30 Days with E. Stanley Jones (John E. Harnish) -- A Review

 30 DAYS WITH E. STANLEY JONES: Global Preacher, Social Justice Prophet. By John E. Harnish. Canton, MI: Read the Spirit Books, 2022. Xxi + 146 pages.

                The name E. Stanley Jones probably doesn’t stand out today. Time has a way of erasing people from memory. That is especially true for Protestants who lack a process of sainthood. We remember Luther and Calvin (do we remember Zwingli) and maybe the Wesley brothers (and as we move away from hymn-singing we might even lose track of Charles Wesley) and of course Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Nevertheless, there was a time when E. Stanley Jones was a well-known figure in Christian circles and beyond. If you’re acquainted with United Methodist seminaries, you may have seen his name attached to faculty chairs in evangelism. I have long known his name and the fact that he was an evangelist and missionary to India. I've also run across his many books, but truth be told I’ve never spent any time with them. That, I’ve learned, is likely to my detriment. E. Stanley Jones will be on my reading list soon.

                While I may have neglected Stanley Jones' books, I have had the opportunity to get to know him better through a new devotional book titled 30 Days with E. StanleyJones. The book is authored by John E. Harnish, like Jones, is a Methodist. He is a retired United Methodist Minister, having served as the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Birmingham, Michigan, as well as several other United Methodist churches. Harnish is a graduate of Asbury College, the same college that produced Stanley Jones, as well as Asbury Theological Seminary along with an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He also served as Associate General Secretary for the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry for the UMC.  

                In 30 Days with E. Stanley Jones we encounter a missionary to India, a statesman, an interfaith leader, a preacher, an advisor to Presidents, and a social justice prophet who was a friend of Mahatma Gandhi. It was Jones’ biography of Gandhi that influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. While Harnish’s devotional book is not a biography, it does give the reader a true sense of the person Stanley Jones. As I read the book, I realized that I should find time to go back and read Jones for myself. As Harnish notes throughout, Jones's message is as pertinent today as it was when he was alive and active in his ministry. Jones’s message was simply this: Jesus is Lord. With that confession of faith as his core message, he sought to proclaim the broader message of the Kingdom of God. Harnish writes that while Jones preached the message of Jesus without apology, he did so "with sensitivity to diverse cultures and other world religions." Therefore, as a missionary in India, “he was able to engage Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs as well as non-believers in open conversation and because they sensed his respect for them, they were willing to listen to him. In our contemporary world, the church needs to rediscover that balance between a clarity of faith and openness of heart" (pp. Xviii-xix). Central to his ministry was the creation of the Ashram Movement. This was his practical application of his vision of the kingdom of God. It emerged out of his acquaintance with Gandhi’s ashram, but with a Christian ethos. Harnish writes of the ashram movement, which spread from India around the world, and continues to this day in the United States. The ashram he created was designed to be “open to people of all faiths, the only qualification for participation was an openness to the Gospel and a willingness to search for truth in complete honesty” (p. xx). This involved living a simple life in accord with Indian customs, including adopting Indian clothing, eating Indian food, as well as doing menial and manual work.

                After Harnish introduces us to Jones' life and message, we begin our month-long journey. While the title is 30 Days with E. Stanley Jones, Harnish gives us thirty-one days with Jones. The title reflects the fact that this is part of a series of devotional books published by Read the Spirit Books designed for thirty days of spiritual engagement. Each day's devotion shares something about Jones and his message. As we move through the month, we walk with him from his early life and conversion through his sense of call to ministry and missionary work and then through his life of ministry up to his death. We learn that Jones originally wanted to go to Africa as a missionary, but then he heard the call to India. Along the way, we encounter Gandhi, whom Jones worked with closely. We learn as well that when Jones asked Gandhi for a word of advice to Christians, among those words was his encouragement to “live more like Jesus,” and also that Christians should put their “emphasis on love, for love is the center and soul of Christianity” (p. 44).  We also discover that Jones sought to intervene with President Roosevelt just before the breakout of the war with Japan. He had been trying to mediate a conversation that would have averted the attack on Pearl Harbor. It almost happened, but the message didn’t get to the right people in time. Throughout the thirty-day journey, we encounter a man of conviction and humility.

                It's difficult to summarize a book like this, but what we discover in the course of time spent with it (I read it for review, so I went a bit more quickly than one selection per day), offers insight into what it means to live a life of service to God. Each chapter is around three pages in length and includes a prayer from Jones' works. Most of the chapters include not only information about Jones but also brief excerpts from his books.

                The prayer for the final devotion (Day 31) speaks to the heart of Jones’s life:

O Christ, I see. I have been nervous and anxious and complicated. And now at long last I am coming to the simple. I am in union with Thee. That is my primary and only responsibility. I accept it with joy. I am a child again, simple, happy, unafraid. Amen.

                The name E. Stanley Jones may not resonate so many years after his death in January 1973, but by spending time with Harnish’s 30 Days with E. Stanley Jones, we discover a person and message that is both winsome and relevant even decades after his death. We just need to know more. We can start here and then check out some of Jones’s books including his biography of Gandhi and his word to the American people in The Christ of the American Road.  But we can begin by spending a month with John Harnish’s excellent introduction.


Jack Harnish said…
Thanks so much for your powerful review. I’m glad to know the book and the life spoke to you.
Jack Harnish
Robert Cornwall said…
Thanks Jack! I will now have to go back and read Jones for myself!!
Anne Mathews-Younes said…
Just as Jones offered many of his books in a daily devotional format, Jack Harnish has done the same with 30 Days with E. Stanley Jones and Robert Cornwell’s fine review will surely encourage others to take that daily step with Jones and Jesus! In gratitude.

Anne Mathews-Younes, Ed.D., D.Min.
President, E. Stanley Jones Foundation

Robert Cornwall said…
Anne, I am grateful for your appreciative comment! The book reintroduces Dr. Jones to a contemporary audience.

Popular Posts