Reviewed by Jeff Mooney
What do social justice advocates from professing Christian circles, fundamentalists, conservative evangelical political pundits, and local church pastors (both mega and mini) have in common? They all, with few exceptions, routinely overlook the persecuted church. I have heard pastors say things like, “there is no such thing as a persecuted church. ‘Those people’ did something else wrong. Nobody puts you in jail for being a Christian.” Amazing! For many people, whether or not characterized by the baser ignorance illustrated above, Greg Cochran’s book will be a breathtaking introduction to this precious group of brothers and sisters.
While tracing this lightly touched topic in public church life, Cochran makes the argument that persecution is pervasive in both world and word. His approach eschews romanticizing the persecuted – those brave souls “over there.” He also avoids American political gamesmanship while making the point that persecution is not simply “over there” but here as well. The book is warm, written with passion and affection. Cochran uses lots of stories from his time as a pastor and lays the book out in an orderly and clever manner.
Below is an annotated outline.
Introduction: Why this book on Christian Persecution?
Part 1: Chapters 1-2, Cochran defines persecution and highlights where it is happening in the world.
Part 2: Chapters 3-10, Beginning in the Old Testament, Cochran unpacks the biblical testimony to Christian persecution. After the OT, he treats Matthew and Mark, John and Revelation, Luke and Acts, Paul’s Letters, Peter’s letters, and the epistle to the Hebrews, though not exactly in that order.
Part 3: Chapters 11-13, Chapter 11 argues for Christ as both source and comfort of persecution, chapter 12 that churches prioritize the persecuted, and Chapter 13 provides closing arguments for what has been said in the book.
The reader will appreciate Cochran’s clarity when defining persecution. He follows a simple preliminary definition he shares with Nik Ripken. Persecution is “a negative reaction to the incarnate presence of Jesus.” Equally important, Cochran provides the reader what persecution is not, namely natural suffering or political, criminal, or institutional suffering self-generated by the individual or group. He notes that persecution can be individual or corporate and that it happens more often than many would want to believe.
The second chapter in the book will probably be most eye-opening and provocative for readers. Cochran provides stories and geographical orientation to what is going on today in the persecuted church. While it seems most instinctive to place the biblical material first in a book, Cochran’s decision to place this in front is wise. That fact is that most who read this won’t be convinced initially that this is book worthy. However, they will be after chapter 2.
Cochran locates the impetus for persecution in the natural human disdain for the righteousness of Christ. Human beings naturally long for autonomy, they are offended, perhaps enraged at times, and seek to respond with hostility to God. However, they cannot get to God so they go after the closest thing they can, those who embrace the righteousness of Christ. Here is Cochran’s unique contribution to the idea of persecution, a genuinely biblical theological paradigm through which to define and respond to persecution. While some readers might find his work in the Old Testament a stretch at times (examination of Job and the idea of Abel as prototype for persecution), I think he needs to be heard. The idea of the Hebrew canon being framed (Luke 24:??) with the persecuted prophetic word provides a riveting way to read the Old Testament and a clear synthetic connection to the New Testament hitherto untouched.
Cochran’s work in the New Testament takes up the majority of the rest of the book. Most tangible is Cochran’s work in Luke-Acts. Following Cunningham, he walks the reader through six theological functions of persecution to answer the practical question “might I also suffer persecution on account of Christ like the believers in Acts?” The six reflections are as follows.
- Persecution in Acts displays God’s providence. This situation is particularly relevant in Jesus’ sovereign and fulfilled predictions of persecution for his followers.
- Persecution is the rejection of God’s agents by those who are supposedly God’s people, namely the Jews. Cochran opts for more theological precision here and notes that persecution is driven preeminently by rejection of the nature God’s salvation regardless of the ethnic origin of said persecution.
- Persecuted people stand in continuity with God’s prophets. Once again, Cochran demurs from Cunningham’s conclusions and states that the continuity with the prophets only resides with Christ. The persecution of the church doesn’t necessarily suggest an obvious continuity with Israel’s prophets. According to Cochran, the matter is more narrowly the adequate representation of true testimony from both OT prophet and NT Christian.
- Persecution targets those attached to Jesus. This category follows the previous one naturally and occupies much of Cochran’s discussion throughout the book.
- Persecution in Luke-Acts displays Christian perseverance. Cochran utilizes Paul’s unexpected visit/ stay in Acts 18 as an example of persecution that leads to perseverance.
- Persecution demonstrates divine triumph over that which seeks to conquer the message and messengers of Christ. The persecuted Christians, though attacked, provide substantial proof of God’s reign through being sustained under pressure.
Beyond this, some readers will struggle with his application of “idolspizing” and his idiosyncratic reading of Hebrews 13, but will embrace his overall overview. In other words, there is no denying Cochran’s reading of the New Testament. Persecution is pervasive! The quantitative weight it holds over something like the end times, the future for Israel, etc. should cause evangelicals to blush that they have missed it this badly. The intended audience of the book is both the local church pastor and college student. Many will read the book for chapters 2, 11, 12, and 13. These chapters are practical, thorough, and warmly written from someone clearly passionate about the topic.
I hope that many pastors, leaders, theologians, professors, campus ministers, etc. read this book. I particularly hope that pastors will allow Cochran to convince them that the care, concern, prayer, and tangible ministry to and for the persecuted church around the world must be a part of their ecclesiology. We are to weep with those believers who weep, and Cochran has made the case for us that this includes those we will and will never meet.
Jeffrey Mooney is Professor of Old Testament at California Baptist University
Buy the books
Christians in the Crosshairs: Persecution in the Bible and around the World Today