Guardians of the Great Commission: The Story of Women in Modern Missions, by Ruth A. Tucker (Zondervan, 278 pp.; $12.95, paper). Reviewed by Tim Stafford.

Women missionaries have coped with an image more comic than heroic. “Unclaimed blessings,” single women on the mission field have been called, with bemused patronage. Ruth Tucker helps us see more clearly. Delving into old missionary biographies, mainly from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, she presents brief portraits of about 60 women. As she did in her book on the history of women in ministry, Daughters of the Church, coauthored with Walter Liefield, Tucker places the women in their historical context and then lets their lives speak for themselves.

And speak they do. Independent (sometimes cantankerous), determined, able, these women would be difficult to patronize. Tucker quotes missiologist J. Herbert Kane: “The more difficult and dangerous the work, the higher the ratio of women to men.”

Until late in the nineteenth century, however, women were not accepted by mission agencies except as missionary wives (whose role was supposed to be strictly domestic). Unable to serve overseas, women frequently became leaders in urban missions at home. According to William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, “My best men are women.”

Beginning in 1861, though, women began to form their own mission boards. They were all-woman operations: Women’s missionary societies paid the bills; women administrators set policy; women missionaries were sent. (Once overseas, they worked within conventional mission structures.) They changed the face of missions. One of the movement’s leaders, Helen Barrett Montgomery, summarized their record: “We began in weakness, we stand in power. In 1861 there was a single missionary in the field.… In 1909, there were 4,710 unmarried women.” By then, women outnumbered men on the field two to one.

Free To Serve

Writes Tucker, “While opportunities for women in meaningful ministry were often very limited on the home front, precisely the opposite was true on the mission field. Practically every area of ministry imaginable was wide open to them. There was criticism when they overstepped the bounds of what was considered to be the ‘woman’s sphere,’ but the criticism was muffled by the overwhelming needs of the missionary enterprise as well as by the fact that women on the mission field quickly proved to be more than equal to the tasks before them.”

Lottie Moon is one example. Sailing to China in 1873, she was assigned to teach school, yet believed her gifts lay in evangelism and church planting. She set out determinedly to do it, despite her field director’s resistance. Fifteen years later her work in P’ing-tu was described as the “great evangelistic center [among the Southern Baptists] in all China.” Moon insisted on women’s rights, but always in the context of ministry. “What women want who come to China is free opportunity to do the largest possible work.… What women have a right to demand is perfect equality.” She died at 72 from malnutrition, suffered during a time of famine because she could not eat while there were hungry children at her door begging for food.

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For the most part, women missionaries were given what Moon asked: the largest possible work. The tasks were so overwhelming that mission leaders found it difficult to argue against women who insisted on doing them. But there was an astonishing difference between what these women did on the mission field and the way they were viewed at home. Malla Moe, a colorful, early TEAM missionary to Swaziland, functioned as the equivalent of a bishop, assigning pastors and overseeing their work. When she returned to her native Norway, however, she was not even permitted to speak in the chapels.

Learning Some Lessons

Guardians of the Great Commission offers lessons that apply beyond missions. One is that gender roles become less important whenever the church is outwardly focused. Few quibble about who does what when there is more work than all can do.

And then, the factual record ought to put to rest some fears about the blurring of roles in the church. Women have done everything overseas, and it has not led to disaster. On the contrary, it has produced both remarkable women and remarkable results. The transformation of the church from a European phenomenon to an international, transcultural movement is perhaps the most notable fact of church history during the past two centuries. Could it have been done without these women’s leadership? That is very doubtful indeed.

Ironically, when denominational mission boards finally began to accept women candidates in the early twentieth century, the end result was a loss of influence for women. Women’s missionary boards were pressured to merge with their “parent” boards. The Woman’s Missionary Movement, a three million-member organization, was absorbed and eventually abandoned. As the church overseas grew and became indigenous, male leadership became dominant there as well.

