- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Baker Book House (August 1, 1989)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0801009766
- ISBN-13: 978-0801009761
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 73 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #251,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Life and Diary of David Brainerd
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From the Back Cover
Taken from Jonathan Edwards's edited versions of David Brainerd's 'Diary' and 'Journal', this compilation makes available a 'fairly complete' record of the self-denying life and strenuous labors of David Brainerd as he presented the gospel to American Indians.
About the Author
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was an American Puritan theologian, preacher and prolific author. When Brainerd died at the age of 29, Jonathan Edwards preached the funeral sermon and published the diary which David had kept. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
David Brainerd was a man whose life was marked by suffering and depression. The diary is a constant up and down from one emotional and/or spiritual extreme to the other. What is so amazing is that God used this man in great ways...Not just in spite of, but because of Brainerd's struggles and afflictions.
It is a book that can encourage anyone that God can use you for his work, even though we are far from able candidates. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness". (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Not an easy read, but definitely a good read!
Edwards' intent in publishing the book was, first, to memorialize the life of this remarkable young man of Christian faith and for his missionary work he rendered among the Indians and, second, to offer a proof of the truth of conversion experience both in the life of Brainerd as well as in the lives of the Indians whom he converted to Christianity. If Edwards instigated the Grate Awakenings in the colonial Northeast (between 1734 and 1741), Bairner repeated (at least tried to repeat) the Great Awakenings among the Indians throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Brainerd's accounts of the Indian conversions models closely after Edwards', indicating that even religious experiences are structured by the fore-structure of one's own (pre) understanding (in the Kantian sense). Brainerd describes his as well as the Indians' conversion experiences in similar terms which in turn was modeled after Jonathan Edwards' description of the converted Christians during the Great Awakening. It is entirely a different question, however, as to how the Indians themselves would have felt and experienced their conversion--arising out of their own cultural and social experiences. I doubt if Brainerd was ever capable of achieving a fusion of horizon.
For both Brainerd and Edwards, however, the validity of the Awakening and the truth of conversion was of utmost importance. In publishing parts of his missionary journals during his life time, Brainer tried to establish the truth of Christian conversions among the indians he reached (besides the immediate goal of praising God and mobilizing resources for Indian mission and Indian missionary schools); and in publishing and editing Brainer's private and public journals, Edwards too attempted to achieve the same. In producing these texts both men, equally and fervently devoted to Christian faith and living (in the manner of genuine Puritan style of the time), were thus joined in the common purpose: to show and to prove Christian faith and practice as well as the truth of Christian (though Calvinistic) doctrines they upheld as truths and as founding such faith and practice. The ideals these men upheld and exemplified in their each respective life are still maintained even today among the Evangelicals in America, Korea, and worldwide.
Nonetheless, one must assess their exemplary accomplishments critically in hindsight, particularly Brainer's life and work in this case with respect to this book. It is noteworthy that everywhere Brainer went, he found the Indians to be heavily drunk, which he associated with their depraved and savagery state of sin by nature and their godless customs. As he notes, however, the liquors the Indians massively consumed were sold to them by the White people, who lived in the midst of them or near them. (Some white people often joined the Indians in the meetings where Brainer preached.) The alcohol addicted Indians would soon incur so much debt that they would forfeit their land or would be forced to sell it for far below the normal price. This was how their land was taken. Even though Brainer gathered what must have been a considerable sum of money at the time, $82 pounds in New Jersey currency, to pay the debts of one of the Indian villages, so as to avoid the land grab; he did not equate the injustice with the liquor sales of the White, which in today's standard would easily be deemed predatory at best, if not down right illegal land grab. Instead, he was single-heartedly focus on converting the souls of the Indians--a typical stance to all social ills maintained by today's Evangelicals to the detriment to the long standing Christian call and legacy for establishing social justice. What is clear is that the spiritual Gospel did not improve the lots of the Indians in the end whom Brainerd reached out and converted.
Another unavoidable fact is that Brainer himself was an instance of what Charles Mann calls "the Columbus exchange." Unbeknownst to him, Brainerd functioned as the carrier to the Indians of the infectious tuberculosis he had to which he eventually succumbed and from which he died at age 29. To be sure, no one knew at the time the nature of the disease and the effect thereof. But the magnitude of the death toll among the indians cause by the European diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, small pox, and others, is well known by now. What is hotly debated is the extent of the scale of the destruction, as Charles C. Mann's book, 1491, well documents. Even Edwards makes a note of the grave illness which was spreading among the "Christian Indians" in his editor's note inserted toward the end of the book. (By this time Brainerd too was dying.) However, neither Edwards nor Brainer could ever be capable of even speculating the infectiousness of the disease. Even Edwards own daughter was probably infected by the disease from Brainer. Edwards himself died of similar disease soon after he was inaugurated as President of Princeton College a few years later. Tragically, both the invaders and the missionaries alike, unbeknownst to them, served as the the bearers of the epidemic which ended up virtually decimating the Indians. Whatever the motives were, their contact with the Indians was fatal, causing devastation to the Indians in a scale and scope perhaps unmatched by any other human destruction for all time. Who shall be responsible for such catastrophe? To be sure, no single individual or human group could be held responsible for such disaster.
