Brother E. Stanley Jones

By Tom Albin –

E. Stanley Jones was a pioneering missionary and subject of a new biography from Dr. Robert G. Tuttle Jr.

In Our Time: The life and ministry of E. Stanley Jones is a gift to the United Methodist Church and to the Wesleyan Methodist family. Jones is one of the most important figures in twentieth century Christianity and yet he is generally unknown to the majority of world Methodist Christians today. This new biography will help us be inspired and informed about an ordinary man, an extraordinary God, and a remarkable honest family.

Dr. Robert G. Tuttle Jr. knew “Brother Stanley” (Jones’ preferred name) personally and traveled with him as a youth evangelist in the 1960s. As a result of this personal friendship with Jones – and his granddaughter, Dr. Anne Mathews Younes – this biography has warmth and insight that supplements and complements the previous definitive biography by Stephen A. Graham, Ordinary Man, Extraordinary Mission (Abingdon, 2005).

Tuttle also provides insight into Jones’ remarkable relationship with his equally gifted spouse, Mabel Lossing Jones. All of this provides the reader with more of the personality, passion, and spiritual substance of their shared life and ministry. None of it obscures their commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord of their individual lives and their mutual commitment to mission.

It is important to ask why Brother Stanley could be identified as “the world’s greatest missionary evangelist” by Time Magazine in 1938 and affirmed by Reinhold Niebuhr as one of the greatest saints of his time – and yet be lost to us so quickly? How can a missionary and evangelist be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962 and receive the Gandhi Peace Prize in 1963 disappear so quickly from our memory? What happened to the man who influenced Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and served as a role model for the Rev. Billy Graham and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale? Jones met and corresponded with Presidents Roosevelt and Eisenhower, General Douglas MacArthur, John Foster Dulles, and Japanese Emperor Hirohito. At the time of his death on January 25, 1973, he had traveled for 70 years throughout the world. How could a Methodist of this significance be forgotten by his own denomination in a decade or two?

E. Stanley Jones has been neglected because he did not fit neatly into any theological and ideological box. Brother Stanley was too conservative for those who see themselves as theologically progressive; and he was too progressive for those who see themselves as theologically conservative. Through his painful and honest journey with depression, and his friendship with Gandhi, he came to understand the importance of a “disentangled Christ” (p. 87). Jones learned to see good in every world religion when many in his day and ours would see other religions merely as an enemy or a threat. Jones was led by God to initiate Round Table conversations where he would talk openly with Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and agnostics about the ways their faith, prayer, and meditation practices affected their daily lives without any debate or call to conversion.

Stanley was too engaged in social and political issues to satisfy those in the western missionary tradition who preferred to separate evangelism from daily life, discipleship, and nation building. At the same time, he was unapologetic in his proclamation that Jesus Christ is the living Word of God, full of grace and truth. Apart from a total surrender to Jesus as Lord, Jones said there would never be true peace because we live in a moral universe created by God. When we live in harmony with God and the way God intends for us to live – everything works well. When we live in any other way, life does not work well.

Jones believed that every one of us must be converted and he proclaimed a universal Christ who meets the universal need of every man, woman, and child. This was an offense to those who considered themselves the true advocates for social justice in his day – and it is the same for us today.

E. Stanley Jones did not fit in either the “modernist” or “fundamentalist” camps. He studied the Bible and the culture. He visited Russia and reported the strengths he saw in their experiment with Communism; and he critiqued the lack of compassion and Christ-likeness of North American capitalism. He saw the need for modern treatments for mental illness in India, so in 1950 he founded India’s first Christian psychiatric center and clinic, the Nur Manzil Psychiatric Center and Medical Unit at Lucknow. On the other hand, he continued to preach revivals and pray for spiritual healing until his death in 1973.

From the 425 pages of Tuttle’s new biography, Brother Stanley emerges a man who crosses almost every boundary and theological category that existed in his day and ours.  A man, according to United Methodist Bishop Ken Carter, “ahead of his time, profoundly Christ-centered, profoundly open to the world – in his words, ‘anchored and free.’” Jones was someone committed to Christ and the Kingdom of God through the process of total surrender, “our all for His all.” In this kingdom, there is a liberation and transformation of each person, family, church, country, and world. Jesus Christ is Christianity and that is the mission. Dr. Leonard Sweet’s analysis is correct, “It’s bigger than making a difference in the world, it’s really more about making a different world.”

Because he crossed boundaries and confused categories as he traveled the world, Brother Stanley cannot be used to support one side or the other in the polarized culture of North America today. Therefore, he has been neglected by both groups – that makes this new biography so important. We need theology of evangelism and mission that is as complex as India and as simple as a “disentangled Christ.”

