Book Review: Eternity in Their Hearts

In what has become a classic in the world missions category of resources, former missionary Don Richardson points out practices in a number of cultures throughout the world that reference biblical truths. The astonishing thing is that none of these cultures have ever been exposed to the Old Testament or New Testament Scriptures, to Christians, or even Jews. Richardson does point out that “one must study the purpose behind any given custom before drawing conclusions about its potential relation to biblical concepts” (p. 102). Some of the similar beliefs, practices, and teachings held by the unreached people groups that he points out are cities of refuge, new birth, a scapeboat (instead of a “scapegoat”), among others. Richardson says, “redemptive antidotes to human bondage are what Eternity in Their Hearts is all about” (p. 191).
Richardson divides the book into two main parts: 1) the “Melchizedek Factor” (general revelation) and 2) the “Abraham Factor” (special revelation). To my understanding, the first part reads very much like a series of case studies explaining basic biblical principles. The second part explores the biblical principles surrounding God’s mission throughout all of history. In the Abraham Factor, he looks at what the Bible says about God’s mission as a whole, then spends a chapter specifically looking into how Jesus Christ pointed to God’s heart for the nations, and the last chapter explores what the apostles did with the Great Commission throughout the Acts of the Apostles.
“The primary thesis that I advocate in the book is a simple one: God’s general revelation (see Ps. 19:1-4; Rom. 1:19-21; 2:14-15) is not an effete, inconsequential, inert bystander watching from the sidelines as God accomplishes everything related to redepemption via special revelation alone. Instead, cosmic general revelation and canonized special revelation turn out to be stunningly coordinated players serving on the same team. God, via general revelation, imprints human cultures in a variety of ways. Discerning the particular way God has already imprinted a given culture helps a missionary discover how to poignantly explain redemption to members of that culture.”
(Richardson, p. 190)

His general point is that God has “not only prepared the gospel for all peoples, but has prepared all peoples for the gospel.” Careful to remind us that “faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), Richardson clarifies that he is discussing “redemptive” facets of culture, not “redeeming!” (p. 52). “Redeeming” would mean they could find relationship with God through their own lore, apart from the gospel. “Redemptive” in this context means contributing to the redemption of a people, but not culminating it. “Redemptive lore” contributes to the redemption of a people solely by facilitating their understanding of what redemption means.

“Redemptive analogies”, a term Richardson has become known for, facilitate human understanding of redemption. Their God ordained purpose is to precondition the mind in a culturally significant way to recognize Jesus as Messiah. Outside of Scripture, it appears that God’s general revelation is the source of redemptive analogies worldwide. (this paragraph taken from his article in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement)

My favorite chapters were chapter 5, The 4,000 Year Connection and chapter 6, A Messiah for All Peoples. In chapter 5 Richardson reminds us that there are “more than 300 declarative passages in the Old Testament which amplify God’s oath-sealed promise to bless all nations on Earth (ex: Psalm 67, Isaiah 49:6)” (p. 143). He also shows that a great deal of the Old Testament is dedicated to narratives of various sons and daughters of Abraham being a blessing to non-Jewish peoples, that the Holy Spirit revealed so many narratives that show both the top and bottom lines of the Abrahamic Covenant at work in the lives of Abraham’s sons and daughters (p. 142-143). To me, this was fascinating. While I’m learning that Jesus often brought up various references to Gentiles being blessed by God in the Old Testament, I never realized just how often the Old Testament does include blessings on Gentiles. Often, these are subtle verses that most of us look over or don’t think through, but upon further observation, they’re pretty clear. Throughout chapter 6, A Messiah for All Peoples, he shows how Jesus had a deep and clear passion for all peoples. Richardson mentions that Pentecost “was designed to make crystal clear that the Holy Spirit’s power was and is bestowed upon believers with the goal of the evangelization of all peoples” (p. 177).

Eternity in Their Hearts is a fairly quick read. While there are clearly principles and arguments that he makes, the first half of the book is primarily filled with stories and illustrations amongst unreached peoples. The second half of the book is spent sharing a great deal of Scriptural insights through the lens of God’s Great Commission. Richardson is a great story teller, and brings Scriptural narratives to life, even if he does use some creative license at times, making biblically based guesses at what various characters’ thoughts were. Overall an enjoyable, informative book that, though not without flaws, has become considered a classic in the realm of world missions literature.

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About Aaron Golby

Christian. Husband to Katherine.
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One Response to Book Review: Eternity in Their Hearts

  1. Pingback: What Word Should We Use For “God”? | Love God, Love People

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