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The legacy of Lewis Bevan Jones.

Lewis Bevan Jones (1880-1960), missionary scholar and Baptist pioneer in Christian-Muslim relations, was born at Agra, India, where his father, Daniel jones (1852-1911), served with the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS).(1) "Bevan Jones," as he was known, was sent to England in 1888 to attend the School for the Sons of Missionaries, now Eltham College. While there, he was baptized at Heath Street Baptist Church, Hamstead. Between 1896 and 1900 he worked for Edward Jackson, magistrate and former mayor of Reading. Bevan Jones taught Sunday school at the King Street Church where Jackson was a deacon.

In 1900 Bevan Jones entered University College, Cardiff, in his father's native Wales, where he graduated with a degree in Semitic languages in 1904. This was followed by the B.D. from the University of London, which he gained as a student at Regents Park College. As a candidate for the Baptist ministry, he shared in the pioneer work of R. Rowntree Clifford in the West Ham Central Mission, where evangelical zeal was effectively combined with social action.(2) Not until 1941 did he receive the M.A. from Cardiff for his thesis "The Status of Women in Islam."

In 1907 he was accepted for service in India by the BMS and sailed out as his father retired because of ill health. Thereafter, Bevan Jones was conscious of continuing where Daniel had started.

Bevan Jones spent the first two years of his missionary career in Agra, mastering Hindi and teaching in the school. In 1909 he was transferred to Dhaka (Dacca) in predominantly Muslim East Bengal, to work with Hindu and Muslim residents in the Baptist Students Hostel. A gifted linguist, he added Urdu and Bengali to his knowledge of languages. By 1911, when the second international Missionary Conference on behalf of the Mohammedan World met at Lucknow, India, Bevan had turned his attention almost exclusively to Islam.(3) In 1914 this specialist vocation was recognized by the BMS when the Triennial Conference (India and Ceylon) set him aside for Muslim work. This novel and pioneer move by the BMS determined the future direction of Bevan Jones's career.

To equip himself more adequately, he devoted a full year (1917) to further study, learning Arabic at Temple Gairdner's Cairo Study Center and spending six months researching at Oxford. In 1915 he had married Miss Violet Rhoda Stanford, a nurse at Berhampur Hospital, and she accompanied him to Egypt and England. Bevan Jones's marriage has been described as "an ideal partnership which laid the foundation for much of his future success."(4) Violet Jones worked with Muslim women and collaborated with her husband to write Woman in Islam (1941). Returning to Dhaka in 1918, they established a reading room in the Muslim bazaar, where they themselves made their home in 1922. In 1920, on a part-time basis, Bevan Jones began to lecture on Islam at Serampore college (this was later followed by lectures at Bishop's College, Calcutta) and assumed the editorship of News and Notes, the organ of the Missionaries to Muslims League, which fellow Baptist John Tackle had founded in 1911 as a response to the Lucknow Conference. The league coordinated missionary work among Muslims by sharing information and initiating training programs. Involvement in the work of the league introduced Bevan Jones to many distinguished colleagues in this field, including Edward Sell, Murray Titus, and Samuel Zwemer.

In 1924 Bevan Jones and his wife attended the third international conference of missionaries to Muslims at Jerusalem, which called for the establishment of Islamic study centers, modeled after the Cairo Center, in all major Muslim mission fields. In India a school of Islamics, funded by several Protestant societies, eventually opened at Lahore in 1930, the result of an initiative of the National Christian Council's Committee on Muslim work, of which Bevan Jones was a member. The committee unanimously chose him to be the school's first principal, which office he held until 1941. "Henry Martyn School" was his personal choice of a name for the new school honoring the man who is regarded as the first modern missionary to Muslims.(5)

Bevan Jones's two academic degrees, his editorship of News and Notes, and his several Muslim World articles were excellent qualifications for this challenging position. He headed a distinguished team drawn together to study contemporary movements in Indian Islam and to prepare appropriate Christian literature as well as to train personnel, expatriate and national, residentially and by extension. His colleagues were L. E. Browne, later professor of theology at Leeds; J. W. Sweetman, later professor of Islam at the Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham; and john Subhan, later a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church. All produced major scholarly works within a few years of the school's opening. Violet Jones also lectured in the school-on the religious life of Muslim women - and edited a series of tracts for Muslim women.

