A Man for Our Time: E. Stanley Jones

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E. Stanley Jones. Photo courtesy of the E. Stanley Jones Foundation.

By Tom Albin-

In the midst of a world that is rapidly becoming more pluralistic, diverse, violent, intolerant, oppressive, and anti-religious, it is worth asking what kind of a Christian role model can help us find a way to live faithfully and joyfully. Could a Methodist missionary to India who interacted with hundreds and thousands of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Atheists, Agnostics, and Christians give us insight into living with our neighbors down the street and our coworkers at the office who come from India, Asia, Africa, or the Middle East? Could an ordinary man who went through multiple spiritual experiences, suffered through significant emotional challenges, and experienced profound spiritual healing help us find a way to be “spiritual and not religious”?

E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973) is such a person. He has helped me and I trust he will be helpful to you. His heart, his health, and his theology were both broken and healed in India. Once he surrendered his failures and fears to God, he focused his mission on offering Jesus Christ to all people – young and old, rich and poor, religious or not. Brother Stanley, as he preferred to be called, found spiritual favor and power to deliver tens of thousands of sermons and lectures, traveling 50 weeks a year, and often speaking two to six times a day.

Brother Stanley’s message was simple: “Jesus Christ is Christianity.” Western Christianity and culture are not faithful or necessary representations of Jesus Christ. There is no need to defend or explain the Inquisition, the Crusades, or the many divisions of the church into Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, or independent. The one thing God expects us to do is “surrender” our lives to Jesus Christ — to come home — and begin to live into the joyful reality that “Jesus is Lord!”

Jones’s mission to India began in 1907 at the age of 23 under the sponsorship of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1926, his first publication, Christ on the Indian Road, made it clear that Jesus Christ and Western civilization, or even Western Christianity, were not the same thing. Jones offered Christ to the people of India — “utter commitment to him and catching his mind and spirit, and living his life constitute a Christian.” Within ten years his preaching ministry expanded to Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, other areas in the Middle East, Burma, Malaya, the Philippines, China, and Singapore.

The roots of Brother Stanley’s theology are found in the Gospel of John, especially in the prologue (John 1:1-18). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God… All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (vv. 1-3). Therefore, through creation and prevenient grace, every person was created by Jesus Christ and had the potential for a personal, spiritual relationship with Jesus — that is why every world religion has a deep respect and admiration for Jesus of Nazareth. Jones could see value in all religions because he understood them to be an honest attempt of human beings to reach up to God. All truth is God’s truth; therefore, Jones saw there was nothing to fear in any religion. However, Jesus Christ is the unique, pre-existent Son, sent by God to seek and to save his lost children. There was no need to belittle or destroy the beliefs of others in order to make the case for them to come home. Jones was convinced of the uniqueness, the beauty, and the love of God expressed most clearly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The good news in Jesus had its own power — men and women, girls and boys of all ages would be drawn to Jesus if he was lifted up, taught, preached, embraced, loved, and embodied in his disciples.

In 1938, E. Stanley Jones was identified as “the world’s greatest missionary evangelist” by Time magazine. At the time of his death in 1973, he had traveled for 70 years throughout the world. He was friends with Mahatma Gandhi, influenced Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and served as a role model for the Rev. Billy Graham, among others.

Reinhold Niebuhr described E. Stanley Jones as one of the great saints of his time. In 1962 Jones was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize; and, in 1963 he received the Gandhi Peace Prize. Consistent with his theology and mission, Jones met and corresponded with Presidents Roosevelt and Eisenhower, General Douglas MacArthur, John Foster Dulles, and Japanese Emperor Hirohito.

E. Stanley Jones was elected Bishop in 1928; however, after praying through the night, he withdrew his name the morning after his election because he felt his highest calling was to be an evangelist. In the larger ecumenical community, Jones was regularly consulted by the mission boards and leaders of the National Council of Churches.

Brother Stanley had a deep and authentic love for India, the nation and its people. He was a friend of Mahatma Gandhi and referred to his murder as the greatest tragedy since the crucifixion of Christ. At the request of the many in the United States, Jones wrote his 1948 volume, Mahatma Gandhi: A Portrait. Years later, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. read this book and was awakened to the idea of commitment to nonviolence was an action of the strong, not the weak. King wrote in the margin on page 88, “This is it! This is the way to achieve freedom for the Negro in America.” Brother Stanley also had a deep and authentic commitment to racial equality. He would not preach, teach or lead events in North America where people of color were not welcome.

Twelve Spiritual Insights

In his spiritual autobiography entitled A Song of Ascents, Brother Stanley identified twelve spiritual insights and attitudes that kept him centered in Jesus Christ and effective in his witness.  They are summarized below for your reflection.

1. When one is born again and alive in Christ everything is different. “All nature around me was different when I became different…. the things of the world grew strangely bright in the light of his wonderful face. This new faith I had found was not world-denying and life-denying.  It was world-affirming and life-affirming.”

