The question of “Why evangelize?” is one which is often leveled against Calvinism. After all, it is reasoned, if people are fore-ordained to be elect or one of the damned, then why bother to go out and evangelize them? Interestingly, this is a charge which I think may be leveled against virtually any view of foreknowledge, so the Calvinist answers given in To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy have relevance for those of other backgrounds (like me, a Lutheran).
The book begins with a survey of the arguments made to suggest that Calvinism would not endorse evangelism or makes evangelism pointless. Clearly, the charge has come from many fronts throughout the history of the church. Then, Haykin and Robinson introduce the primary reason for others’ concerns about Calvinism’s evangelical prospects: that Calvin believed God had ordained some to be elect, and others to be damned, before the foundations of the world.
The authors defend the doctrine, taking on many of the key “all” passages which some argue make explicit the openness of salvation to all individual people. Calvin is brought to his own defense alongside a number of modern Calvinist theologians, ably presenting the Calvinist case for exegesis of these key passages, which basically is that when “all” or “world” is used, it is referring to the breaking open of salvation for all tribes and nations as opposed to merely the chosen people of Israel. The book goes beyond these basics and also outlines how other passages might be understood in this context.
Next, the authors turn to an exposition of Calvin’s theology of missions. Part of this theology was the notion that a Christian life lived was a profound witness to the Gospel. Word and deed were central to Calvin’s missions theology. This missional activity was to be for all people (Kindle location 993). Prayer was also central to Calvin’s theology, as he believed that it might be used by God to bring about change in persons (rather than change in God).
Historical Reformed missions are surveyed in the next sections. Calvin taught many going into France and certain torture and death if discovered, and even made significant efforts towards (ultimately failing) missions into Brazil. These efforts showed that through his actions, Calvin himself valued global missions.
Later Calvinist traditions and persons also demonstrated the urge to missions that the Reformer’s theology compelled. The Puritans sought to evangelize and frequently prayed for the same, though they may not have had the success of other contemporaries. Calvinist Baptists in England feverishly evangelized and planted churches, while also demonstrating concern for global evangelism (Kindle loc. 1420ff). Jonathan Edwards, contrary to some opinions, was also focused on missions by developing his own missional theology and also going on a mission to Native Americans himself.
The book closes with thoughts on “developing missional passion” through observations about Samuel Pearce, a theologian known in his time for fervent prayer and love of missions. Central to Pearce’s theology was the cross; Christ crucified was “his darling theme from first to last”; while the other primary theme of his life was a “passion for the salvation of his fellow human beings” (Kindle loc. 1978).
To the Ends of the Earth is a great, pithy read on a topic that should be of interest to many from a diverse array of backgrounds. It has appeal which goes beyond Calvinism in the way it demonstrates missions ought to be of central importance and also in its justification of missions even in light of the notion that there really do exist an elect people. Of course, the thrust of the book is to demonstrate that Calvinist theology does not undermine the need or motivation for missions. Those interested in that topic will find the most to benefit from the book. Regardless of one’s level of interest, however, the book generates its own avenues for exploration by introducing several little-known figures and historical events for further reading. It is short enough to enjoy in a single afternoon (as I did), yet deep enough to keep one’s mind occupied for some time afterwards.
Perhaps the greatest weakness of the book, however, is its length in that there is little ultimate exposition of the counter-arguments to those who would fault Calvinism with lack of evangelical fervor. That is, readers are often left to tie the arguments off themselves instead of having them drawn out and defended. This, however, is a minor fault in what is an otherwise excellent book, regardless of one’s position on the arguments made therein. It was well worth the read, in my humble opinion.
Michael Haykin and C. Jeffrey Robinson, Sr., To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.
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