Between 1941 and 1944 Bevan Jones pastored a church in Delhi, after which, returning to England, he pastored a church in Burgess Hill, Surrey (1944-47). Until his death, he remained active in ecumenical circles. From 1950 until 1959 he chaired the London-based Fellowship of Faith for Muslims, for which he wrote several booklets, still available today. From 1950 until his death in 1960, he served as a non-Anglican assessor on the Council for the Muslim World of the Church Assembly, alongside other eminent scholars of Islam.(6)

His Writings-interpreting Islam

As principal of the Henry Martyn School, Bevan Jones contributed three books: The People of the Mosque (1932), Christianity Explained to Muslims (1938), and, coauthored by his wife, Woman in Islam (1941). His first two books were translated into several Indian languages, as his earlier best-seller, The Best Friend: A Life of Our Lord (1925), had been translated into sixteen languages. This was written as a response to his own call for a new genre of literature, suitable for educated Muslim readers, an idea he borrowed from J. N. Farquhar.(7)

The People of the Mosque, based on his Serampore College lectures, introduced readers to Islam generally and to Indian Islam in particular, but it also suggested how Christians should approach Muslims. The book's title indicates its tenor; it was concerned with people, how they thought and lived, and what they believed. Bevan Jones's own career was people-focused, reflecting his father's influence. Daniel Jones had been renowned for his contact with ordinary Indians, especially with lepers. In his candidature to the BMS, Bevan Jones had spoken of "rendering obedience" to the needs of the people for whom he "hoped to live," and of his childhood knowledge of India, together with "the intercourse he once had with the people," giving India a double claim on him.(8)

The People of the Mosque draws heavily on such works as Sir William Muir's Life of Mahomet (1858), Edward Sell's Faith of Islam (1880), and Stanley Lane Poole's Studies in a Mosque (1883) and on the writings of Samuel Zwemer and Temple Gairdner and of fellow Baptists John Tackle and William Goldsack. Bevan Jones was also familiar with the work of T. Noldeke, I. Goldziher, Snouke Hurgronze, and Henri Lammens, a Belgian Jesuit. In addition, he corresponded with Duncan Black Macdonald.

Perhaps the most important element of his study of Islam was that it was set in the context of his personal experience among its practitioners. His knowledge of Islam was the fruit of direct observation as well as of academic study. He also knew that Muslim authorities must ultimately be the test of any appraisal of Islam. He therefore studied the Qur'an, the Hadith (Traditions), especially the Mishkatu'l Masabih, and the writings of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Sayyid Ameer Ali, Sir Ahmad Hussain, Khudha Baksh, and Cheragh Ali.(1)

Bevan Jones's work on Islamic faith and practice introduced little, if any, original material. Its value lies in the sheer skill with which the author succeeded in reducing almost the whole of Islam's basic system into one concise, readable volume. Bevan Jones endeavored to see Islam through Muslim eyes, to portray Islam accurately and sympathetically so that in what was written Muslims might recognize their own faith. He wanted to penetrate Islam's inner meaning and was fully aware that Christian writers, including some of his own sources, had all too often allowed bias and prejudice to color the work. He to tried to move beyond traditional argurnent and debate to the sharing of spiritual experience and insight, to what he called the "rarer atmosphere of the things of the spirit.(10)

He was not wholly successful in this task, and his final estimate of Muhammad was negative: "We cannot escape the obligation to compare Muhammad with Jesus Christ, and, in that light, seriously-minded and unprejudiced people all the world over, whose only concern is to follow the highest, have found in Muhammad what can only be described as grave moral defects."

It must be noted, first that very few Muslims have found grave moral defects" in Muhammad. Therefore, the "unprejudiced" people referred to are almost undoubtedly Christians, prejudiced by their Christianity. Second, in comparing Christ and Muhammad, Bevan jones knew full well that he was not comparing like with like, from either a Christian or a Muslim viewpoint.

However, in another passage, citing approvingly a Muslim friend, Bevan Jones writes with a more positive attitude about the Prophet: "A Muslim who respects the name of Jesus is more likely to form a right judgement about Christianity than is a Christian about Islam who enters his study with the conviction that Muhammad was an impostor."(12)

Although he dealt more sympathetically with Islam than had most previous writers, no Muslim would actually accept his account as unbiased. Arguably the value of The People of the Mosque lies more in its intent than in its content.

His Writings - Interpreting Christianity

Christianity Explained to Muslims aimed to interpret Christian faith for Muslims, though a secondary object was to "bring about better understanding between people of the two faiths."(13) In this book, Bevan Jones's Christian theology was brought into creative engagement with his study of Islam. He drew on a large number of Christian scholars, from a wide range of churchmanship and theological opinion. He was especially indebted to A. M. Fairburn, H. R. Mackintosh, William Temple, A. G. Hogg, and Nathaniel Micklem. Themes such as incarnation and kenotic theology, and a desire to reinterpret traditional thinking for new situations, were central. His own theological stance was described thus by John Subhan: "Bevan Jones was uncompromising in the fundamentals of the Christian faith. He could not be classified as an extreme liberal or a narrow fundamentalist. He might be termed orthodox in his belief, though he would wear no label."(14) Another writer has described his "dominating purpose" as "the placing of scholarship within the field of evangelical purposefulness."(15) If, in the present writer's opinion, Bevan Jones may fairly be regarded as a liberal, this must be balanced by the fact that he never lost the ability to communicate within his evangelical Baptist constituency.