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Today, Tucker laments, “the enthusiasm for missions among women has dramatically declined.” No doubt the women she profiles would have a thing or two to say about that.

The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie (Viking, 547pp.; $19.95, hardcover). Reviewed by David Bentley, a staff member of the Zwemer Institute of Muslim Studies in Pasadena, California.

The shock waves of rage and death, including a death threat on the author, have marked the first months of the publication of The Satanic Verses. Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel has resulted in the death of a score of Muslim Pakistanis, interrupted Iranian-European relations, and generally brought a chill to Christian-Muslim contacts.

Islamic believers are offended by the novel because it intimates that the faith of Muhammad and his holy book, the Qur’an, arise from other than divine sources. Most of the world’s Muslims feel that the book insults their faith, but are supportive of those who have called for an Islamic court to decide whether the work is blasphemous. At a recent Islamic summit, the leaders clearly indicated that the pronouncements by Iran’s late Ayatollah Khomeini were unacceptable. Khomeini had issued a bounty in the millions of dollars for the murder of the author. Rushdie remains in hiding in the City of London.

Anti-Muslim Sentiments

Salman Rushdie’s fantastic tale is about two Anglicized Indians who survive a plane crash over the English Channel. One is transformed into a goat-creature while the other takes on an angelic appearance. In two lengthy chapters, which are part of dream sequences, one of these characters witnesses the beginnings of Islam in Arabia in thinly disguised parodies of Muhammad, his wives, and his followers.

Like Rushdie himself, the two main characters grew up as Muslims in Bombay but were not able to sustain their faith and turned to the arts and entertainment, both careers a definite surrender to Western values of hedonism and secularism. They reach professional success, but the personal-familial-cultural losses are staggering.

Despite claims to the contrary, the anti-Muslim sentiments go far beyond the casual sprinkling of satire in a dream sequence. The portrait of Muhammad, renamed “Mahound,” is an affront to the faithful Muslim because it evokes a medieval stereotype of the prophet. Rushdie, speaking through a myriad of mortals and supernaturals, comes across as more sympathetic with the idolatry of the polytheists than with the monotheism being preached by the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad.

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The book’s title refers to verses that the prophet recited in an unguarded moment when these verses were whispered to him by Shaitan (Satan). The Prophet abrogated these verses almost immediately, but the issue of abrogation of “divine” words is raised throughout the book. This occurs when “Salman,” a fictional Persian scribe, begins to tamper with the sacred writings himself. Salman, the scribe, boasts of polluting “the word with his own profane language.”

The Urban Muslim

The novel is not serious enough to be slanderous, but The Satanic Verses will remain on the shelves of a few readers and perhaps outlive the public controversy because of its sensitivity to the greatest movement of people in this century—urbanization. The migration of people from community-centered villages to the anonymity of megacities is one that both Muslims and Christians have to face if they are to continue to be sources of spirituality. Rushdie eloquently describes these migrants as souls with “broken memories, sloughed-off selves, several mother tongues, untranslatable jokes, extinguished futures, lost loves, the forgotten meaning of hollow, booming words, land, belonging, home.”

The novelist’s concern for his fellow exiles who are experiencing urbanization in London deserves a healthier therapy, however, than the diabolical skepticism that he offers. To suggest that the alienation of modern life entails an existence without God is not the cure to religious deception but rather its ultimate manifestation.

Christians have an imperative to reach all stations of persons with the good news of Jesus Christ. Salman Rushdie presents us with a deeper challenge beyond the secular city with a portrait of a difficult people group to reach, the urban Muslims.

Singing the Lord’s Songs

Rejoice in the Lord: A Hymn Companion to the Scriptures, edited by Erik Routley (Eerdmans, 640 pp.; $12.95, hardcover); Psalter Hymnal (CRC Publications, 878 pp. [regular edition]; $11.95, hardcover). Reviewed by Allen Schantz, professor and chair of music at Colorado Christian University.

