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Where No One Has Heard: J. Christy Wilson Jr's Enduring Missions Legacy

December 09, 2016
Historic Gordon-Conwell ad used when J. Christy Wilson Jr. was on faculty.

Historic Gordon-Conwell ad used when J. Christy Wilson Jr. was on faculty.

By Ken Wilson, (GCTS MATS 1984)

This blog is adapted from the biography of Christy Wilson, Where No One Has Heard, published in 2016 by William Carey Library (www.missionbooks.org).

Many may know of J. Christy Wilson Jr. as a beloved professor of world evangelization at Gordon-Conwell during the latter decades of the twentieth century. When Christy’s former students share memories of their time with him, their stories all sound remarkably consistent: he would pray with you anytime and anyplace, he knew your name long before you knew his, he loved to tell stories of what God is doing throughout the world, he had a contagious smile and an infectious laugh, and he gave us a picture of what it looks like to be a lover of Christ.

However, as rich as Christy’s GCTS legacy may be, the life of this tender yet tenacious man of God included so much more.

He was born and raised in Tabriz, Persia (now known as Iran); ran cross country and was captain of varsity track at Princeton University; helped launch what became the triennial Urbana missions conference; pioneered Christian work in Afghanistan when others thought it impossible, entering the country as one of only a few Christians in a nation of approximately twelve million Muslims; taught private English lessons to the crown prince of Afghanistan; founded a mission that remains vibrant to this day; reintroduced the biblical idea of leveraging one’s profession for the kingdom of God with the term “tentmaking”; and faced danger on numerous occasions.

While in Afghanistan, he pastored the only Christian church permitted on neutral soil in the entire nation for two decades. It was constructed following a personal assist from President Eisenhower. The Afghan government permitted this place of worship only for use among the foreign community; it was never to be used by the Afghan people.

One Sunday morning, only three years after the sanctuary’s dedication, soldiers arrived and began to hack away at the wall between the street and the church building. One gentleman in the congregation went to Kabul’s mayor and prophetically warned, “If your government touches that house of God, God will overthrow your government!” The mayor responded by ordering the congregation to turn over their church for destruction.

“This building does not belong to us but to God,” the people of the church replied. “We can’t turn it over for destruction.” And they proceeded to serve tea and cookies to the soldiers who were destroying their place of worship.

Finally, on Tuesday, July 17, 1973, the Afghan soldiers completed their destruction of the church building. That very night, King Mohammed Zahir Shah, who had ruled for forty years, was overthrown in a coup, and the 227-year-old monarchy in Afghanistan came to an end forever.
When Christy heard the news, he fell to the floor and wept. He had recently been declared persona non grata by the Afghan government. Students were becoming followers of Christ, and certain Afghan officials were determined to rid themselves of the corrupting influence who was behind all of this. As Christy departed the land and people he loved so much, he wiped the dust from his feet.

Billy Graham said, “J. Christy Wilson will go down in history as one of the great and courageous missionaries for the gospel in the twentieth century.” Christy Wilson left an endearing and enduring legacy, and his life continues to grow God’s kingdom and to reveal the splendor of the God he loved so much and served so well.

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Discipleship: Learning Before the King's Throne

December 05, 2016
Learning Before the King's Throne

By James R. Critchlow,
Ranked Adjunct Assistant Professor in Old Testament

There are many aspects of discipleship in the Old Testament. The LORD God mentored Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam mentored Eve on their responsibilities. Noah trained his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, in their ark duties. Joshua acted as Moses’ understudy for 40 years. Deuteronomy 10:12-13 explains what the LORD required of all the people of Israel:

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (ESV).

The five infinitive constructs (to fear, walk, love, serve and keep) specify what the LORD demanded of Israel. If the people were careful to do these, they would be successful. But what did the Law given at Mount Sinai by the LORD assert about the leadership of Israel after the period of the Judges and Priests? In Deuteronomy, the LORD gave provisions for the day when Israel would demand a king "like all the nations.” He anticipated the occupation of the land of Israel and the precipitous demand for a king that would occur in 1 Samuel 8. Deuteronomy 17:14-17 provides the template for this future king whom God would choose:

“When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to
return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he acquire for himself  excessive silver and gold” (ESV).

There are clear stipulations that prevent the king from seeking martial, personal or financial power in horses, marriage alliances or wealth. The passage continues in 17:18-20, instructing the future king of Israel to write a personal copy of the law under the supervision of the priests. This book was to remain in his personal possession, and its daily study was an essential aspect of his royal duties.

