Book Review: Adoniram Judson
Duesing, Jason G., ed. Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of The Pioneer American Missionary. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2012.
Biographical Sketch of the Editor
Jason G. Duesing is the Provost and Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. Dr. Duesing was previously on faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where he earned his Ph.D. in Historical Theology and Baptist studies in 2008. He also earned a M.Div. at Southeastern Seminary and a B.A. in Speech Communications from Texas A&M University at College Station, Texas. Dr. Duesing has had several publications beginning in 2007.
Summary of Contents
A book should be read chronologically from beginning to end but when one explains the purpose, beginning at the end is often more advantages; especially when the ending contains the purpose statement. Dr. Duesing explains that the purpose of this book about Adoniram Judson has been to present a call to imitate Adoniram Judson in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. For this reason, in the preface, Dr. Duesing begins the story of the Judson’s in Burma by calling it a story that must be told to every generation.
However, the story does not begin with the Judson’s; the story begins with an essay about the significance of William Carey’s life, thought and ministry. This includes Carey’s conversion, his passion for winning the nations for Christ, overcoming a hermeneutical difficulty regarding the Great Commission, formulating the Baptist Missionary society and setting sail for India.
The story then turns to the theological landscape of New England at the end of the 18thcentury. During the early days of the 18thcentury with Edwards and Whitefield there were two camps in New England: the old lights and the new lights. But by the end of the 18thcentury the old lights and new lights had further divided. The old lights divided between traditional Calvinism and Christian liberalism. The new lights developed an Edwardsean theology called the New divinity movement based on three writings of Edwards: The Freedom of the Will, The Religious Affections and The Nature of True Virtue. The New Divinity movement was divided over pedobaptism vs credobaptism.
After launching the Evangelical world mission with Carey and setting up the theological landscape of New England at the beginning of the 19thcentury, the story then turns to Adoniram Judson. But once again at the end. When we turn to Judson, we find ourselves at his memorial, in a cemetery, at Burial Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts. We go from his memorial to trace the steps from his childhood, to conversion and commission. The story turns to the Judson’s in how they wound up in Burma. We learn of the difficult life that Judson and his wives endured while serving the Lord in Burma. I say wives, because we learn of much death regarding Judson’s children and wives. Years after his first wife Ann died, Judson mourned for a lengthy period before remarrying to Sarah. Sarah had also been a missionary in Burma, her husband died in the mission field and she continued the mission. Sarah went to be with the Lord while at sea. Judson then married Emily who was writing a biography about Sarah. Emily Remained Judson’s wife unto death.
We then move to the legacy that Judson left and the missionary principles that he left for generations of missionaries. The story moves to an essay by Gregory A. Wills about Adoniram Judson and Ann Judson’s convictions regarding believer’s baptism. This story alone is incredible and deserves much more attention than the mere mention of it that I can give. The Judson’s departed New England with orders to baptize new converts and their families; however, after a thorough study of Scripture during the voyage to India the Judson’s were convinced that the Lord’s will is believers’ baptism. Therefore, they were baptized in India before going to Burma.
The final full chapter is an exposition on Romans 8:28-39 viewed through the lives of Adoniram and Ann Judson. This chapter demonstrates that God’s providential hand was all over the ministry and the lives of the Judson’s. Adoniram spent 7 years mastering the Burmese language before preaching the gospel. He translated the entire Bible into the Burmese language. After 10 years of labor, there were 18 converts; however, we learn that the Myanmar Baptist Convention today has more than 600,000 members in 3,513 churches which is a result of the providential work of God in the lives of the Judson’s.
For the past 2 years I have desired to read this book. My desire began with a walk I took behind Dr. Duesing from Plymouth Rock to the summit of Burial Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts on May 20th, 2017. At the time, we were on a study tour of New England. I actually began my study prior to arrival in Philadelphia, PA on May 17, 2017. The study tour began when I read a biography by George M. Marsden about the life of Jonathan Edwards.
On May 17thwe visited Pennepack Baptist Church in Philadelphia, PA. The following day, May 18thwe visited the grave site of Jonathan Edwards at Princeton University in New Jersey and had a brief visit to Manhattan Island that evening. On Friday, May 19thwe went to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut and had the privilege of viewing the Jonathan Edwards archives. Later that same day we visited the First Baptist Church in America in Providence, Rhode Island. Then on Saturday morning, May 20thwe met up with Dr. Duesing and his children at Plymouth Rock and began the trek up burial Hill to the Judson memorial.
At the Judson Memorial, Dr. Duesing lectured on the life and ministry of Adoniram Judson. We spent the night in Boston Massachusetts and worshiped together Sunday morning, May 21stin a Southern Baptist Church plant before heading into interior Massachusetts where we visited Whitefield Rock, Jonathon Edwards’ Church, the grave of David Brainerd and the site of Edwards’ famous sermon: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
On Monday, May 22ndwe made our way to Williams College and the Haystack Monument where we heard Dr. Duesing lecture on the birth of American foreign missions. At the Williams college book store Dr. Duesing purchased Williams College pennant decals and passed them out to us all. From Williams College we went to Brown University, which was called Providence College during Adoniram Judson’s attendance there. Given the story of Judson’s conversion, I think that the college was apply named Providence because it surely was the providence of God that converted Judson.
That study tour of New England is one of the most memorable trips of my life, but even then; I did not understand the significance of the things that I saw and heard until I read “Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of the Pioneer American Missionary.” Though there was nothing in the study tour of Carey, except what Dr. Duesing mentioned during his lectures at the Judson Memorial and Haystack Monument, it is appropriate for the book to begin with the significance of William Carey’s life, thought and ministry. It is also appropriate for chapter 2 to set up the theological mind of New Englanders at the beginning of the 19thcentury which we traced in our study tour of New England. This brings us to chapter 3 and the conversion, consecration, and commission of Adoniram Judson.
What an incredible way to set up the work of God in the Judson’s life. Begin with William Carey and the New England New Divinity Edwardsean theology; followed by the conversion, consecration, and commission of Adoniram Judson before putting him on a ship bound for India to meet William Carey. It is in the middle of the book that we read of the Judson’s mission work in Burma. What an amazing story it truly is and under such unimaginable adversity. To follow this up with an essay about the three women that he called wife during those years is amazing. First, Anna who departed from New England, committed to the mission of God and Adoniram her husband. Second, Sarah who was a missionary wife who lost her husband but carried on the mission of God in her husband’s absence. Lastly, Emily who left the safety of New England and a promising career in novels to depart with Judson to Burma knowing that this had resulted in the death of his previous wives.
Following the essay on the wives of Judson was a wonderful place to put the essay, “From Congregationalist to Baptist.” The Judson’s had everything to lose and nothing to gain by becoming Baptist. Putting this essay in this spot demonstrates their commitment to the will of God in missions. Which leads up to the last chapter. A vivid exposition on the sovereignty of God in mission through the work of God in the lives of Adoniram and Ann Judson. “Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of the Pioneer American Missionary,” Edited by Jason G. Duesing is one of the best biographies that I have ever read, and I like reading historical biographies. The essays by differing individuals and the placement of each gave me a since of looking at the Judson’s inside and out. It is though the Judson’s were a hologram and I could view them from all sides.