Saturday, September 20, 2014

Calvin and missions

John Calvin, the 16th Century Reformer, and Calvinism, as defined by the Synod of Dort at the beginning of the 17th Century, are not usually associated with missions. In fact, it’s not difficult to find accusations in pulpits, books, and blogs that Calvinism is anti-missions. Yet history gives us a different picture, and authors Michael A.G. Haykin and C. Jeffrey Robinson, Sr. shed light on this picture in their recent book To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin's Missional Vision and Legacy (Crossway, 2014).

 

In the Introduction the authors make it clear that their purpose is to show that Calvin, and the theology of Calvinism, “served as a catalyst for transforming Geneva into a hub of missionary activity where Reformed ministers were trained and sent out to proclaim the gospel throughout Europe and beyond, especially France and Brazil.” The book outlines Calvin’s teachings as they pertain to missions and evangelism, as well as the missionaries that went out from Geneva. Two chapters are afforded also to two individuals whose Calvinism played a part in their support for and involvement in missions, Jonathan Edwards and Samuel Pearce.

 

This book is valuable for two reasons. First, it serves as an “in house” apologetic against those who would claim that Calvinism and evangelism/missions is incompatible. Haykin and Robinson show from Calvin’s own writings and sermons how he “made clear … that the outward call of salvation should be extended to every person within earshot of the proclamation of the Bible.” The historical examples of ministers who left the safety of Geneva to start Protestant works in hostile France and the New World and the lives of Jonathan Edwards and Samuel Pearce support this contention. The second reason stems from the innate value of knowing the history of Christian missions, of coming face to face with the people who, though weak and frail in themselves, strove to see the gospel move and transform the lives of people who had otherwise not known it. Their successes and their failures remind us that our faithfulness to God is valued by God over and beyond what we are able to bring to him and that the advancement of the gospel ultimately depends on him.

 

Whether Calvinist or not, stories of missions and missionaries are always beneficial to Christian readers today. They are a reminder that the Church with a capital “C” is bigger one group’s soteriology. They also remind us that our soteriology should motivate us to share the gospel, just like Calvin’s did.

 

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of review.

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