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

Michael A.G. Haykin and C. Jeffrey Robinson, Jr. To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 144 pp. $15.99. Amazon |

ToEndsEarth“Calvinism is opposed to missions.” “Oh you’re a Calvinist? Then evangelism must not be your thing.” “Since you believe in limited atonement, obviously you don’t prioritize sharing the gospel with the nations.” These statements, lobbied against Calvinist affirming Christians, are all too familiar. The charge that Calvinism, and its (unintended) progenitor, are opposed to missions and evangelism. Michael Haykin (Southern Seminary) and Jeffrey Robinson (The Gospel Coalition) provide a brief, yet enjoyable, text that historically demonstrate the opposite: John Calvin and those who claim his legacy were not squeamish about missions—they led the way.

John Calvin’s training school for pastors, and subsequent paradigm for sending these pastors to evangelize the nations, is often overlooked. Important to understand for Calvin’s context is that in Calvin’s mind, Roman Catholics were in need of evangelism. A supposed Christian European nation was in need of revival and a full understanding of the gospel of God’s grace. The authors observes, “Calvin…was not satisfied to be involved in simply reforming the church. He was tireless in seeking to make the influence of the church felt in the affairs of the surrounding society and thus make God’s rule a reality in that area of human life as well (54).” This began with prayer and the consistent preaching of the Word. These are to be the first means of evangelism for Christians. This is not insular focus, but rather, affirms the need to put God’s revelation and primary means of transformation at the forefront of missional endeavors. As the authors assert, any reader of Calvin’s sermons and commentaries will observe an explicit call for the extension of God’s Kingdom through the intentional actions of God’s people. For Calvin, his native France was the first target for evangelism. Subsequent missions to the new world demonstrate how Calvin-trained pastors were at the forefront of gospel advance.

From here, the authors provide a glancing look at the Puritan mentality in advancing the gospel. In numerous Puritan writings, there is a clear concern to witness to the unconverted. For the Puritans, like Calvin, this could not be done apart from intentional prayer and the diligent preaching of Scripture. Likewise, the life of Jonathan Edwards in 18th-century New England demonstrates a concern for the unconverted, and a championing of those who promoted the task of evangelism. His relationships with George Whitfield and David Brainerd reveal a deep affection for these evangelism-hearted men. These men, including their preaching and theology, reveal a direct affirmation of the doctrines of grace in the legacy of Calvin. The 18th century English Baptist minister, Samuel Pearce, displays a lifestyle of missions. Surrounding by the likes of Andrew Fuller, William Carey, and John Ryland among others, Pearce and his Calvinist colleagues reveal a heart for the lost. Such a heart was not stifled by reformed doctrine—it was fueled by it!

Michael Haykin and Jeff Robinson have produced a helpful, though brief, history of missions within the legacy of Calvin and reformed theology. It is not comprehensive, nor is it a constructive missiology from a reformed perspective. That is not its intention. Responding to claims that Calvinism opposes missions and evangelism, Haykin and Robinson, through the testimony of numerous individuals, have soundly proved the contrary.As a historian, it was a fun and informing read. Those seeking to understand the relationship between Calvinism and missions, should read this text. For a history of missions course, whether at church or in college classrooms, this text should be considered. Missions and evangelism is a gospel call upon all believers. Calvin and many who followed in his theological footsteps agree.

Thanks to Crossway Books for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!


Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families

C. Ben Mitchell and D. Joy Riley.Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2014. 224 pp. $24.99. Amazon | Barnes &

515zqopfEQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_At the beginning of his Christian Personal Ethics, Carl Henry quips, “The question of right and wrong elbows itself into prominence wherever human beings exist.” (p. 21). Issues of morality intersect at every road of human life, including questions regarding medicine and the body. In Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families, C. Ben Mitchell and D. Joy Riley provide a road map for the the numerous intersections between morality and medicine, particularly from a Christian perspective. Theirs is a helpful and stimulating introduction to the main bioethical issues facing humanity, relating how Christians can enter the conversation from a biblical point of view. Every Christian reader will benefit from this text as it touches on issues every Christian must eventually face including death and dying, aging, infertility, abortion and more. The conversational tone will engage a multiplicity of readers, and the reliance upon recent research and case studies will make this book relevant for years to come.

The book takes a dialogical approach, with the authors engaging one another by asking questions and probing deeper into issues via dialogue. Many readers will appreciate this, though some may not. The authors confirm their commitments to Christian orthodoxy as a platform for ethical dialogue (p. 4–5).  Chapters 1 and 2 (Part 1) establish a Christian framework for bioethical discussion. Here the authors lament the decline of the Hippocratic oath as a foundation for modern medical practice. From this point, the authors provide three additional parts helpfully titled Taking Life (Part 2), Making Life (Part 3), and Remaking/Faking Life (Part 4). Each chapter begins with a relevant case study and questions for reflection before diving into the heart of the discussion. This allows readers to reflect on their own response to a given situation before hearing what the authors wish to say. This format also lends itself to small group discussion. Throughout the text, the authors reflect on recent medical research and provide a primer on the current consensus regarding the bioethical issues in question. Also helpful are basic biological explanations for certain procedures including IVF (in vitro fertilization) and the process of cloning. On this note, the graphs and illustrations could have used a professional touch, as they seem to come straight from a Power Point presentation. This is an aesthetic comment, however, and has nothing to do with the content.

