Stuff Christian Culture Likes

Stuff Christian Culture Likes

#181 Jim Elliot

posted by Stephanie Drury

Jim Elliot was an evangelical missionary to Ecuador who was killed by the tribe he tried to convert. He is now blisteringly famous within Christian culture for being a martyr of the faith.

Everyone in Christian culture knows that it was Jim Elliot who said “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose,” and most have written it on the inside cover of their Bible at some point in their evangelical career. However, most of Christian culture can’t name the other four missionaries who were killed along with Jim. They’re Pete Best in this scenario, and Jim Elliot is Ringo.

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Steven Kippel

posted August 17, 2010 at 7:07 pm

While they mostly admire him, I often get a very different opinion from most people for what they would do in Mr. Elliot’s situation. They mainly involve killing the natives who attacked him. I’m sure that’s the best witness to the tribes.

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posted August 17, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Oh yes, how could I forget the Elliots. My first introduction to them was by reading Elizabeth Elliot’s book “Passion and Purity,” which was recommended to me at a Christian youth conference. Then when I went to bible college, they had a lounge room named after Roger Youderian, who was one of the other missionaries that got killed with Jim and apparently attended my college. We even had a guest speaker come to chapel who had been in Ecuador with the group and was a part of the search party afterwards.
What I find interesting about the reverence given to these martyrs is that there’s an unspoken rule that no Christian can question whether the missionaries made any mistakes or bad decisions. Was there anything they could have done differently so that communication went smoother and they didn’t all end up dead? If I recall correctly, even Elizabeth Elliot had voiced concerns over their decision to fly into the jungle to make first contact. I just know that I used to struggle with the idea that the Elliot’s were perfect and we should all strive to be like them, because I never always agreed with their writings.

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D. Frank

posted August 17, 2010 at 7:40 pm

I personally know many missionaries who put their lives at risk for amazing causes…such as bringing aid to the sick and dying in diseased areas. They wouldn’t care in the least if it is considered the smart thing to do or not, they are compelled to do it.
I think this article is more about Christians making their own ‘Pop Stars’ out of missionaries with the intention of recruiting more missionaries. Their is nothing glamorous about missionary life.
I must say that this may be the best line I have ever read on this blog: “They’re Pete Best in this scenario, and Jim Elliot is Ringo”. Genius.

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D. Frank

posted August 17, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Lynn, after re-reading your post I see I misunderstood it and you were not talking about missionaries/aid workers in general. I have never read Jim Elliot but I am sure I have a book around here somewhere. I would definitely agree with you that it would be worth a discussion on wisdom if the missionaries primary purpose was to convert the natives and not to bring some sort of emergency aid.
Sorry, my speed reading = me idiot.

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posted August 17, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Out of curiosity, I read the Wikipedia entry for Jim Elliot. Man, does he sound like a self-righteous prig! From high school: “A classmate recounts how Elliot quoted the Bible to the president of the student body as explanation for his refusal to attend a school party.” From college: “He was not even fully convinced of the value of his studies, considering subjects like philosophy, politics, and culture to be distractions to one attempting to follow God. After a semester of relatively low grades, he wrote to his parents that he was unapologetic, deeming study of the Bible more important.” I’m sure his parents loved that. Of course, we’re all self-righteous prigs at that age, aren’t we?

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posted August 17, 2010 at 8:35 pm

“What I find interesting about the reverence given to these martyrs is that there’s an unspoken rule that no Christian can question whether the missionaries made any mistakes or bad decisions.”
@Lynn – Nice! I feel the same way. I believe that “Poisonwood Bible” should be required reading for all Missionaries. Might bring a little perspective.

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posted August 17, 2010 at 10:19 pm

This post is timely. I just received my latest Amazon order, which included ‘Through Gates of Splendor.’ I read it years ago and liked it a lot. Though Elizabeth does romanticize her late husband’s faith quite a bit – which is one reason why he is so revered. I figured I’d like to read it again and have it as a “resource” for the family. But I am not a little wary of putting any Christian on a pedestal.

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posted August 18, 2010 at 9:36 am

I’m pretty sure if you asked the average Christian where in the Bible can you find the “He is no fool ….” quote, they’d probably say they don’t know (rather than the correct answer, it’s not in the Bible).
@Laura — Eliot’s perspective is EXACTLY what I would expect from a ‘true’ Christian. They should be completely counter-culture. A person who truly follows Christ’s example would not have a job, house, cars, spouse, 2.3 children, 52″ plasma TV with surround sound, etc. They would spurn education and throw caution to the wind at all times, knowing that their “home” is in heaven. They most certainly would not dutifully attend the local climate-controlled million-dollar megachurch on Sunday, nor organize the next potluck nor play guitar on a worship team. On the contrary, they should be so totally sold-out that their own comfort means nothing. The apostle Paul was the perfect example of what Christ wanted out of his followers, and Eliot was one of the closest to his example in recent history; but you certainly don’t see that type of servant of Christ in today’s version of Walmart-ized Christianity. Jesus said in Matthew 16:24-25, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” How many people are really, seriously, actually living up to that standard? Precious few, if any.

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posted August 18, 2010 at 2:51 pm

The previous comment in a way made my point for me – I was going to say that we hold up missionaries/martyrs in this hero role because we equate them with someone who is “more” Christian than anyone else. We decide that they are the only ones living their life truly for God. Whenever I’ve heard anything on missionaries, it’s always been to contrast how horribly selfish and comfort-seeking everyone else is in comparison to them. How we should be doing exactly what they’re doing, and if we’re not, then the least we can do with our rich, selfish little lives is give as much money as they can guilt out of us. My first introduction to who Elliot was was when I was told how his wife was able to go back and minister to the people who killed him, and if she could do that, then what kind of Christian was I to be upset at and break relationship with some toxic people in my life – I obviously was not as good as, and definitely not a “real” example of what a Christian follower should be, because they were just so, so much better.

