Great Moments in Methodist Missions
Why I Encourage the Millennial Generation to Study the Life of E. Stanley Jones.
E. Stanley Jones
I believe in you millennial generation. I see hope for the future because of your hunger to make the world a better place. I notice your desire to live purposeful and meaningful lives. As many of you are beginning to move into places of greater influence, I want to offer a suggestion: Study the life of a man named E. Stanley Jones.
Before I get into why, allow me to tell you some things you may or may not know about him . . .
E. Stanley Jones was one of the great influencers of the 20th century. He was a Methodist missionary who spent most of his life serving in India. He was once nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He authored many books in which millions have been sold. He was a friend and biographer of Mahatma Gandhi. His biography of Gandhi is credited with informing Dr. Martin Luther King’s non-resistance methods of protest and social change for civil rights in America. He also played an important role in establishing religious freedom in post-colonial India. Many wonder why his life and legacy are not highlighted more often.
While Jones had a vast list of accomplishments, what made him unique? Why would I recommend you study his life? Allow me to share four reasons:
1. Study his ability to build bridges in a highly polarized period of history.
As you know, American culture is deeply divided. As you are beginning to move into positions of influence, I regret that you are being handed the reigns of a nation deeply polarized. However, I do not look at the years to come with pessimism. I believe God has deposited, and is in the process of depositing, something special in the heart of your generation. Much needed change is coming through you.
In Jones lifetime, he was noted for the following:
While E. Stanley Jones had detractors, take note of his unique ability to share truth in a respectful, reconciling manner. Notice how he stayed true to his convictions, without heightening division and polarization. Even though Jones stood solidly on the gospel of Christ, he did not have a reputation for being a divisive figure, but a uniting one.
As Jones wrote in his book, The Christ of the Indian Road . . .
“If reconciliation is God’s chief business, it is ours—between man and God, between man and himself, and between man and man.”
As we navigate some of the most intensely polarized seasons in our nation, we need to study the life of E. Stanley Jones.
As you inherit a country deeply divided, study Jones’ ability to build bridges in deeply polarizing times.
2. Study his Thoughts on Sex.
Yours is the first generation that has faced massive waves of conflicting messages regarding sex and sexuality. The level of sexualization in the culture in which you have been raised is unprecedented in world history. You have faced a constant drone of sexualized sitcoms, sexualized selling, and sexualized social media. No generation has experienced this type of onslaught like your generation.
In order to advocate on your behalf, I again encourage you to study the life of E. Stanley Jones.
In Stanley’s book, The Way, he gives emerging generations like yours a special gift. Not only does he talk frankly about sex, he lifts up the many positives to the gift of proper expression of sexuality. He gives understanding to the relationship between a proper understanding of sexuality, and its relationship to maximizing human creativity and flourishing.
In your lifetimes, you have a divine opportunity. You have the opportunity to cultivate “safe places” for the sexually broken to find forgiveness, healing, and redemption. The lives of many people in your generation are at stake. You must fight for them. You must fight for yourself. Studying the life of E. Stanley Jones is one way to build redemptive understandings for the future. Study E. Stanley Jones thoughts on sex.
3. Study his ability to grow from hardship rather than run from hardship.
Jones knew what it was like to face hardship and challenges in his twenties.
Jones was just 23 years old when he was thrust into a culture radically different from his own. Jones faced overwhelming challenges when he entered Lucknow, India as a Christian missionary from the United States. There was little training offered at that time for persons entering cross-cultural missions. Facing a people steeped in generations of Hinduism, animism and Islam, Jones described this time in his life in this way, “Here I was facing this call and task and yet utterly unprepared for it in every possible way.” These circumstances brought him to the end of his human resources. He suffered a nervous breakdown.
In an effort to recover his mental and spiritual strength, Jones took a respite back home in North America. He returned to India but still struggled. During this time he attended a meeting where a Christian speaker was sharing. At this gathering, God brought the following words to the heart of E. Stanley:
“I saw that unless I got help from somewhere, I would have to give up my missionary career. While in prayer, a Voice seemed to say, ‘Are you yourself ready for this work to which I have called you?’ ‘No, Lord, I am done for. I have reached the end of my resources.’ “The Voice replied, ‘If you will turn that over to me and not worry about it, I will take care of it.’ I quickly answered, ‘Lord, I close the bargain right here.’ “A great peace settled into my heart and pervaded me. I knew it was done! Life-abundant life-had taken possession of me. I was so lifted up that I scarcely touched the road as I quietly walked home that night. Every inch was holy ground. I seemed possessed by Life and Peace and Rest-by Christ Himself.”
Many would have given up. However, Jones approached the hardship with an openness to Christ which we could all learn from. Out of this moment of fresh surrender in hardship, forty years of fruitful mission work was propelled.
Jones’ life serves as a reminder that we will all face deep hardship, even in our twenties. His life reminds us that there is a greater power available to us than the many challenges we often face. Study Jones’ ability to grow from hardship rather than run from hardship.
4. Study How a Robust and Vibrant Spirituality Empowered His Life’s Work.
Many of you love Jesus, but you are bored with “church as we presently know it.” You are not alone.
I hear a deep undercurrent in many of you when you say, “I am not interested in attending dry and dull church gatherings.” I hear the deeper longings in your heart when you express, “I am weary of church services that feel like a show.” When you ask, “What difference is the church making in the world?” you need to know there are those around you resonating with your good question.
I believe there is an authentic desire stirring within you. You hunger for the authentic is a deeper desire for the Authentic. Many of you desire the transcendent. And this is why I, again, appeal to you to study Jones’ life.
E. Stanley Jones was a highly gifted thinker, whose life was salt and peppered with impulses of the transcendence of God. Those pulses brought vibrancy to His Christianity. When Jones experienced seasons of God’s divine presence, it provided direction, humility, and clarity in his life. Recalling an outbreak of transcendence on the Asbury University campus in Wilmore, Kentucky where Jones was a college student, one author writes,
“In February of 1905, Jones and three other men were having a private prayer meeting when, about 10 p.m., the Holy Spirit seemed to enter the room. Other students joined them, and revival spread across the Asbury campus and around the town of Wilmore. There were confessions of sin, powerful prayers, and new deeper commitments to the Lord. In his spiritual autobiography, Jones said that this revival liberated him from a sense of superiority, which prepared him for future work as a missionary, opened his ears to the Holy Spirit, and led directly to his calling to the mission field.”
If, in fact, there is a deeper desire stirring within your generation for the church in the future, it may be a reflection of a robust spirituality God is calling forth through you. E. Stanley Jones had a robust Christian life, because Jones had a vibrant spirituality. Jones was one who embraced moves of God’s transcendence through the power of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is also what God is calling forth through you and your generation in the days to come?
If you are interested in studying the life of E. Stanley Jones, his published works are still available at Amazon and Seedbed. Know there are many who both see you and stand behind you. May God equip you for bettering the future you are being handed.
Paul Lawler is the Lead-Pastor of Christ Church UMC, and founder of The Immersion School, a discipleship training center in Birmingham, Alabama. He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law. In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman, Patrick Lawler, founded the Patricia B. Hammonds Girl’s Home for 60 orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The home is operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation. They are currently laboring to build a second home in Thailand for 50 orphans vulnerable to being trafficked. Paul also serves on the North Alabama Conference Discipleship Team. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111
i The Christ of the Indian Road, 1925; The Abingdon Press, p. 19.
ii Ibid, pp. 19-20