Tuttle’s biography begins by describing the day Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, January 30, 1940. Immediately, the reader is engaged with the heart, mind, and spirit of Eli Stanley Jones, an ordinary man with an extraordinary ministry – and an extraordinary love for the people of India. As the news of Gandhi’s death spread, Stanley sat with them, “people broke and wept, in uniform, no exceptions. They asked me to read a passage of Scripture and pray. It wasn’t easy to do without breaking” (p. 38).

Readers are introduced to Mabel Lossing – a gifted teacher, educator, and leader – born in Clayton, Iowa, and departing for India in 1904. She was effective in her own mission, lived her own faith and had her own friendship with Gandhi. Throughout the biography, the reader gains a deep appreciation for the spiritual strength and substance of this remarkable woman.

Brother Stanley (1884-1973) grew up near Baltimore with a father struggling with alcohol, a working mother, and a burden to help with the financial support of his family. He joined a neighborhood gang – but, in February 1901, he was converted. His spiritual rebirth was accompanied with “a sense of forgiveness and reconciliation with God, self and others,” “a sense of being at home in the universe,” and a “new sense of purpose…. He knew God personally!” (page 48).

Jones attended Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky (1903-1907) and experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit and became a self-proclaimed “holiness preacher” as a result of the first Asbury Revival. He left for India in 1907, three years after Mabel Lossing boarded a ship for the same nation, answering the same call to proclaim Jesus as Lord, supported by the same Methodist Episcopal Board of Mission. It would be a few years before they would meet each other.

After his arrival, Brother Stanley was appointed by the Bishop of the Northern India annual conference to serve as the pastor at the Lal Bagh Methodist Church in Lucknow. In 1908, Mabel was sent to teach at the Isabella Thoburn College in Lucknow. She attended La Bagh Church and the young pastor, Stanley Jones, led her into the experience of entire sanctification that same year. They were married in Bombay, February 1911, and immediately moved to Sitapur where Mabel was given the unique responsibility to establish a school for boys, something that was culturally inappropriate because women were not allowed to teach boys in India at that time. However, Mabel was an exceptional teacher and her students did exceptionally well.

Stanley and Mabel had just one child, Eunice, born in 1914. Due to his personality and mission responsibilities, the majority of responsibility for raising this daughter fell to Mabel.

Brother Stanley expended his mental, spiritual, and physical energy so completely that in 1917 he collapsed. He came to the end of himself. A furlough to the United States did not renew him and he soon had another collapse. He needed something more. The account that follows is quoted in his own words to allow the reader to understand the content of the experience and the unique way Stanley often recounts his conversations with God:

“Are you ready for the work to which I have called you?” Jones replied, “No Lord, I’m done for. I reached the end of my resources and I can’t go on.” The Lord replied, “If you’ll turn that problem over to me and not worry about it, I’ll take care of it.” Stanley replied “Lord, I close the bargain right here!”

That exchange is marked by a plaque on the Lucknow church wall, it reads: “Near this spot Stanley Jones knelt a physically broken man and arose a physically well man” (p. 79). From that day to the end of his life, Stanley was truly healed until he experienced a stroke in 1972 that tested his faith and his theology – resulting in the last of his 28 books – entitled The Divine Yes.

From that transformational moment to the end of his days, E. Stanley Jones traveled around the world proclaiming Jesus as Lord. He regularly preached two to six sermons a day. Often he held meetings with Christians in the mornings and for educated non-Christians in the evenings. His objective was two-fold, to strengthen Christians and to convert the educated non-Christians of India’s upper casts.

Near the end of 1919, Jones met Gandhi for the first time. In the course of this conversation, Jones asked, “How can we make Christianity naturalized in India, not a foreign thing….” Gandhi’s response was clear and concise. It impacted Jones profoundly.

1. Talk more about Jesus and live more like Jesus.

2. Emphasize the love side of Christianity more; make it your working force, for love is central to Christianity.

3. Learn about other religions and study them more sympathetically to find out the good that is within them.

4. But never adulterate your own religion; don’t tone it down.

Tuttle devotes the penultimate chapter to discuss current issues from Brother Stanley’s perspective, including: race, relationships with gay and lesbian persons, war and peace, guns, communicating with younger generations, living a Christian life within a Hindu or Muslim community, immigration, women’s issues, and ecumenism. Of course, there are also questions about how Round Table Conferences can be an effective tool for sharing Jesus in an environment that is non-threatening, yet basically affirming – especially with people of other religions and strong differing opinions. And what did Stanley mean by a “moral universe” where we thrive only in a positive response to God’s moral laws? As well as the importance of time apart to participate in the worldwide Christian Ashram Movement.

This biography will introduce you to a man and woman worth knowing. They lived and died in a manner worthy of their calling – and they will help us do so as well.

Tom Albin is a United Methodist clergyperson and Director of Spiritual Formation and Congregational Life at The Upper Room Ministries in Nashville. Dr. Albin is executive director of United Christian Ashrams International.

You can purchase Tuttle’s book here.

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