Brainerd's conversion account of an elderly Indian woman is surprisingly similar to his account of his own longing for death/glorious transformation which he longed for toward the end of his short life, as he was suffering in agony due to the disease. He longed and prayed to depart his suffering and failing body, just as did the elder Indian woman who longed to leave her wretched state, whatever that might have been. Readers are not privy to the specifics of the woman's physical or social conditions but she sought and longed for the eternal rest in the afterlife.
In fact, Brainerd frequently accounts the converted Indian's disdain of their sinful state in the manner that invokes Calvinists' doctrine of total depravity of human nature. Almost all accounts of conversions mention public weeping and bitter cries of the Indians (and the white people sometimes in the midst) in the manner similar to Edwards' accounts of the Great Awakening involving the people in Northampton, MA. Brainerd repeatedly refers to the phrases such as "their hearts were melted," they were changed with "sweet disposition," or "sweetness" of their conduct in describing the transformed state of being after conversion--to be contrasted to the "vile" nature of their prior state and conducts. Most of his preaching was done through interpreters who were free to ad-lib on their own. One would never know what the Indians had actually heard and what their understanding of Christianity was in light of their vastly different cultural and social structures. Many conversions were a group phenomena. Also, many who were converted were already familiar with Western culture. Some even spoke English; and many at least tried to learn English.
Brainerd describes how a sorcerer had lost his magic power after receiving the preaching of the Gospel and was converted to Christianity. This and other accounts of the conversions were provided with the assumption Brainerd clearly held: that he was waging a war against the devil over the souls of the Indians; that wherever he preached the Gospel, the work of the Spirit was driving out the power of the devil which held in bondage the souls of the Indians for so long. It is remarkable how he himself believed in the magical power of the Gospel proclamation: that by mere proclamation the power of the Gospel would magically work on the hearts of the Indians. Very much in line with the later theology of the Word proposed by Karl Barth, Brainerd (and I'm sure Edwards, other contemporaries too, as their followers believe even today) believed that the mere Word alone would be sufficient to perform the magic of converting the souls regardless of contexts, history, customs, traditions, and language. Brainerd, Edwards, and the whole hosts of others Evangelicals (and the Fundamentalists nowadays) believe in the power of proclamation of the Gospel, as if by mere proclamation the Kingdom of God would be established--very much like Lewis and Clark who some 50 years later from Brainerd's days proclaimed the US dominion over the Indian territories wherever he encountered the Indians in the Midwest and the Northwest (despite their utter dependence on the host Indians for their survival and success of their exploration mission).
One important fact, which neither Brainer nor Edwards ever mentioned, was that the Indians probably knew that Christian baptism entailed legal protection from slavery, as Charles C. Mann shows in his book, 1491. Moreover, the Indians also probably knew that some kind of epidemic was sweeping through their land, decimating their populations ever since the White men first arrived on their shores. Additionally, at the time their own civilizations were in dramatic decline. For example, the Mayans and the Incas had already abandoned the highly sophisticated cities and the landscapes that they occupied and erected. When Columbus and the subsequent conquistadors arrived, the Indians empires were already broken into many competing segments. Nonetheless, they had never seen destruction such as the one caused by the European borne diseases. They were desperate and were ripe for desperate measures, including Christianity, to save themselves from the doom. They must have thought that the end of the world had arrived--very much in the manner in which the early Christians felt during the era of persecution and martyrdom, and very much in the manner in which the Korean Christians felt during the Japanese occupation during the World War II.
It must also be noted that Brainerd, in all of his good intentions, mobilized resources for erecting missionary boarding schools for the Indians. During the days when no ethnology and multiculturalism were even conceived as an idea, such method was the only one he and other contemporaries like him had for propagating and maintaining Christian mission, without knowing, as we know now a las, the devastating consequences such systems produced for the Indians in terms of their culture, identity, and way of life. (Edwards himself was a rector in a Christian boarding school in an Indian mission in Stockbridge, MA, for a few years prior to being appointed to the Princeton College as President.) For better or for worse, the two different cultures met and crashed; and one had to give, to the detriment of its people. The verdict is still out however as to the resulting benefits or detriments of the Columbus exchange.
Globally speaking and in cultural, sociological, and in historiographical terms, what I said above seems to be true. However, I cannot summarily set aside the good will, the face-to-face, that must have taken place between Brainerd and the individual Indians he ministered. After all, he gave his life for the Indians, despite the fact that he probably contributed to their physical perishing unbeknownst to him. The very fact of his being-for-them, a total dedication for the Other, cannot be discounted. He, like Christ, had suffered for them, gave himself for them. Not for their sins (as if in the logic of exchange where someone had to pay for someone else's fault!) but for their very ("well") being, for their very existence--regardless of whether or not physically, culturally, sociologically, historiographically, or demographically so. Despite the failure and the inadvertent consequences and whatever the doctrines he believed and by which he structured his experiences, the nobility of the goodness shines forth in and through Brainerd's short life of single-hearted devotion.