Ed and Janice Hird devoted one chapter of God’s Firestarters (HIS Publishing, 2021) to E. Stanley Jones. This article first appeared as a ‘spiritual biography’ column in The Light Magazine and is re-posted by permission.
What if we told you that in his lifetime, Dr. E. Stanley Jones was the most widely-read spiritual author in the entire world, with 28 books, some selling millions of copies?
Time Magazine called him the world’s greatest missionary. In 1964, Time stated that Jones’ “fame overseas as an evangelist is matched only by Billy Graham.”
Many see him as the Billy Graham of India. Graham spent 10 minutes in his 1963 Los Angeles Crusade, commending Jones’ missionary work, calling him his “good friend and trusted advisor.”
Graham wrote in his final book that Jones “made a profound impact on all those around him because of his extraordinary faith and service to others…His is a worthy testimony of living a meaningful life during the journey to eternal life.”
Jones initiated ’round table conferences’ at which Christians and non-Christians sat down as equals to share how their spiritual experiences enabled them to live better. Serving in India for over 50 years, Jones was personal friends with Mahatma Gandhi. When Jones received the Gandhi Peace Prize, a top spokesman for the Indian government called him “the greatest interpreter of Indian affairs in our time.”
Who could have imagined that God would use Jones’ book on Gandhi to inspire Martin Luther King Jr. to launch the non-violent civil rights movement? King told Jones: “It was your book on Gandhi that gave me my first inkling of non-violent non-cooperation.”
While in England, Gandhi for the first time read the Bible, finding the New Testament compelling, especially the Sermon on the Mount. As Gandhi commented, it “went straight to my heart.” Because Gandhi daily read the Sermon on the Mount, Jones said to Gandhi, “You know the principles. Do you know the person yet?” Gandhi confessed that he didn’t, but was searching.
Early in his missionary service in India, Jones suffered a physical and emotional collapse. Telling the Lord that he was done, he surrendered his ministry to Jesus, and the Lord miraculously restored him. Self-surrender became his theme and song.
The first United Christian Ashram retreat was started in India by Dr. E. Stanley Jones, in 1930, after spending time at Rabindranath Tagore’s and Mahatma Gandhi’s ashrams. Today, there are many United Christian Ashram retreats across Canada and around the world. Many members of our own family have been powerfully impacted by the BC Christian Ashram during the past 47 years.
[BC Christian Ashram, organized by Ed and Janice Hird, will host an online retreat July 8 – 10.]
Jones said that only Jesus was good enough to be the leader, the guru of a Christian Ashram. He was very Christ-centred, teaching that the highest thing we can say about God the Father is that he is Christ-like.
Inscriptions on the original Christian Ashram walls in Sat Tal, India, said:
- Here everybody loves everybody
- East and West are alternate beats of the same heart
- Leave behind all race and class distinctions, all ye that enter here
Jones commented that in the Christian Ashram, barriers of class and cash disappear completely. A black man shared, “This has been the first week of my life in an unsegregated world. I have lost my resentment against white people.”
Jones was exiled by the British government during World War II because of his stand for racial equality and independence for India. He told a critic:
If I should be kept back from India permanently, God forbid, then I should consider seriously giving the balance of my working days to help the Afro-Americans of America to an equal status in our democracy and to their fullest development as a people. For the colour question has become a world question.
This time of exile also enabled him to transplant the Christian Ashram movement to Canada and the United States. For many years, Stanley Jones spent six months of the year in North America conducting city-wide missions and Christian Ashrams, and the other six months overseas.
Jones saw everything through the eyes of the kingdom, seeing inequality and racism as violations of kingdom principles.
He called the caste system “India’s curse,” similarly rejecting the curse of racism in his own American homeland. In a 1947 article, ‘India’s Caste System and Ours,’ Jones commented, “The caste systems of India and America are fundamentally alike – they are both founded on blood.”
For Jones, the sin of racism had set back the cause of missions and democracy. He was one of the first in the States to have desegregated meetings, causing some people to gossip about Jones as a communist agitator. Because of his connection with Gandhi, J. Edgar Hoover had a 117-page FBI file on Jones.
Since he led so many communists to Christ, the communist leaders were not very happy about him either. Jones replied,
You say, ‘He tends dangerous towards social equality between the races.’ If this be a crime, then so be it. It is a treason against democracy and against the Christian faith to advocate inequality of treatment between the races.
If the local laws required that blacks sit in the balcony, Jones instructed groups of whites on the main floor to move to the balcony themselves when the service began. Dr. Bob Tuttle commented, “Stanley Jones had the pulse of the world. Who was more global at the time! He was the true renaissance man.” E. Stanley Jones was truly a global firestarter for Jesus’ Kingdom.
A version of this article with footnotes appears here.
Rev. Dr. Ed and Janice Hird are also co-authors of Blue Sky, a novel, and For Better, For Worse: Discovering the Keys to a Lasting Relationship. Ordained in 1980, Ed served as rector at St. Simon’s North Vancouver for more than three decades; the Hirds now live in White Rock.