In his book, The Insanity of Obedience: Walking with Jesus in Tough Places, Nik Ripken seeks to call Christians to faithful obedience in the spread of the gospel by giving insights into the lives of believers in persecution, as well as giving helpful advice for missionaries on how to better reach places where persecution is rampant. The author, Nik Ripken, is himself an experienced missionary, having served in North Africa and the Middle East for twenty-five years. Naturally, Ripken is an expert on the persecuted church in Muslim contexts, and this experience shines throughout his book. The contents of this book are not merely from Ripken’s personal experience, however—the foundation upon which this book lays is the wisdom gained from over 600 in-depth interviews with persecuted Christians from various locations around the world.
Overall, Ripken accomplishes his task of calling Christians to faithful obedience very well. I cannot speak for how this book impacts anyone other than myself, but I can say that this book is, by nature, a perspective-changer. This book, in giving such a sobering view of the life of persecuted Christians, awakens western readers to a harsh reality—the church does not belong to the west, and persecution is normal everywhere else. This leads us to one crucial and challenging question; “Why are we not being persecuted as much as they are?” This question is, fundamentally, a call for us western readers to engage in deep introspection. Are we being obedient to God’s mission as we ought? If not, then why not? This book awakens us to our own lack of obedience, and calls us to change.
This book also has great credibility. As aforementioned, his counsel to missionaries is not merely derived from personal experience, but also from more than 600 interviews with believers in persecution. Because of this, this book presents itself as being a very fair and honest petition. This book is not merely the angry rambling of one man about his own opinions—it is the conglomerate cry of persecuted Christians everywhere for the western church to more faithfully participate in God’s great mission.
This book is incredibly practical, being filled with many useful examples and wise counsel for missionaries in all places. Ripken offers strategies for reaching various people groups that are helpful to all missionaries, especially those who are reaching Muslims or oral leaners.
The greatest strength of this book is its powerful real-life accounts of Christians who live in persecution. The truths of this book are hard to swallow for western readers, but they are, nevertheless, nourishing to the soul and highly encouraging. This book is difficult because of its subject matter, but emboldening at the same time because it provides encouraging real-life examples of what faithfulness amidst persecution looks like. For instance, chapter 23 tells of a man named Dmitri, who became a pastor—quite on accident—by starting up a Bible study in Russia when the church was being heavily persecuted there. Because of this, he ended up being imprisoned. Every morning while he was in his cell, he would stand and face the east to sing a heart song to Jesus, despite being laughed and cursed at by fellow prisoners. After this went on for seventeen years, Dmitri was eventually dragged out of his cell to be executed. Before they could bring him to the courtyard, in what, according to Dmitri, sounded like “the greatest choir in all of human history,” all of the prisoners stood and faced the east, and sang Dmitri’s heart song that they had heard him sing every morning. The guards immediately let go of him and asked, “Who are you?” Dmitri stood tall and said, “I am a son of the Living God, and Jesus is His name!” Dmitri was promptly released and returned to his family. It is stories like this throughout the book that, despite the hard truth of persecution, remind the western reader that obedience to God’s commands is worth any pain and suffering that may follow. This book crushes our hearts while simultaneously strengthening them and growing them in a greater love for the nations and the global church. This book reminds us that we have real brothers and sisters in Christ that are suffering across the globe, and leads us to have a greater compassion for them.
The greatest weakness of this book is that it does not address the wide variety of religious contexts for persecution that it initially suggests that it will. Primarily, this book focuses on the persecution of Muslim Background Believers (abbreviated as MBB). Because of this, much of the practical advice on reaching the lost in places of heavy persecution are only applicable to locations where Islam is the majority religion. This is understandable, considering Ripken’s background as a missionary to North Africa and the Middle East. However, near the beginning of the book, Ripken does suggest that he will address persecution against Hinduism Background Believers (HBB), Buddhist Background Believers (BBB), and Christian Background Believers (CBB). While Ripken does somewhat touch on persecution of HBBs, and occasionally mentions CBBs, he does not seem to ever return to BBBs after mentioning them. It would be beneficial for the book to give more practical advice on how to reach these various contexts. Also, this book would benefit from addressing a few other unmentioned religious contexts where persecution exists, such as Atheistic backgrounds and Animistic/Pagan backgrounds. Although Ripken does provide some advice that is applicable to most Animistic backgrounds when addressing oral cultures, more practical advice would be beneficial.
I would recommend this book to any western Christian who feels apathetic to the global church and missions. I would also recommend this book to any Christian who desires to go to difficult, heavily-persecuted locations. This book is simultaneously heartbreaking and heart-changing, containing essential wisdom on how and why to evangelize hard places.