“Calvinism is the most potent agency in the evangelization of the world.” This quote, from a 1909 address by S.L. Morris, begins the Introduction of To The Ends Of The Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy, by Michael Haykin and C. Jeffrey Robinson Sr. And for good reason. Few who hold to the so-called “Calvinistic” view of God’s sovereignty in salvation have not faced the charge that the doctrines of grace, such as unconditional election and predestination, are (in the words of the Baptist historian William Estep, “logically anti-missionary.” The authors, Haykin and Robinson, set out to debunk this charge in this book, which is an examination of how Calvin, and those he has influenced in the history of Reformed thought, understood the importance of missions.
Haykin and Robinson begin the book by presenting the “problem”: “Calvin is a historical figure in desperate need of a public-relations makeover….For scores of modern-day evangelicals, Calvin is the ultimate megalomaniac…whose life and doctrines stood firmly opposed to missions and evangelism” (p. 16—all page references from the Kindle edition). After taking the Introduction to set up the opposition to Calvin and the system of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) to which his name has been affixed, the authors proceed to refute this charge over the next six chapters.
The first three chapters of the book are concerned with Calvin’s own writings and activities. Chapter 1, “For God So Loved The World,” is concerned with “Calvin’s Missional Exegesis”—that is, how Calvin interpreted and applied some of the key biblical texts pertaining to the love of God for all sinners and the mandate for Christians to reach the world with the Good News. Haykin and Robinson demonstrate that while Calvin was careful to allow the text and its context to determine the meaning of disputed words like “all,” not only was Calvin’s interpretation consistent with a universal offer of the Gospel but that a proper understanding of Calvin’s teaching of God’s “two wills” removes any conflict between indiscriminate evangelism and divine election. The second chapter then turns to an examination of Calvin’s doctrine of the kingdom and how it informed his understanding of missions. Here the authors highlight Calvin’s teaching on prayer and how it aids the spread of the Gospel, as well as his passion for Bible translation and distribution and for training and sending missionaries from his base in Geneva. The authors wrap up their examination of Calvin in the third chapter, which describes the Calvinistic missions to Catholic France in support of the Protestant Huguenots and to Brazil. Calvin, perhaps to the great surprise of many, was active in promoting often-deadly missionary work in his native France: “Calvin was vitally involved in every aspect of this missionary work. He taught the Scriptures to the budding ministers, oversaw their pastoral training in Geneva…examined them, and then presented them for ordination and commissioning to France” (p. 68). As for Brazil, while this mission was ultimately unsuccessful, Haykin and Robinson point out that Calvin’s role in its planning and sending—the Reformer personally chose most of the missionaries—shows his desire for the Gospel to reach the ends of the earth.
In the final three chapters of their book Haykin and Robinson turn to some of those who carried on Calvin’s theological tradition: the Puritans of the seventeenth century (chapter 4), Jonathan Edwards (chapter 5), and Samuel Pearce (chapter 6). In chapter 4, Haykin and Robinson introduce the Puritans as “a movement of spirituality” within Protestantism “united [by]…both their doctrine, Calvinism, and their conviction that every aspect of their spiritual lives came from the work of the Holy Spirit” (p. 77). The authors present the view of the historian David Bebbington who, according to Haykin and Robinson, argued that due to the Puritans’ “particular understanding of the doctrine of assurance” they “lacked activism” in comparison to later evangelicals, and that their “introspective piety…and the energy consumed in seeking to determine whether or not one was among the elect seriously hampered Puritan and Dissenting missionary endeavours” (p. 77). Haykin and Robinson disagree, however, pointing out that even Bebbington concedes they were “conversionist” (p. 79) and go on to cite evangelistic passages from the writings of numerous Puritans, particularly the Calvinistic or Particular Baptists, to demonstrate a concern not only for saving souls but for taking the Gospel “beyond their British horizon” (p. 89).
Chapter 5 contains an examination of Jonathan Edwards, who not only personally served as a missionary to the Mohican and Mohawk Indians, but greatly contributed to the promotion of Christian missions in later generations by his publication of two key books. The first, and perhaps better known today, is Edwards’ “Account of the Life of the Late Reverend Mr. David Brainerd,” who was Edwards’ son-in-law. However, Haykin and Robinson’s examination of the second work, whose long and unwieldy title has often been shortened to “Humble Attempt,” forms the climax of their chapter on Edwards. The authors argue that this work, inspired by the example of Scottish evangelicals who devoted regular seasons to prayer for revival and for the lost, was “instrumental in kindling a profoundly significant revival among the Calvinistic Baptists…and in initiating the modern missionary movement” (p. 97). In their sixth and final chapter, Haykin and Robinson survey the life and ministry of the English Puritan Samuel Pearce, who was “vitally involved in the formation of what would eventually be termed the Baptist Missionary Society, the womb of the modern missionary movement” (p. 110). In doing so the authors provide examples from his writings and sermons of his love for souls and concern for missions, making note of the fact that Pearce gamely and humbly accepted the decision of that Society to deny his own request to be sent to the mission field and continued to work tirelessly in support of missions from his location in the United Kingdom.
The only real weakness of the book is its lack of a conclusion. A concluding paragraph that attempts to wrap up the argument of the whole book appears at the end of Chapter 6, but to this reader it feels like the book ends somewhat abruptly. If the authors (or to be fair, perhaps this was an editorial decision) had opted to expand on the theme and tone of that final paragraph in a separate conclusion, the book and its argument would have been improved. That said, the authors’ intent is plain throughout the book and the evidence marshalled in its defence is frankly overwhelming.
Any Christian interested in church history in general, and in Reformation history and the history of Christian missions in particular, would greatly benefit from reading this book. Calvinistic Christians who hold to Calvin’s convictions about election, predestination, and irresistible grace will find much material here to reassure them in the face of other evangelicals who question the evangelistic and missiological value of their theology. Those considering missionary service themselves would be well-served by the practical spirituality presented throughout the book and especially in the final two chapters. Individualistic Western Christians, particularly, should read the story in Chapter 6 of the rejection of Samuel Pearce’s heartfelt application to go overseas, and his humble acceptance of that decision despite great disappointment, as an example to emulate in the life of the church.
Haykin and Robinson write in a clear and accessible style. The notes and bibliography at the end provide a wealth of potential study opportunities for those interested in going deeper on this subject. The authors have done the Reformed Christian community, and the entire church of Jesus Christ, a great service in writing this book. I’ve read it twice, being convicted and inspired both times, and I highly recommend it.