“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (ESV).
Just as in Deut. 10:12-13 cited above, the majority of the verbs in this royal prescription are infinitive constructs, functioning as result clauses. These establish the LORD’s desired outcome, i.e., that the king would fear the LORD, keep His Law, do as He instructs and not exalt himself above his fellow citizens or turn away from the commandments and instructions. It was for these reasons that the use of the infinitive construct was especially revelatory. “In governing his own life by the same Torah that regulates the whole nation, the king reins in his exercise of power.” The priests would be there to ensure proper letter formation and spacing—which might delay the process—particularly if the royal writer made an uncorrectable mistake.

Not only must the king produce the copy (mishneh), he must have it with him and read from it daily. Under the over-watch of the priests, this was probably to be a scheduled activity. There should be no business that was to displace this practice in the king’s day. Even the time when the king marched out to war was to be preceded by the reading of the Word of God.

It has been my practice to aspire to this Old Testament discipleship pattern. Although I will never be a king, I am in training as a servant of the Great King. I struggle to read the whole counsel of God in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and then record 7-15 verses in my Day-Timer™. Wherever
I go, this copy of the Bible is my companion. It is my daily study, rule, guide and reminder. 

I have emphasized the value of daily study of God’s Word for all my students. Nothing should ever displace this practice. No exam, sermon, project or event should displace our time in the Word of God. For those who have gone well beyond their educational years, this principle is still in force. God desires us to know His Word. He wants to speak to us through His revelation. Whether we use the original or a modern language, this directive for leadership was appropriate for ancient Israelite kings. It is also good for King’s kids.

James R. Critchlow, Ph.D., Ranked Adjunct Assistant Professor in Old Testament, joined the seminary in 2008, and has also taught at Bethel Seminary of the East. Prior to his academic career, he served in leadership capacities with the U.S. Army for 20 years. His deployments included two years at the Pentagon, and took him to Germany, Iraq, Bosnia, Korea and many other countries. He holds M.Div. and M.A.B.L. degrees from Gordon-Conwell and a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh.


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Looking Backward to Move Forward

December 02, 2016
Looking Backward to Move Forward

By J.I. Packer, D. Phil., and Gary E. Parrett, Ed.D.

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the authors’ book, "Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way" (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010). The book explores the historic Christian practice of catechesis--which the authors define as “the church’s ministry of grounding and growing God’s people in the Gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty and delight.” Excerpt used by permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

We agree with the widespread conviction that many evangelical churches are in need of deep change today. Indeed, the fact that we share this conviction will be very obvious throughout this book. Our premise, however, is that the surest way forward is to carefully contemplate the wisdom of our past. We are not, as it turns out, the first ones who have ever had to wrestle with the issue of how to grow Christian communities and Christian individuals in contrary cultures. We are not the first to wonder about how to nurture faith in the living God and foster obedience to his way. It is not only contemporary church leaders who can teach us how to be “relevant” and “effective” in ministry today. We urge concerned church leaders to, in the language of Jeremiah 6:16, “stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it.”

In the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments we find an abundance of wisdom for building believers who will live to the glory and honor of our God. There are models and mandates, principles and practices that are as relevant for ministry today as they ever were. Church history also provides us with numerous examples of vibrant, fruitful seasons in the lives of God’s people, when true disciples were truly being made, when whole communities were alive with and for God’s glory. We do not disdain the idea of looking around at contemporary models to find guidance for our own ministries of disciple making. But we do suggest that this not be our only source for wisdom, or even our primary source. Instead, we would counsel, let us look back before looking around. Our first gaze, of course, must be to the testimony of the Scriptures themselves. Whether we are considering historic practices or contemporary ones, as professed evangelical Christians all our thinking and efforts should be vetted by diligent study of, and contemplation upon, the Bible.

From this biblical basis, how shall we best proceed? Perhaps we could apply a version of C. S. Lewis’s familiar counsel. Lewis argued that for every book we read by an author who is still living, we should read one by an author who has died. Or, if that is too much for us, then for every three books we read by living authors, we should read one by a dead author. Our counsel here is that for every new method we meet that purports to promote
congregational health today we look back to the well-tried methods that promoted congregational health in the past. Such an approach will serve us well in many areas, but perhaps none so important as that of making disciples for Jesus Christ. There is so much wisdom for us in the practices of those who have gone before us if we will only humble ourselves to listen and learn.


Dr. J.I. Packer, Board of Governors’ Professor in Theology Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia, is regarded as one of the preeminent evangelical theologians today. He is the author of many books, serves as a Senior Editor and Visiting Scholar of Christianity Today and contributes to a variety of theological journals. He holds MA and D.Phil. degrees from Oxford University.

Dr. Gary A. Parrett is Professor of Educational Ministries and Worship, and Chair, Division of Ministry, at Gordon-Conwell. He has taught at Gordon College and served in pastoral ministry at churches in Boston, New York City, New Jersey, Seattle and Seoul, Korea. He earned an M.Div. degree from Regent College and an Ed.D. from Columbia University.

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