2. There is “a new vocabulary to express this newfound life.”

3. The Christian moves from the random chance of information that comes through books, movies, radio, or other media to the life-giving certainty of revelation — the living Word of God that became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). “God would guide me, but not override me; I would be a morally responsible person — to God and my own moral decisions. I was free to decide and to develop under his guidance.”

4. Challenges and difficulties are opportunities to grow. We can choose to grow or we can choose to diminish — so choose growth. “Oppositions break or solidify a man.  I determined they would solidify me.”

5. When others disappoint us, it reveals that we have made them an idol or an object of veneration. Use the break to improve the relationship and meet them on a higher level. Leave the broken level and rise to the higher level of a friend or brother or sister. “The break is never for just a break; it is always to break on one level to meet on a higher.”

6. Jesus’s attitude toward me is to be my attitude toward others — acceptance and invitation to spiritual maturity. “He accepts me — full stop; he tells me I’m to be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect — full start! He accepts me into my acceptance of the man [or woman] I am to be.”

7. The Christian life cannot be lived without a small group. “Everyone needs a group fellowship in which the group is in a conspiracy of love to make and keep each member the best person he [or she] is capable of being … find or create one; life demands it…. As a corollary … we [also] need a fellowship where the wounds of life are healed … a place where they mend broken hearts, broken homes, broken relationships, broken bodies, and broken hopes.”

8. The group fellowship cannot take the place of a spiritual friend/mentor/director. “You need a friend … who can bring you to the threshold of your most basic need, the need for firsthand contact with God.”

9. Go to the Bible to meet Christ. “The words [of scripture] take you to the Word…. Having him I have everything.”

10. My will is to do God’s will — at any time and in any place he prompts me. I am “ready to witness at a minute’s notice. I would live in a state of Yesness to God and to opportunity.”

11. When opportunity comes, I will lead others to Christ — not to myself and not to the church. “Ultimate allegiance to the ultimate Person…by self-surrender and faith and obedience.”

12. In Christ, law is fulfilled and grace abounds — “law ended up in grace.”

A role model

Through his friendship with Mahatma Gandhi and his growing understanding of the Indian tradition of going away from hard work to sit at the feet of a guru, Brother Stanley established a Christian Ashram in 1930 at the mountain retreat center called Sat Tal. After the British government denied him a visa to return to India in 1940, Brother Stanley launched the Christian Ashram movement in North America.

The Christian Ashram welcomed people of all religions (and no religion) to sit at the feet of Jesus, to learn what Jesus taught about life, and to experience “the kingdom of God in miniature.” At the Christian Ashram, every participant was valued, respected, listened to, and treated as they would be treated in heaven.

When we are confronted with the challenge of neighbors and coworkers from different countries, cultures, and religions, Brother Stanley’s advice is to treat these precious people with value and respect, and make certain that your winsome witness reflects the attitude and truth of Jesus Christ.

Tom Albin is Dean of The Upper Room Chapel and Executive Director of the United Christian Ashrams of North America.

Comments

  1. John R Biswas says

    ” One of the persons, who has revolutionised my understanding of following our Master is Dr. Jones. For this reason l had accepted the call of Bishop Dr. JK Mathews to be at the SatTal Ashram as its Resident Acharya (2009-2014) & during that time did some of my study of his deep thoughts on our Lord. I am especially touched by this saying of Dr.Jones that ” God speaks to us when we listen and God works in us we let God.”
    Let us listen to our Eternal Master and follow the reasonable guidlines of this saintly wise man called Dr.Jones, to truely face the morden time challenges , victoriously .” Jesus is Lord !

  2. E. Stanley Jones brought a fullness to my heart, as I read and reread, and reread…..the unshakeable kingdom……………….thank God for Servant Stanley understanding of the KINGDOM of GOD….I will hug his neck in this Kingdom someday…….. Wailen Mott

  3. Dr. E. Stanley Jones, a friend for many years. I finally was able to at his request to call him Stanley. He served on my Board for The International Christian Student Foundation. His invitation to join him on India was an honor I was unworthy to accept but would have gladly save I was called to serve the Chinese people the night oh my rebirth and conversion. I have just had the honor at the request of his remarkable and very talented Granddaughter Dr Anne Mathews-Younes to write the Afterwood at the end of his book Christ’s Alternative to Communism published in 1935 now to be republished in about six months. He and Sadhu Sundar Singh of India are the two greatest Christians since St. Paul in my life. Robert Tuttle’s Biography
    will be available in a few months so don’t miss it. Blessing to all seeking to make this New Year of 2019 the best yet, draw closer to our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ and the only hope for our world.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Stanley Jones. Somehow I had never heard of Jones until recently, when I read an article about him in the print magazine Good News – the publication of a distinctly evangelical group […]

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