Make Disciples of All Nations

Page 13


1619. This same Dutch Reformed pietism saw in the far-flung efforts of the Dutch East India Company to SE Asian regions such as the present Sri Lanka and Indonesia (formerly Portuguese territories) an opportunity for company chaplains to do missionary work among the native peoples. This happened before Eliot and Mayhew were at work in Massachusetts. Thanks to Jonathan Edwards, we are left with the diary of David Brainerd. What kind of legacy did Brainerd leave behind in his efforts to preach the gospel to the Indians? Globally, the missionary devotion and example of Brainerd was transmitted by President Edwards’ Memoir of Brainerd. We know for a fact that it was in turn influential in fixing the outlook of subsequent missionaries to the East such as William Carey and Henry Martyn. Calvinistic Baptists were among the pioneers of the modern missionary cause. What was the significance of William Carey’s mission to India and the foundation of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792? Carey in particular, but also his circle including such persons as Andrew Fuller, were fully cognizant of earlier Reformation-based missionary effort – both in Massachusetts and in South India. Carey and his circle organized a non-ecclesiastical society of the like-minded that would, in due course, act like a

‘leaven’ to influence their (and other) denominations to officially sponsor overseas missions. How did William Carey handle the protest from hyper-Calvinists that “when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without you”? There is actually some dispute as to whether these words of spoken objection were actually uttered. But if they were spoken, they were not necessarily the sentiments of an indolent Christian. There was an old Reformed attitude, left over from before the days of transoceanic exploration, that—since God is free to do all things—He might also have a way of saving those beyond human reach. But Carey and his circle, full of the new knowledge of the world mediated through the published travel journals of Captain Cook, understood and were made confident of the fact that nations not long before reckoned “beyond reach” were now, in the days of regular transoceanic navigation, made accessible. It was time for the right use of means. Many Southern Baptists today argue that a zeal for Calvinism has undermined missions. From a historical standpoint, does such a charge hold water? My personal view is that the reason why these charges were not made longer ago than 1960 is that before that time, fair-minded observers of world missions could plainly observe that missionaries of Calvinist sympathies were more than pull-

ing their weight. The noted missionary scholar Samuel Zwemer pointed out in 1952 (for instance) that Calvinists had been the pioneers of Protestant missions to Arab and Muslim societies. Such charges, when made today, strongly suggest ignorance of the historical record. Are you encouraged by what you see in our day when it comes to Calvinists taking the gospel to the lost throughout the world? Where might there be areas of improvement? This is a difficult question. As a Presbyterian, I cannot speak for what is taking place in the SBC. But I am conscious that the missionary energies (as well as other energies) of the church in the West are being sapped by materialism and that, in this existing context, scarce congregational resources are being diverted more and more into short-term missionary ‘stints.’ Moreover, not all evangelical and Reformed seminaries are maintaining their former levels of instruction in missions in this era of budgetary constraints. At very least, this is no time for evangelical Calvinists to be resting on the bare historical record of how our convictions have, in past, promoted missionary sacrifice; we must demonstrate that these same principles are operative now. Kenneth Stewart is Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College. He is the author of Ten Myths About Calvinism (IVP). | 13