Christianity Explained is an example of theological brokerage at its best. In it, Bevan Jones took the ideas and emphases of his theological mentors and applied them to Islam. He attempted to glean from an examination of Christian doctrine what he deemed essential for faith in Christ. Then, in the light of Muslim prejudice and objections, he sought to reexpress Christian faith so that, without compromising essentials, causes of misunderstanding were removed. Fundamental to his thinking was his concept of "essential Christianity." In the past, he believed, missionaries had too often stressed by-products of Christianity rather than the Christian message as such. His own Christianity was rooted in "spiritual experience," not in intellectual statement." For example, in discussing the Trinity, he subordinated its intellectual abstraction" to the experience that it describes: "If a Muslim can be brought to understand that in the doctrine of the Trinity an attempt is made to explain our apprehension of the redemptive operation of God's Holy Spirit within us - then, though it may still appear unacceptable to him, he will see it as no longer unreasonable ancd certainly not blasphemous."(16)

Bevan Jones suggested that Muslims often object not to what Christians actually believe but to what Muslims think they believe. He therefore emphasized the "why" rather than the "what" of belief and contended that beliefs or doctrines were essentially postexperiential attempts to describe, within the poverty and limitations of human language, what people believed to be true about experience of God. He did not "demand from anyone, least of all Muslims. . . acquiescence in particular dogmas of the church as a condition of discipleship or as necessary to faith in Christ."(17)

Freedom of conscience has always been central to Baptist tradition, which defends individual liberty to work out one's salvation before God free from doctrinal tyranny. Bevan jones knew that Muslims would find it difficult to grasp accepted definitions of God and suggested that Christians should not be overly distressed by this. "What is really important," he said, "is to know God and to do His will"; citing Henry Drummond, of whom he thought highly, he summarized, "To become Christlike is the only thing in the world worth caring for."(18)

His concept of Christlikeness and his distinction between belief and faith anticipate the work of Wilfred Cantwell Smith, who studied at the Henry Martyn School in 1940 and was later an associate staff member. The most significant and permanently valuable aspect of Christianity Explained is that in it Bevan Jones was prepared to take the challenge of Muslim theology into his understanding of Christian faith, which was both challenged and changed by his engagement with Islam. Perhaps not surprisingly, he regarded conversion as an ongoing process, summed up by the old term "sanctification."(19)

He did not hesitate to declare that mystery had a part to play, which enabled him to recognize spiritual truth and the presence of God's Spirit in other traditions. He spoke of Muslims and Christians exploring together the phenomena of spiritual experience, for "in [theirl heart[s], as in ours, the spirit of God is usually at work."(20) He rejoiced in "whatever evidence we find of the presence of God's spirit in Islam and in every witness it makes to His Being and Majesty."(21) Referring to J. N. Farquhar's attitude toward Hinduism, Bevan called for "faith to believe that other nations and peoples of other religions do have a real contribution to make in the fulfillment of God's purposes for the world through Jesus Christ."(22)

He clearly did not accept Hendrik Kraemer's total divide between the revelation in Christ and religions, as though the latter were altogether futile attempts to bridge the gap between the human and the divine. Rather, he spoke of the revelation in Christ being "absolute" though not exhaustive":

We need not and indeed cannot claim that God is, in Jesus,

exhaustively revealed . . . . Let it not seem strange that we are

forced to confess that our faith holds fast to contradictions - God

is known, and yet not known. After all, in the Revelation of

Himself in Jesus we stand face to face with a profound mystery; it

is not surprising that we do not fully understand.(23)

His concept of revelation, however, was radically different from the Islamic concept of wahi. He believed that "real kinship" exists between God and humankind, making possible the translation of "eternal thought" into "the language of time."(24) Anticipating process theology, he spoke of the natural created world as "the plastic expression of God's will."(25) Consequently, he knew that the Bible and the Qur'an are regarded quite differently by those who possess them and that, "while to the Muslim the true revelation is to be found in a book, the Qur'an, to the Christian it is not to be found in the Bible, but in the Person of Christ."(26)

He also commented that, since the Gospels contain not what God said to Jesus but what their authors "had to say about what Jesus said and did," they qualify, for Muslims, as Hadith, not Scripture."(27) He identified this as one of the most fundamental stumbling blocks between Christians and Muslims. He believed, too, that due to Gnostic and Docetic tendencies in early Arabian Christianity, Muslims were victims of an ancient misunderstanding about the nature of the incarnation and passion of Jesus. As a result, they saw no beauty in the crucified Christ.