The majority of the technical medical discussion comes from D. Joy Riley, while C. Ben Mitchell provides helpful Christian categories for thinking on these issues. Both are trained in the field of medical ethics, training which is evident throughout the text. That being said, both interact well across the entire spectrum of bioethical issues represented here from a Christian perspective. Biblical interaction is more generous in some chapters than others, and some may wish to see more. These authors provide readers with a launching pad to reflect on bioethical issues from a Christian perspective. Missing is a deeper reflection on Scripture, history and theology. With this in mind, the end of each chapter affords readers with a handful of texts and articles for those wanting deeper analysis. Mitchell and Riley champion the imago dei and a biblical anthropology. This position undergirds their commitment to humanity not simply for humanity’s sake, but as a unique creation from a unique Creator. The range of responses to bioethical issues demonstrates that theological considerations are rare among the crowd. Mitchell and Riley help readers to find a Christian voice amidst the modern cacophony of bioethics. They close by saying, “The cost of commodifying our humanity is losing our humanity.” (p. 187). If nothing else, this conclusion makes Christian Bioethics a worthy purchase for any Christian reader.

Thanks to B&H Publishers for a free review copy in exchange for an honest review!

The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen

Ryan M. McGraw. The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014. 136 pp. $10.00. Amazon | Barnes & | Reformation Heritage Books

John Owen offers the world a prolific treasury of theological riches. This 17th century English non-conformist renaissance man provided a richly biblical and affectionate reply to the theological controversies of his day.[1] Recognizing that the work of John Owen is little known outside very compact theological circles, Carl Trueman remarks, “This is unfortunate, for Owen was without doubt the most significant theological intellect in England in the third quarter of the seventeenth century, and one of the two or three most impressive Protestant theologians in Europe at the time.”[2] Ryan M. McGraw, likewise, recognizes this paucity of Owen recognition. Therefore his book, The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen, seeks to introduce a wider audience to the theological brilliance and biblical spirituality of this most accomplished thinker. This accessible volume, published by Reformation Heritage Books in the Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series, gives readers an entry point into understanding and appreciating the theological mind of John Owen.

Divided into three sections and forty-one short chapters, McGraw draws from selections of Owen’s writings to demonstrate his rich Trinitarian piety. Missing in this text is a more robust engagement with Owen’s thought, so interested readers should look elsewhere for such a text. For that interested person, McGraw provides three brief but helpful appendices with a reading strategy for Owen, as well as timeline of his published works, and a starting place for secondary sources on Owen. The majority of the text is devoted to short edited chapters from Owen which speak to his richly affectionate language for the love of God. These short chapters read almost like a John Owen devotional, yet are more than just a helpful “thought for the day.” Owen moves from deep ruminations on our communion with Christ, to the necessity of the Spirit in the life of the believer, to profound reflections on the love of the Father. Regarding worship Owen maintains, “The proper and peculiar object of divine worship and invocation is the essence of God, in its infinite excellency, dignity, majesty, and its causality, as the first sovereign cause of all things” (58). Regarding the weightiness of the Lord’s Supper Owen remarks, “The principal design of the gospel is to declare to us the love and grace of Christ and our reconciliation to God by His blood. Howbeit, herein there is such an eminent representation of them as cannot be made by words.” (129).

The previous quotations reveal one of the potential stumbling block in making the book accessible—Owen himself. The language, while not being overly abstract, is not a kind of English most of us encounter on an everyday basis. Additionally, this introduction to the writings of Owen may not be the first book you hand a new believer. It can, however, serve as a personal devotional piece or even a text for a discussion group or spiritual mentoring relationship. The richness of theological truth represented in Owen represents the fundamental facets of the Christian faith, therefore all readers should appreciate and seek to learn from this learned voice within Christian history. As such, Owen sets the bar high for readers, but McGraw does an admirable job of helping hoist readers up to that bar. This text is an impactful volume as McGraw lets Owen speak for himself, mining the depths of Owen’s thought to present a readable introduction to the piety of this still little known Christian sage of the seventeenth century.

Thanks to Reformation Heritage Books for providing a free review copy in exchange for an honest review!

[1]The title “renaissance man” comes from the title of Carl Trueman’s biography of Owen entitled John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Hampshire, England: Ashgate, 2007).

[2]Trueman, John Owen, 1.