“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!