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stephanie drury

posted August 18, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Gross. I hate that for you, Toranse. That story about Jim Elliot’s wife was told to you in an abusive way in an attempt to shame you. That is not okay.

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posted August 18, 2010 at 3:10 pm

There is one thing that REALLY bothered me about the way youth groups and churches tend to approach the subject of missionaries & martyrs. That being, they are treated as THE highest and best and only noble profession. If you weren’t going to be a missionary, what good is your life? At least that is how it felt sometimes. Unless of course you felt called to be a pastor (gag). We were not born in a country where you must fight to survive if you become a Christian. If God wanted everyone to have that sort of relationship with Him, we would have all been born in hostile countries where we would be likely to die for our faith, but we weren’t. So our relationship will be different, because our context is different. Also, youth groups & churches unfortunately seem to do too much putting things on pedistals & forgetting about teaching kids how to love the people around them. They want you to do it but you have to figure it out on your own. Hah.

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posted August 18, 2010 at 6:04 pm

I only had to read “Through Gates of Splendor” in high school. I didn’t realize Elliot was such a big name outside of that.
In regards to the whole “Missionaries are the best Christians EVER” thing, Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers. Paul seemed to think they were pretty swell.

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posted August 18, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Rachel I love your comment!
I have actually never heard of Jim Elliot but I used to think that if I wanted to be a good Christian and make God happy the only good career choice for me would be to be a missionary. Fortunately some sweet people in my life showed me how this isn’t true and now I am a scientist specializing in aquatic science and climate change. I love it and my gifts are much better used.

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posted August 18, 2010 at 11:06 pm

I’m happy for you, Ann-Jayne. Sounds like a cool job you got :)
But yeah, not everyone is cut out to be a missionary. Kudos to the ones who are though, but we’re all different members of one body. If the body were made up completely of brains or stomachs or toeless feet we’d be looking at some eldritch abomination, not the body of Christ.
“We can’t ALL be lion-tamers.”

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posted August 19, 2010 at 8:52 am

I remember the legend of the Elliots from my Inter-Varsity days. And that’s what this had become by that time–a legend approaching the level of medieval hagiography. The story elements Laura mentions about Jim fit right in with this hagiography.
And Elizabeth’s book on the will of God, A Slow and Certain Light, was considered second only to the Bible in its authority in my IV group. I never got much out of it.
Captcha: sychand topics Is that was this topic is? A sychand one?

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posted August 19, 2010 at 11:21 am

Everyone should have at least one agent of cultural genocide as a personal hero. The bigwigs like John Cecil Rhodes tend to hog the spotlight.
“Good afternoon, chief. We’re from Europe and we’ve brought you salvation, smallpox, distilled alcohol and guaranteed lifetime employment in our new mines, with as much overtime as you can handle. We’re here to help!”

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posted August 19, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Ah. Yes. I believe I did forget to mention that I know several missionaries whom I think are fabulous. Not saying it’s all bad by any means. We just need to learn to not elevate things and alienate people, yes? :)

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posted August 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm

The story of missionaries I always favored was told by a missionary lady at our church. She said they brought bras to tribal women and instead of using them to support their breasts, they fastened them round their waist and used the cups to carry food to their children.

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Appalachian Prof

posted August 19, 2010 at 8:22 pm

It’s a good argument for celibacy on the part of those who wish to live the Christian life in a more radical way. I’ve known people who tried to emulate the Elliots, and raise their family in some radically primitivist and dangerous missionary situations. It seems like child abuse.

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posted August 20, 2010 at 1:34 am

I read “Through Gates of Splendor” in high school and the one thing that has stuck with me from that book was Elliot’s stance on the war. He was a conscientious objector, believing that the Christian life should be characterized by turning the other cheek. Since I was brought up with a pretty evangelical background, I found this completely shocking. This was compounded by the fact that the war he dissented was (WWII I think) one that most people would have deemed (and still do) necessary and important. It kind of disturbed me, but I remembered it later when I was in college and reading a book by N.T. Wright in which he talked about Jesus’ non-voilent philosophy. Although I don’t think I would ever condemn WWII and U.S. participation in it, I respect his stance. And in light of recent events, I’ve begun to wonder if Jim Elliot had that part right all along…

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Clearly Crazy Mike

posted August 22, 2010 at 7:39 am

This post’s subject is right in my wheelhouse of bitterness, and it’s made me realize that this blog really is therapeutic, in a way.
I’ve got nothing against Jim Elliot. And I think that quote of his is awesome. too. It’s just that, God can use people in different ways, you know? “Passion and Purity” hit my group of friends while we were in college, and peoples’ reactions to it scared the crap out of me. Young women broke up with their boyfriends for not being “passionate” enough in that Jim Elliot “loins burning” way, for example.
While I’m SO OVER that, I still struggle with living up to the Jim Elliot model of Christian He-man, which I definitely am NOT. Wheelhouse. of Bitterness.

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posted August 26, 2010 at 5:13 pm

As Tucker noted, I think Elizabeth did a lot to romaticize the memory of her deceased husband. Which is totally understandable, but when you combine that with her somewhat (in my opinion) legalistic admonishments, it can be a dangerous combination, when one is not even able to question her teaching because, well, she and her husband were very passionate about what they believed and practiced.
Like Clearly Crazy Mike writes, measuring up to Elizabeth Elliot’s romanticized, ideal man is difficult for us mere mortals. Especially when in college and dating a “Passion and Purity” devotee. And I still struggle with bitterness too.

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posted September 18, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Of course, he was a self-described “eunuch for the kingdom of heaven.”

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