I was just checking out from the register at Walmart when the Holy Spirit of Christ spoke to me and instructed me to go back to the book stand. I said, "Thank-you God! I remember now I am all out of bibles to give away", thinking that was the reason. When I got in front of the section containing bibles and such the Holy Spirit suddenly gave me tunnel vision (A proven method that God uses with me when He wants to direct my path) and would not let me focus on anything but this Jesus Freaks book. I opened the book and read a story about a saint who was jailed back during the 1500's and was ready to be burned at the stake the next day for his preaching with-out the approval of the High Church then in rule of the saint's country. (Why America became a country, the freedom to worship!). How that one of his fellow inmates needed to know if this Christ God was real or not in the way that the saint preached, that salvation was by grace thru faith. The challenge given was for the saint to clap his hands after he died by being burned. After prayer the saint told the fellow inmate that he would do just that. Well the word got around. Soon the prison and the guards knew the promise given. This saint was very popular with the people of the village and quickly word was told. Word also got to the High Church officials who ordered that the fire be overbuilt and made hotter than normal. Well the next day they burned the saint at the stake with the better part of the village watching. It was nothing but a smoldering black skeleton still at the stake, and most had given up when suddenly the hand bones clapped, not once but three times!... Needless-to-say I bought the Book!
This is a book whose authorship I am unable to discern. The title page (I guess that's what it is) lists Toby McKeehan and Mark Heimermann as the original copyright holders. The former is a member of dc Talk, a Christian rock group. The book seems to have been assembled under the aegis of The Voice of the Martyrs, an organization devoted to tracking, reporting on, and assisting persecuted Christians in various countries, mostly communist or Islamic. The book purports to tell the stories of various "Jesus freaks", those who suffered severe persecution for their commitment to Jesus, sometimes at the hands of their own countrymen, often with the participation or acquiscence of the governments of the states in which they live or lived. Not all whose stories (really no more than thumbnail sketches) are told died for their faith. Let me set aside the observation that the assemblage of stories reads like notes for a rough draft--there is very little rhyme or reason to the selection, or to the associated scriptural quotes, drawn, by the way, from eight different versions of the Bible, including some which leave me wondering what the compliers of the book had in mind. The substantive problem I have begins with a five-part definition of "martyr", including the traditional idea of one who prefers to suffer (and does suffer) death, rather than deny Jesus. The definition is extended, however, to those who witness to Jesus, who sacrifice "something very important" to the faith, who suffer severely for the faith, and "Jesus freaks". Let me start with the last part of this extended definition. Being of the antediluvian era, I experienced the use of the term "Jesus freak" in a somewhat less flattering sense than the present "authors" would render it. 'Way back then, a "Jesus freak" was someone either of the obnoxious Bible-pounding literalist stripe, or a pre-new age type who thought that Jesus represented "unconditional" (read "uncommitted") love (expressed in liberal indulgence of sex and drugs, together with not much sense of personal responsibility for the results). Neither, as I saw them, seemed to me to know much about scripture as applied. I am not persuaded to re-think this understanding simply because the present book co-opts the term. The idea of severe suffering for the faith, even if one does not die as a result, I am willing to annex to the traditional meaning of the term "martyr". Simply bearing testimony to the truth, however, does not make the witness a martyr. I may acknowledge Jesus today, because I am not faced with a cage full of lions. But tomorrow, under different circumstances, I may very well repudiate my testimony of faith. Likewise, simply sacrificing something of importance to further the faith does not qualify. If, for example, I lose my job because I refuse to lie about a co-worker, and I have so refused because of my faith in Jesus, does that make me a "martyr" in any way? I think not. Or if I give up my wealth and comfort to serve the needs of the poor in some Christian mission, do I then qualify? Here, also, I think not. I have simply chosen to put my faith in Jesus to better ends than I may have previously, even though, when well-to-do and comfortable, I gave freely to charity and was always kind to those with whom I had contact. In these matters, the book is simply off-point. Those who died for the faith are surely saints. The rest, maybe or maybe not. The book does contain one quote, from Jim Elliot, an evangelical missionary who was killed by headhunters in Ecuador in 1956: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." It is a brilliant exegetical summation of the nature of the commitment to Jesus (see, e.g., Mk. 8:35), which says virtually everything of value which the book as a whole has to say. But it also applies to everyone who lives truly according to his or her commitment, martyr or not. Beyond this point, I found the book mostly uninformative.
The stories told in this book are of faithful people, loyal to Christ, and glorying in His salvation. I often found myself reading more than I intended, captured by the latest story and where it was going, only to feel afterwards a bit of loss. This book focuses solely on martyrdom, not giving much of the Christian's previous life, and always reading of suffering and their end was difficult. I sometimes just wanted their joy and peace in Christ, not the end. I guess it was just a strong cup of coffee.