His Missiology

Bevan Jones's missiology was characterized by his rejection of controversy. While he had learned much from earlier missionaries and Christian apologists such as Karl Pfander and William Muir, he rejected their confrontational tactics. Pfander's writings, he suggested, "served best as a guide to something better." Written to touch Muslim minds, they failed to touch Muslim hearts. Showing "insufficient regard for the sensitive spirits of devout Muslims," they provoked counterattacks on Christian faith, as in the vehemently anti-Christian Ahmadiyya movement.(28) Bevan Jones's own work stands in the tradition of Thomas Valpy French and W. St. Clair-Tisdall, who, while both disciples of Pfander, did much to develop a more irenic approach.

Bevan Jonectss niodus operandi was people centered. One reason for his initial interest in Muslim work was the conviction that Christians had neglected Muslims in favor of Hindus.(29) He made practical action a plank of his missionary program; "substantial bridges of understanding, sympathy and friendship," he maintained, could be built "out of little acts of simple, ungrudging kindness."(31) He placed great value on forming friendships with Muslims and himself enjoyed lifelong relationships with two leading Ahmadis-Maulana Muhammad Ali and Yakub Khan. After Bevan Jones's death in 1960, Yakub Khan wrote that Bevan Jones had made him "respect Christianity in its real sense of love and charity of heart." He described Bevan Jones as an exponent of "the new approach between the two great sister religions," which, he said, was then "coming to the forefront."(31) (He may well have had in mind as examples such books as Kenneth Cragg's Call of the Minaret [1956] and Sandals at the Mosque [1959].)

Also important in Bevan Jones's missiology were spirituality and prayer. Although he knew how to laugh and have fun, he was driven to his knees by his engagement with Islam. "We must know," he said, "what it is to agonize in prayer on behalf of these people."(32) His encounter with Islam involved internal as well as external discovery; the closer he came to Islam as practiced by devout, sincere souls, the harder and more painful he found it to assess the spiritual status of his Muslim friends. Ultimately, his aim remained traditional, to "trace out" and "lead back" Christ's "other sheep."'(33) At the same time, he knew that Muslims might approach Christ in a different way than those brought up in Christian societies. Consequently, he was deeply concerned with the pastoral care of converts and regretted that the Indian church too often failed to meet their needs.

His Legacy - A Brief Assessment

Bevan jones's most influential and popular book remains The People of the Mosque. A fifth edition, edited and revised by Dwight Baker (1980), with an updated historical section, bears eloquent testimony to the lasting value and quality of the author's work, though the present writer regrets that the editor chose not to include the sections on Christianity and Islam.

The Henry Martyn School (now Institute) continues to owe much to the legacy of its first principal. Links, for example, with the Muslim community remain vital to its programs. Now based in Hyderabad, it continually adjusts its program to the changing milieu in which it finds itself, a trend wholly consistent with the spirit of Bevan Jones. His approach is best described as open-ended - open to the Spirit's prompting, open to the challenge of Muslim religious thought, open to the idea that the religious life is an ongoing experience.

Also of significance today is Bevan Jones's commitment to Christian unity. He knew that a divided church could never win Islam for Christ and therefore tried, in Bishop Subhan's words, to be friend and brother to "men of all denominations."(34)

Finally, Bevan Jones's life and work is testimony to the value of building bridges between faith communities. To walk such a bridge-building road was not easy then, nor is it easy today. It requires courage and involves risk - courage to experience genuine anguish the risk inherent in rethinking received beliefs and adapting them in the light of new experience. It is, Bevan Jones said, "a hard task," "an arduous enterprise," "the way of sacrifice and tears and un-requited love."(35)


