Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Liberty of Obedience - A Book Review

Most Christians have heard of missionaries Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. Jim was martyred along with four other missionaries in the jungles of Ecuador in the 1950s. Elisabeth continued their missionary work while caring for their toddler daughter, Valerie. Elisabeth wrote several books years later about her experiences. Among these is "The Liberty of Obedience," published in 1968 about her time with the Auca Indians who’d murdered her husband.  Though more than forty years old, the book’s message is still very current and applicable to our Christian lives.

One of the main emphases in the book is the fact that, among Christians, disputes arise over the interpretation of daily activity, beliefs, and lifestyles that aren’t specifically spelled out in the Bible as sin. The Apostle Paul refers to this as “disputable matters.”  

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:1-4) 

Elisabeth writes that she thought she had a clear understanding of what sin was until she went to live with the Auca Indians after her husband’s death. With no way to communicate verbally with them, she spent a year observing their lifestyle.  

“When, on the first night of our arrival in the “savage” Aucas’ village, they gave us houses to live in, food and water and wood and fire, things were not so simple for me. My categories began to crumble. I had thought I knew what a savage was like. I had thought I knew exactly how the Gospel would change him. As weeks passed, I began to realize that not only had I been mistaken about these things, but very likely I was just as mistaken about some other categories which seemed clear before. How readily I had seen Christian virtues in those I called Christians in my own country, and the “works of the flesh” in those who did not bear the Christian label. What was I now to do with the apparent manifestation of virtue—peace, longsuffering, kindness—in those who had never heard of Christ? Things were not as I had thought.” (The Liberty of Obedience, back cover) 

The “savages” took care of their families, showed grace to one another, and lived by a moral code. Although adultery is rampant in western civilization, the Aucas wouldn't think of helping themselves to another man's wife. But…when Elisabeth’s husband had put his arm around one Indian to show Christian affection, it meant the missionaries were cannibals and had to be killed for the safety of the tribe. Elisabeth’s willingness to spank her toddler when she misbehaved was perceived as barbaric by the Indians. During her “quiet” year, Elisabeth wrestled with the concept of savage versus civilized. Her conclusion was that each culture has their own definition of disputable sin which often conflicts with other cultures.  

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister…For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. (Romans 14:13, 17-18) 

Elisabeth spent time doing what all Christians should do when faced with conflicting cultures and information. She studied the New Testament, particularly the Apostle Paul’s letters, and prayed for discernment. “The Liberty of Obedience” was borne out of that time of study.

The book is comprised of an introduction to Elisabeth’s life and her thoughts. Then she shares four articles she wrote about defining good and evil, service, and spiritual discernment based on her years with the Aucas.  She challenges her reader to really examine their hearts, motives, and beliefs that might be tied more to culture than Biblical truths, and strive for obedience based on God’s grace and love. I thoroughly enjoyed Elisabeth’s message, and it’s a great little book that can be read in one sitting. “The Liberty of Obedience” is available on  

(My friend, Christian writer Ginny Brant, recently spent time with Elisabeth Elliot, her husband Lars, and her daughter Valerie. [I’m trying not to be jealous.] The article and photos are amazing. I pray you’ll be as blessed as I am by Elisabeth’s inspiring story. Click here to read.)

Laura Hodges Poole is a freelance writer with dozens of articles, devotions, and short stories in publication. She writes Christian romance novels and is a 2012 RWA Emily finalist, with her Christian novel manuscript placing second in a nationwide field of Christian and secular entries. Laura is also an Associate Editor with Christian Devotions ministry, as well as a ghostwriter. Her passion is encouraging others in their Christian walk through her blog, "A Word of Encouragement." She may be contacted at


  1. I cannot imagine what life was like for Elizabeth and her family, the death of her husband, and raising her daughter without a daddy. I know this book is very interesting. Thank
    you for sharing.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Melanie. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. God bless you.

  2. Good morning friends! Today is a good day to curl up by the fire with a blanket and a book. Too bad most of us can't do that today. :) I've got a pot of coffee on for those of us that are coffee drinkers.

    Elizabeth's story was made popular by the End of The Spear movie, but I didn't know she had written books. I'll have to check that out! It will be interesting to see what her thoughts are. Thanks for sharing, Laura.

    I think a lot of times Christians can get lost between changing culture and sin. It makes me very glad that our God is the same, yesterday, today and forever and that we can hold to His unchanging hand.

    1. Elisabeth had a long speaking and writing career after returning from the field as a missionary. Her radio show lasted for several years, and I enjoyed listening to it. She eventually remarried after Jim, but her second husband died after a long bout with cancer. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Amber. God bless you.

  3. What an amazing story! Thank you so much for sharing this book review, as well as the link to Ginny Brant's article and photos.

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

    1. You're welcome, Britney. I'm glad you enjoyed it. God bless you.