Monday, November 23, 2020

Becoming Elisabeth Elliot {A Book Review}

“All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.”

Hebrews 11:39-40 CSB


In my youth and young adulthood, a family-owned Christian bookstore operated so near home that I could ride my bike there to spend my babysitting money. Amid the theologically diverse content of its shelves, God led me to Elisabeth Elliot as one of my first mentors in the Christian faith. Through her I found Amy Carmichael. I wanted to know God like those women knew God. I wanted to be greatly used by Him. They were my heroes.


What naivete hid from me was the extraordinarily high, painful cost of their mature faith.


In the half-dozen times I saw Elisabeth Elliot speak, in all her books I read, in her radio program Gateway to Joy, in her quarterly newsletter, she seemed so logical. Unemotional even. Her calm, collected, reserved demeanor as she talked of the loss of her first husband to martyrdom (at the hands of a remote tribe he sought to reach with the gospel) amazed me. When she wrote or spoke of the loss of her second husband to cancer, I mistook her poise in speaking for her poise in grief. Now I understand the softening effect of decades that enabled her to touch the scars without observably wincing. That never meant thewounds that caused them were without profound sorrow.


The new biography Becoming Elisabeth Elliot (Amazon affiliate link) corrects that misunderstanding and does so largely in Elisabeth’s own words, from copious journals and letters to which the family gave biographer Ellen Vaughn access. Vaughn shapes the source material in a way that brings the young Elisabeth to vibrant life. All the emotion I didn’t see from Elisabeth in her later speaking ministry pours forth on these pages.


We glimpse the family of her youth, read the story of how she came to attend a prestigious Christian boarding school and what she found there, experience with her the agonizing wait for Jim to declare his affections and act on them. Vaughn lifts the curtain on Elisabeth’s grief when he died, how that led her to a writing career, what her jungle life as a single mother and missionary was like, and some of the interpersonal friction that grew so severe and unresolvable that Elisabeth left the jungle and returned to the United States.


This is not a hagiography that only selects and shares what will keep Elisabeth on the pedestal where many of us have placed her. This is realism. Do not be deceived into thinking a missionary biography will be boring, either. This is a page-turner in a way I did not anticipate, even knowing and loving her work as I do.


In short, this is one of my must-reads of 2020. If you love Elisabeth Elliot already, this will increase your affection. If you don’t know her work and story, this would be a fabulous introduction to the rest of her work. Along with Gentle and Lowly, it will find its way into a number of Christmas care packages in the month ahead. I look forward to the planned second volume, which picks up the story of her life after the jungle years.

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