Friday, May 23, 2014

To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy

Calvin and Missions: The Reformer's Great Commission VisionCalvin and Missions: The Reformer's Great Commission Vision by Michael A Haykin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy by Michael Haykin and C. Jeffrey Robinson has a personal feel for me.  As someone who called, in some manner, to foreign missions while simultaneously being one whom embraces a “theology of sovereign grace, complete with its doctrines of predestination and election”, I have often been confronted by church members who cannot fathom how my life and my theology are to be reconciled.  To many the doctrine of election and the activity of evangelism and missions are antithetical at best; hypocritical nonsense if bold enough to voice what is actually felt.

So I was excited to see this work available from Crossway.  Now, even as much as I enjoy history and historical theology, I was not really concerned with John Calvin in and of himself.  What I was interested in was seeing a good defense of the compatibility, really the necessary connection, of Calvin’s view of sovereign grace and the missional zeal with which he lived and taught.  Gratefully, that is what I found.  The aim of this work is “to lay to rest the charge that to be a Calvinist is to cease being missional. The leading subjects of this book are all Calvinists—and as shall be seen, all passionately missional.”

The charge consistently brought against those who embrace election, predestination, and the like is that Calvin’s theology necessarily impedes missions.  Haykin and Robinson argue to the contrary.

Calvin’s theology was actually no impediment to his own missionary activities, but, rather, 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. Despite his reputation, Calvin was no stay-at-home theologian, and his theology was by no means a do-nothing worldview.

Haykin and Robinson spend some time showing why Calvin was interested in missions and then showing how this moved from the theoretical to the practical in France, under intense persecution, and in Brazil, albeit in a rather unsuccessful way.  After looking at Puritan involvement in missions and Edwards’ “Humble Attempt” to unite the Christian world in missional prayer, the last chapter looks at the passion for missions of Samuel Pearce.  You don’t know who he is?!?  Neither did I, but this seems like one believer from history with whom we would all benefit becoming acquainted.

Though scarcely known today, Samuel Pearce was in his own day well known for the anointing that attended his preaching and for the depth of his spirituality. It was said of him that “his ardour . . . gave him a kind of ubiquity; as a man and a preacher, he was known, he was felt everywhere.” William Jay (1769–1853), who exercised an influential ministry in Bath for the first half of the nineteenth century, said of his contemporary’s preaching, “When I have endeavoured to form an image of our Lord as a preacher, Pearce has oftener presented himself to my mind than any other I have been acquainted with.” He had, Jay went on, a “mildness and tenderness” in his style of preaching, and a “peculiar unction.” Jay wrote these words many years after Pearce’s death, but still, he said, he could picture Pearce in his mind’s eye and feel the impression that he made upon his hearers as he preached. Ever one to appreciate the importance of having spiritual individuals as one’s friends, Jay made this comment about the last time that he saw Pearce alive: “What a savour does communion with such a man leave upon the spirit.”

The recounting of an episode where,“(n)ot afraid to appear as one lacking in homiletical skill, especially in the eyes of his fellow pastors, Pearce in his zeal for the spiritual health of all his hearers had sought to minister as best he could to this “poor man” who had arrived late,” quite nearly brought me to tears.  That page alone is worth the money and time you will invest in this work.

A “central aim” of To the Ends of the Earth is “to demonstrate that there is a Calvinistic tradition of missionary passion that goes back from pioneers of the modern missionary movement, like Carey and Pearce, through the Puritans to the Reformed fountainhead in the writings and labors of John Calvin and, as such, puts to rest the myth that one cannot be both Calvinistic and missional.”

But, the authors are not content to prove that there is a historical basis for missions in a Reformed mindset, but that this work is also a “call to those who rejoice in their Calvinism to be sure that they are equally passionate about missions and evangelism.”  Right doctrine leads to right living.  And living a life focused on glorifying God to the ends of the earth is, most definitely, right living.

I received a copy of this book from Crossway for review purposes.

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