Faith that endures. The essential guide to the persecuted church.

Book Review on Boyd-MacMillan, Ronald: Faith that endures. The essential guide to the persecuted church. (ENGLISH)

Boyd-MacMillan, Ronald: Faith that endures. The essential guide to the persecuted church. Lancaster: Sovereign World/ Grand Rapids: Revell, 2006, 364 p., UK-ISBN 1 85240 449 3, US-ISBN 978-0-8007-3119-9, Lb 11.99, US$ 14,99.

This book holds true to its title: It is indeed an essential guide to the persecuted church and it  facilitates an encounter. The author has been visiting and reporting on persecuted Christians for more than 25 years. His degrees in political science and theology as well as his training as a journalist enable him to process his rich experience and thorough research into the currently best and most comprehensive handbook on facts, background and complexity of persecution of Christians today. He is guided by five questions:

1. What does contemporary persecution look like?

Those who give their lives for their faith form only the tip of the iceberg. They are being killed by people who want to save their god, criminal syndicate or honour by doing so. The histories of martyrs are dramatic – but for each of them there are thousands of Christians who are suffering alive. Using India as an example the author explains a  recurring pattern: A power vacuum is exploited by extremists to move into centres of power. Lies are spread and repeated until they are believed. Mobs are incited to spread chaos in order to cower the opposition. Every single act of persecution usually has multiple causes: Ideology, government, family, culture, church (!), corrupt individuals, and 'over-boldness' of Christians.

2. What is persecution?

From a legal perspective five essential rights constitute religious liberty today: The right to believe your religion, to practice, spread, or change it, and to pass it on to one's children or dependants. Taking into account all cases where any of these rights are denied, more than a third of the world's Christians are persecuted. If one wishes to reserve the word persecution for 'gross violations', there are still 200-250 million Christians exposed to it. However a legal definition is inadequate to fully grasp the spiritual reality, which necessitates an encompassing theological definition: Persecution of Christians is “any hostility, experienced from the world, as a result of one's identification with Christ. This can include hostile feelings, attitudes, words, and actions.”

3. Where is the persecuted church?

The four global engines of persecution today are religious nationalism, Islamic extremism, totalitarian insecurity, and secular intolerance. Religious nationalism exists where a particular territory or culture is staked out exclusively in religious terms. Christians are degraded to second-class-citizens facing daily discrimination, or worse, they may have to flee. Islamic extremism has different dynamics, as it has a pan-national vision, which strives to incorporate the whole world into Islam. In a totalitarian state, political leaders are trying to control every aspect of life. Where Christians refuse to be dominated, they are seen as a threat and persecuted. Secular intolerance is a growing and so far underestimated source of persecution, which tries to limit evangelistic religions in the name of tolerance. The author gives the readers a global survey in this most extensive section of the book, differentiating by region and picking in each region two 'countries to watch' concerning the future development of religious freedom. These are: Columbia, Mexico, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Eritrea, China, Sri Lanka, France and the USA. This is complemented by inserted case studies on individuals.

4. How do we help the persecuted?

According to Boyd-MacMillan, helping the persecuted is messy, controversial, and confusing. Without the proper care more harm than good might be done. He criticizes overheated publicity and exaggeration, polarizing disputes on tactics, parroting of government propaganda by foreign visitors, and a concentration on the urgent rather than the strategic. He then assesses seven methods of intervention and when these are best suited. Prayer and intercession are always in order and the first help desired by the persecuted. It should be focussed on the establishment of the kingdom of God. Publishing the truth about the persecuted church in general is usually always called for, to speak out on behalf of persecuted individuals requires great sensitivity. Private representation, particularly by influential individuals, usually happens quietly, while letters of encouragement to prisoners and letters of protest to persecutors also make a difference. The use of legal intervention provides ammunition for publicity, has an embarrassing effect for the persecutors, and empowers Christians to stand up for their rights. Illegal intervention, such as smuggling bibles or sneaking endangered people out of country are necessary when no legal options exist to serve the church. Political pressure from politician to politician or from state to state, while at times having an effect, according to the author, tends to be most overestimated in its value by Christians more than any other intervention. Positive engagement by (foreign) Christians in contexts of persecution can eventually result in better treatment for the persecuted but is fraught with pitfalls.

Boyd-MacMillan is very differentiated in his assessment and emphasises that all methods of intervention have their place and supplement each other. The key factor that binds them together in effectiveness is a trustworthy relationship with the persecuted church itself. Further, the author is assisting willing donors with criteria to choose agencies worth supporting: Do they give an opportunity to encounter the persecuted? Do they make prayer an absolute priority? Do they have sound accountability structures? Is there a willingness to work in coalitions? Are long-term causes of persecution addressed? Is there an awareness of the complexity and the challenges? Do they have a good track record? Do they get into (enough) trouble and how do they behave when criticized?

5. What can we learn from the persecuted?

An important lesson for the author is that more strongly persecuted Christians have something to give to the body of Christ. Christians with a greater degree of freedom are challenged by three questions: Am I walking the way of the cross? Am I in enough trouble for Jesus? Is my God big enough?

Ronald Boyd-MacMillan is writer-at-large for Open Doors, co-founded News Network International in 1987 and worked as its Asia bureau chief until 1991 and later became the Asia bureau chief for Compass Direct (1996-2002). His book is the best and most comprehensive popular treatise on the issues surrounding religious freedom and persecution of Christians from an evangelical perspective.

Dr. Christof Sauer
(Internationales Instititut für Religionsfreiheit. Bonn – Kapstadt – Colombo. )

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