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Life and Diary of David Brainerd, The

by Jonathan Edwards

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If you’re wondering how TheGreatBooks.com differs from other great books reading lists, look no farther than The Life and Diary of David Brainerd. If you are not a Christian, it’s hard to understand why you need to read a “missionary story” written by a plain-spoken man who died before he was 30.

But Christians need to read this work! As I’m constantly telling my students, the world will always point out moments in history where people calling themselves Christians behaved hypocritically, but often the real heroes of Christian history—the men who took the good ideas in scripture and stuck by them and saw very good consequences as a result—are ignored by secular academia. How many professors, for example, would even recognize the name William Wilberforce or Dietrich Bonhoeffer?

The same is true of David Brainerd. While every school child knows Andrew Jackson (and many Christian students, unfortunately, are taught to laud him as an American hero), the plain fact remains that Jackson’s real response to real human beings in the Cherokee nation was abominable—witness the Trail of Tears—and Brainerd’s real response to the real human beings in the tribes around the Forks of the Delaware was to share their trials and teach them the gospel. As I like to tell my students, Andrew Jackson may be famous with men, but David Brainerd is famous with God.

One of my favorite things about Brainerd’s journal is that it records his two separate efforts to evangelize Native Americans, and in both cases he followed a similar course of action—but the results differ vastly, because the results don’t depend upon human effort. In the first place Brainerd preached, he went more than a year without seeing a single convert; in the second place, we see clearly the work of the Holy Spirit, as more and more people come to a saving knowledge of Christ. Brainerd is faithful in both places; but the work of salvation comes from the Lord.

If you’re not a Christian, that last paragraph sounds like hogwash. If you are a Christian, it’s time to be influenced more by men like Brainerd, and less by the stock “heroes” of history like Andrew Jackson.

by Jeff Baldwin