subject without developing it and showing how it relates to the story. There are just numerous reasons to enjoy this book.

First, the research done for this book is nothing short of scholarly. The author not only managed to tell an accurate story with adequate detail, but also writes his research in a way that the reader can understand. When discussing Carey’s sermons or books, the author takes difficult theological issues and makes them understandable. Therefore, every reader from every age, whether they have a theological background or not, can read George’s work and be satisfied. The author makes no assumptions, rather everything is backed up by facts and well supported data. Where there is debate, the author deals with the uncertainty and moves on.

Secondly, the chapter on the influences of Carey was helpful. It was nice to take a look back through Church history through the eyes of William Carey. The author discussed the hero’s of the faith that greatly impacted Carey and why. Such men included Justin Martry who defended Christianity to his dying breath. Also, the Reformers where influential on Carey. They stood up against the wrong doctrines of the Catholic Church and proclaimed justification by faith alone. As a Baptist, Carey affirmed this doctrine and preached the same. The Reformers also influenced his style of preaching as well.

But some of Carey’s biggest hero’s, according to the author, were John Elliot and David Brainard. Both were missionaries to the unconverted Indians, and both men dedicated their lives to reaching them. These men lived among the Indians and never gave up on them. Carey especially read Brainerd’s diary several times and was moved by his passion and desire to see them converted.

This chapter gave great insight into the mind of Carey. With the goal of serving God like these great men, no wonder Carey was relentless and successful! He was in the shoes of giants. Most biographies do not have a chapter like this, and what a shame. It stands as a foundation for understanding Carey better. Knowing what drove Carey and influenced him really helps the reader, while at the same time provides him with a background on Church history and the great men who have served God faithfully.

Thirdly, the inclusion of Carey’s groundbreaking book, the Enquiry is a great appendix to this biography. Though the author’s discussion of the book, it’s content, and it’s impact, but being able to read it for yourself make’s Carey’s life, drive, and ministry even more amazing. To read his own words and to hear from his own heart is breathtaking. It is no wonder this book stands as a foundation for Carey’s ministry and missions.

Finally, it was a pleasant surprise to step back, reflect on Carey’s life, and see what can be learned from it. It is great to read from an author that cares enough for the reader to leave him with something more than a head full of information regarding a person. The author took the time to develop various insights from Carey’s life and how they continue to apoply to us.

These "lessons," aren’t just simple one liners or Sunday School discussion topics, but rather deep, important, and life altering issues. The sovereignty of God, for example, is a great topic to discuss, and Carey was constantly having to lean on God’s sovereignty throughout his life. In each lesson, the author takes us back through Carey’s life and shows us why this topic was important to Carey and why it matters to us. Like Carey, we must always be leaning on the sovereignty of God. Throughout the life of Carey, we see God working in mysterious ways. At times it did not make much sense, but by the end of things, God was more glorified for it. Our lives are no different.

The last topic is faithfulness, and it is with this last topic that the author finishes his book. Though it might be a surprising conclusion to such a great life, it is a fitting one. One of the greatest lessons we can learn from Carey is his faithfulness to God’s calling on his life. The things Carey had to go through out of faithfulness to God are astounding. Most would have given up and called it quits. But not Carey. The author reminds us of his perseverance and challenges us to do the same. Carey was in fact, a faithful witness.

Overall, this is an excellent book written by an excellent writer. It is well researched and well written. It remains as the standard biography for those wanting to learn more about William Carey, and for good reason. Dr. Timothy George manages to not only give a full account of Carey’s life, but also challenges the reader to be just like him. What drove Carey, the author hopes will drive us.

Carey’s life is about faithfulness and the need for missionary work. The author spends an entire book keying in on these two issues and challenges the reader to fulfill them. No questions, just actions. That is the legacy of Carey. Where there is a need, we are called to go. Though Carey was but a cobbler, God used him to change the world. Are we much different? George’s book stands as a great biography for an even greater man of God.
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