(1). See "Daniel Jones of Agra: A Great Heart of our India Mission," Baptist Missionary Herald 94 (1911): 143, and D. Jones, Memoirs," Yr Herald Cenhadol (in Welsh, London: BMS, 1911). (2.) See R. R. Clifford, Venture in Faith (London: Carey Kingsgate, 1955). Reference to Bevan Jones is on p. 51. (3.) For the three international conferences on mission to Muslims, see Methods of Mission Among Muslims: Cairo, 1906 (London: Fleming H. Revell, 1906), Lucknow Conference Report (London: CLS, 1911), and Conference of Christian Workers Among Muslims (New York: IMC, 1924. (4.) H. W. Pike, "Lewis Bevan Jones" (unpublished tribute, Oxford, Regents Park College). (5.) See Constance E. Padwick, Henry Martyn: Confessor of the Faith (London: SCM, 1922). (6.) The FFM was founded in 1915 following Zwemer's visit to England. For the CMW, see General Synod Archives. Kenneth Cragg and W. M. Watt were members. (7.) See India Report (London: BMS, 1916), p. 48. (8.) See Candidates Records File No. 393 (London, BMS Archives). (9.) For a critique of these writers (except Hussain), see W. C. Smith, Modern Islam in India (Lahore: Minerva, 1943); for Hussain, see A. Hussein, Notes on Islam (Lahore, 1922). (10.) L. B. Jones, Christ's Ambassador to the Muslim (London: FFM, reprinted 1972), p. 11. (11.) L. B. Jones, The People of the Mosque (London: SCM, 1932), p. 265. (12.) Ibid., p. 253. (13.) L. B. Jones, Christianity Explained to Muslims (Calcutta: YMCA, 1938), P. xi. (14.) J. Subhan, "The Reverend Lewis Bevan Jones," Muslim World 51 (1961): 129. (15.) E. F. F. Bishop, "Tribute to Lewis Bevan Jones," Muslim World 51 (1961): 303. (16.) Jones, Christianity Explained, p. 93. (17.) Ibid., p. ix. (18.) Jones, The People of the Mosque, p. 321, citing H. Drummond's Changed Life. (19.) Jones, Christianity Explained, p. 149. (20.) Ibid., p. 93. (21.) Jones, The People of the Mosque, p. 253. (22.) Ibid., p. 254. (23.) Jones, Christianity Explained, p. 76. See also "Our Special Message to Muslims," Moslem World 10 (1930): 335a. (24.) Jones, Christianity Explained, p. 52. (25.) Ibid., p. 180. (26.) Ibid., p. 53. (27.) Ibid., p. 42. (28.) Jones, The People of the Mosque, p. 248; see also p. 289. (29.) L. B. Jones, "Some Educated Moslems in Bengal," Moslem World 6 (1916): 234. (30.) Jones The People of the Mosque, p. 316. (31.) Cited in "Remarkable Tributes to a Great Missionary to Muslims,' Baptist Missionary Herald, November 1960, p. 171. (32.) Jones, Christ's Ambassador, p. 11. (33.) Ibid., p. 12. (34.) Subhan, Jones," p. 128. (35.) Jones, Christ's Ambassador, p. 12.

Bibliography Books by L. Bevan Jones
1925 The Best Friend: A Life of Our Lord. Madras: CLS.
1932 The People of the Mosque. London: SCM. 5th ed. (ed. D.
 Baker), New Delhi: ISPCK/CLS, 1980.
1938 Christianity Explained to Muslims. Calcutta: YMCA.
1941 Woman in Islam (with V. R. Jones). London: Carey Press.

Articles in Moslem World (1911-60; name changed to Muslim World in 1961
1916 "Some Educated Moslems in Bengal," 6:228-35.
1917 "Correspondence with D. B. Macdonald," 7:420-23.
1920 "The Paraclete or Muhammad?" 10:112-15.
1930 "Our Special Message to Moslems," 20:331-35.
1940 "How Not to Use the Qur'an: An Urdu Tract Explained,"
1952 "Christ's Ambassador to the Muslim," 42:80-81.
1953 "A Love That Persists," 43:3-6.

Pamphlets Published by FFM (Fellowship of Faith for Muslims, London)

Focus on Islam series. 1952. Five Pillars of Islam (no. 3). Rev. 1981. The Ahmadiyya Movement formerly A False Messiah). From Islam to Christ: How a Sufi Found His Lord (Life of Bishop J. Subhan) (no. 6). Christ's Ambassador to the Muslim. 1952, reprinted 1972.

Works about L. Bevan Jones

Bennett, Clinton. "A Theological Appreciation of Lewis Bevan Jones: Baptist Pioneer in Christian-Muslim Relations." M.A. thesis, University of Birmingham, 1985. ______."A Theological Appreciation of Lewis Bevan Jones." Baptist Quarterly 32, no. 5 (January 1988): 237-52.

Bishop, E. F. F. "Tribute to the Memory of Lewis Bevan Jones." Muslim World 51 (1961): 302-3.

Subhan, J. "Lewis Bevan Jones." Muslim World 51 (1961):128-31.
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Author:Bennett, Clinton
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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