Free Church Books

The Hand and The Road: The Life & Times of John A. Mackay - Book Review

May 6, 2021

The Hand and The Road: The Life & Times of John A. Mackay

by John Mackay Metzger (2010)

Catriona Macdonald was, until recently, a missionary teacher in Peru. She is a longstanding member at Buccleuch Free Church in Edinburgh, and is now studying for an MTh in Missiology at Edinburgh Theology Seminary.

Catriona willingly agreed to review this book for Free Church Books (https://books.freechurch.org) as part of her studies.

This biography opens a window into the life, work and thought of an influential Scot in twentieth century Christianity, John Alexander Mackay (1889-1983). Written by his grandson, it provides substantial information on Mackay’s remarkable life, from his early upbringing in the Highlands, his teenage conversion during a communion season in Rogart, his call to mission when a student, his missionary service in Peru and Latin America to his leadership of Princeton Theological Seminary. Biographical events are married to excerpts from diary entries and private letters along with Mackay’s published writings to reveal his vision, keen intellect and deep spirituality.

As someone who saw Mackay’s legacy first-hand having taught in Colegio San Andrés, the school Mackay founded as a Free Church missionary in Lima, it was intriguing to read of his friendships with a wide array of people, including leading young political activists, Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno and distinguished archbishops. The book details Mackay’s involvement in the ecumenical movement, combining his great passions for church unity and for mission. Always a proud Presbyterian, he did what not many have done either before or after, retaining strong evangelical convictions while working actively, and sometimes controversially, across the global church spectrum.

Throughout his life, Mackay unashamedly spoke out publicly and clearly on the political hot potatoes of his day, such as the nature of religious freedom. His was a surprisingly contemporary voice, raising issues such as community, diversity and social justice, providing a model and stimulus for prophetic engagement in society today.

All in all, the book makes a fascinating read on a legendary Free Church figure and acts as a great jumping off point to dive into the thought-provoking writings of Mackay himself.

This book is available to purchase from Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hand-Road-Life-Times-MacKay/dp/0664235247).