by Robert Bernard Dann
Why should anyone read a biography of a man who believed that he lived a “worse than useless life”? There are no tales of heroic achievements, no stories of a champion overcoming obstacles and triumphing over all opposition.
Authentic Media, 129 Mobilization Dr., Waynesboro, GA 30830, 2004, 588 pages, $19.99.
—Reviewed by Floyd Schneider, chair Intercultural Studies Department, Emmaus Bible College, Dubuque, Iowa.
Why should anyone read a biography of a man who believed that he lived a “worse than useless life”? There are no tales of heroic achievements, no stories of a champion overcoming obstacles and triumphing over all opposition. What Robert Bernard Dann shows is the dogged determination of a missionary who wanted to glorify God by preaching the gospel where it had never been preached. The life of Anthony Norris Groves influenced, directly or indirectly, the entire faith mission network—including A.B. Simpson, C.T. Studd, Amy Carmichael, George Müller, Hudson Taylor, George Verwer, Watchman Nee and Bakht Singh.
In 1829 Groves left England for Baghdad to establish the first Protestant mission to Arabic-speaking Muslims. He left England without any of the present-day missionary trappings: no mission board, no regular salary, no ordination, no team of experienced veterans.
Dann’s descriptions of the racial and religious complexities of the Middle East in the nineteenth century help clarify the obstacles to Muslim evangelism. He describes Baghdad’s history, native peoples, dress styles, food, heat, vermin, architecture and Muslim theology. He gives the reader a feel for the difficulties Groves faced.
Dann does not idolize Groves or idealize missionary life. The author’s account of the deaths of Grove’s wife and child grimly portrays Grove’s introspection, discouragement and depression. Groves moved to India in 1833 and found an openness to the gospel which had been absent in the Middle East. He eventually returned to Europe to recruit more missionaries.
Groves not only influenced other missionaries, but he also had a profound impact as one of the “founding brothers” of the Plymouth Brethren movement.
Dann’s opposition to formal training in Bible colleges and seminaries (360, 382, 461, 473) and his opposition to dispensationalism (255) (Grove was a dispensationalist) detract very little from the biography.
Why should anyone read this book? The nuts and bolts of pioneer missionary work in the nineteenth century in the Middle and Far East have direct relevance to the missionary enterprise in those regions today. However, the real benefit of the book surfaces when the reader is challenged and convicted by Groves’ obedience and commitment. We need to recognize that the luxuries of modern missions are no substitute for the simple conviction that God still takes care of those who put him first.
Check these titles:
Eliot, Elizabeth. 1957. Through Gates of Splendor. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957.
Tucker, Ruth. 2004. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House.
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