Schlehlein, Paul. John G. Paton: Missionary to the Cannibals of the South Seas. Banner of Truth, 2017, 186 pages.
John Paton’s life was so full of excitement and surprises, that Paul Schlehlein chose only the ripest fruits from Paton’s tree to put into this book. It is a highlight reel of the most inspiring, convicting, and Scriptural moments from Paton’s long life. It is like a cup of black coffee because it should shake us from the sleep that steals constantly and insensibly over our souls. Schlehlein has no time for anything except the most interesting, gripping details because he has to take an important cache of primary documents and squeeze them into a book that anyone can both start and finish.
The Table of Contents
Introduction: A note about sources and some reasons to read this book. This introduction begins the steady stream of primary source quotations that are one of the greatest benefits of the book.
Chapters 1-4 cover Paton’s life chronologically.
Chapters 5-10 cover missions philosophy through the lens of Paton’s ministry. This section moves this book out of the biography category and into missions and theology.
Appendices 1-4 include a timeline of Paton’s life, a family tree, a missions hymn, and an interesting review of “Paton’s eloquence.”
Bibliography: This is what I read first, then the introduction, and then the appendices. The bibliography is broad including out of print sources, topical studies (like Paul Moon’s book on Cannibalism), theological resources, numerous historical accounts from around the globe, and even a few novels! The breadth of reading by the author shows up constantly through the pages of this book.
Four Reasons for Five Stars
- Few people know much about John Paton.
He and his family members were great soldiers for Christ, but very few modern Christians know as much about Paton as they do about modern celebrities. It would be great to read his 538-page autobiography, and if you read this shorter book, you might find the strength to pick it up! For example, at 34 years old, John married the 19-year old Mary. He then left a ministry with hundreds or even thousands of people to move to a poor and dangerous island. His wife’s mother once wrote a 46-page letter to her daughter! He dug a well with his own hands that resulted in many coming to Christ. And many other fascinating details.
- There is more Scripture in this biography than most (all?) on my shelves.
No authors are neutral, but at least this one has the right bias and seems to glory in it. From the introduction to the last appendix there are well-chosen cross references. He includes verses like Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress so that they flow naturally and illustrate the points perfectly. This book has a Christian and missionary agenda which will inspire every believer.
- This biography is a concentrated philosophy of missions wrapped in a readable package.
Schlehlein deals with such a broad array of missions-related issues offering both historical and Scriptural rationale that nearly every question that is being debated in missions today is dealt with in one way or another both by Paton’s venerable example as well as the author’s own years of experience in rural churchplanting. If you are interested in missions or if you are helping to guide your church in missions, then this last section will not only rivet your attention, but it will give both Scriptural and historical basis for your missions decisions.
- The lively style is both engaging and challenging.
This is not a sleepy book because the author is obviously alert to the great realities of God, Christ, and eternity as well as a lively, pictorial style. Even spending a few minutes with this book will remind the reader of other worthwhile authors from Thomas Watson to Doug Wilson.
Some great lines:
“I calculated that the blood of more than one hundred martyrs and missionary pioneers had been shed to bring [the island] Church into being.” xviii
“Homes full of spiritual life will invigorate the church.” 6
“When the Scriptures and the Spirit work in tandem within the human soul, women are raised in honour before their families, not lowered as slaves in the harems of their husbands.” 63
“Little did [Paton’s] father know that by training his son he would be training islands of cannibals.” 85
“To avoid all risk is to avoid the Christian life.” 123
“Paul the missionary never gave statistics, but Luke the missionary historian did—though mostly in round numbers to communicate such data is valuable, but not that valuable.” 164