Two recent hymnals cause reflection on the relationship between Scripture and hymnody.

Rejoice in the Lord was prepared by the Reformed Church in America and intended for wide use by the “whole Church of Jesus Christ.” By God’s good grace, the committee was able to secure the services of the eminent English hymnologist Erik Routley, who completed the editing of this hymnal just before his death.

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Hymns are arranged in canonical order of the Scriptures, making a clear correlation between musical worship and the Scriptures. With hymns by Isaac Watts, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and many others, as well as 54 psalms (some with several settings), this hymnal is a veritable treasury of the hymn in English.

Wherever possible, all the original stanzas are included (an unusual practice for current hymnals). Most of the hymns are consistent with their original text (and thus with the KJV), although some older expressions have been clarified. For example, “If thou but suffer God to guide thee” has been changed to “If thou but trust in God to guide thee.” Readers may find it disconcerting that while man and brother, meaning “humanity,” have been changed to avoid gender-specific terms, the thee’s and thou’s have been retained. In keeping with the staid nature of this hymnal, there are no contemporary Christian popular melodies.

As a history of English-language hymnody, there could be no more fitting eulogy to the life and work of Erik Routley. An ordained minister of the United Reformed Church (England), Routley served his last years as a professor at Westminster Choir College. His life’s work in music is summarized by his own words: “Perhaps the most obvious point in the teaching of Jesus is that in the kingdom of God duty and delight meet.”

Sing a new song

The Psalter Hymnal takes literally the biblical injunction, “Sing to [the Lord] a new song” (Ps. 33:3). Prepared by a committee from the Christian Reformed Church, it includes songs from “a variety of the Christian communities, cultures, and traditions that make up the body of Christ.” The 12 members of the committee (among them musicians, poets, and theologians) themselves contributed 184 new hymns, versifications, tunes, and harmonizations.

This hymnal makes a significant contribution to the evangelical community with its attempt to revitalize the singing of psalms. All 150 psalms begin the hymnal and use the same numbering as the English Bible. Thirty additional settings the psalms and 56 versifications based directly on other biblical texts are also included. The hymnal concludes with 395 hymns.

Great care is taken to insure that the hymns, Bible songs, and psalms are faithful to the original meaning and context of the Scripture passages from which they are taken. Each text was examined for its consonance with the original Hebrew or Greek text and for its English meter, rhyme, and accent.

The Reformation principle of worshiping in the vernacular is applied to all texts. Many older texts are updated and older pronoun and verb forms (thee, thou, wast, wert) changed where appropriate. Texts are revised to avoid gender-specific terms. Pronouns for God remain consistent with current Scripture translations. All of the responsive readings are taken from the NIV.

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Balance and variety characterize the musical and liturgical styles. Musical style ranges from short choruses to antiphonal and chantlike songs. Introduction marks are provided for the instrumentalist. Familiar songs are balanced with new songs, old songs with recently written songs, childlike songs with musically challenging ones.

This hymnal exudes an international flavor. Twenty-three Afro-American melodies are included; nine Hispanic, five Israeli, three Asian, and one Nigerian. The best of the hymns representing the nineteenth century are retained and balanced with both older and more contemporary hymns. Those who work with youth will be pleased that much of the best in contemporary Christian music is included. Many songs, especially those with simple harmonies, include guitar chords.

A Reformational vanguard

With its emphasis on singing all the psalms and other biblical texts, the Psalter Hymnal points to a renewed Reformational and biblical integration of new hymnody with the written Word of God. Rejoice in the Lord serves in a similar manner to integrate traditional English-language hymnody with the Scriptures.

May other hymnal editors take note!

These hymnals forge a Reformational vanguard in evangelicalism, renewing the biblical bond between music and the Scriptures. It is my prayer that they will gain wide currency both inside and outside Reformed circles, pointing to the embodied Word of God, the Lord Jesus.

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