Book Review: To the Ends of the Earth, by Michael Haykin and C. Jeffrey Robinson Sr.
Michael A. G. Haykin and C. Jeffrey Robinson Sr., To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy. Crossway, 2014. 144 pages.
After conversing for several minutes about election and Ephesians 1, we were at an impasse. The churchgoer finally asked me in an exasperated voice, “Well, why would you even evangelize if that’s all true?”
For many of us in the reformed camp, we have grown accustomed to this type of response when we begin to share about God’s sovereign initiative in salvation. Calvinism and missions seem plainly antithetical to some. Add to this point the fact that historians and theologians regularly claim that John Calvin and his theological heirs were essentially anti-evangelistic and you have a recipe for a tradition in need of a makeover.
Michael Haykin and Jeffrey Robinson, however, challenge this notion in their book on Calvin’s missional vision and legacy, To the Ends of the Earth. Haykin and Robinson aim to tell the overlooked and neglected story of missionary zeal and activity within the reformed tradition. As they state in the preface, “Taken together, the chapters of this book seek to lay to rest the charge that to be a Calvinist is to cease being missional” (13). By looking at Calvin as well as 17th and 18th-century Calvinists who took up his mantle, the authors convincingly demonstrate that the reformed tradition has a rich legacy of missional endeavors.
REFORMED AND MISSIONAL?
To the Ends of the Earth is comprised of six chapters, the first three dealing with Calvin’s missional vision and the latter three dealing with later Calvinists who shared Calvin’s passion to see the gospel go forth to the nations. Haykin and Robinson helpfully show that reformed theology, far from being anti-missional, actually has a missionary thread running from Calvin through his successors and to our own day.
In chapter one, the authors delve into Calvin’s “missional exegesis” in order to show how his study of the Bible led him to be “decidedly pro-missions and pro-evangelism” (25). Haykin and Robinson draw attention to how Calvin dealt with God’s universal offer of salvation in light of his doctrine of predestination. For Calvin, there was no contradiction between the indiscriminate call for repentance and the recognition of God’s secret election, provided we confess that this “unfathomable mystery” lies outside our total comprehension.
In chapters two and three, Haykin and Robinson look at the theology undergirding Calvin’s view of missions and his actual practice in training and sending gospel workers. For Calvin, the certainty that Christ’s kingdom would ultimately triumph on the earth gave his thinking a dynamic, global flavor. Moreover, his understanding of prayer, particularly as it was influenced by 1 Timothy 2:1–2 and the Lord’s Prayer, meant that he desired God’s kingdom to come and churches to be planted around the world. While many readers will be familiar with Calvin’s tireless training and sending of ministers from Geneva, Haykin and Robinson also call attention to the lesser known and ultimately unsuccessful mission to Brazil in which Calvin played a role. Taken together, these chapters paint a far different portrait of Calvin than the one that is commonly assumed.
Chapters four through six further illustrate the abiding missionary impulse within the reformed tradition, as seen in the examples of the English Puritans, Calvinistic Baptists, Jonathan Edwards, and Samuel Pearce. In each case, Haykin and Robinson adeptly point out how these men treated their Calvinistic convictions as fuel for missionary zeal, rather than as an impediment.
A HELPFUL CORRECTIVE
Haykin and Robinson deserve credit for shining a spotlight on the missional legacy of Calvin and those who followed in his footsteps. Even for those of us who identify as Calvinists, we can begin to believe the lie that the doctrines of grace undercut evangelistic passion. So, use this book devotionally to stir up your own affections for missions and evangelism. Be reminded of the deep resources in the reformed tradition that can help you cultivate a heart to spread God’s glory among the nations. The saints mentioned in these pages will encourage you to leverage your reformed convictions in the service of missional longings and ambitions.
For those in your church considering or actively pursuing mission work, give them this book to sharpen their understanding of missions both historically and theologically. The final chapter, which tells the story of Samuel Pearce and his unfulfilled desires to go to India, might be particularly encouraging to those who find themselves in seasons of waiting on the Lord and his timing.
In some respects, To the Ends of the Earth can be viewed as the historical complement to J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. What Packer’s book did on a theological level to refute the charge that God’s sovereignty hinders evangelism, Haykin and Robinson’s book does on a historical level by looking at the actual theology and practice of certain Calvinists. For those wrestling through these issues in your church, recommend To the Ends of the Earth as a supplement to Packer’s classic.
Lastly, take note of the many examples of “missional praying” in the book and consider how you might incorporate such emphases in your church’s gatherings. What effect would it have on your congregation if your prayers together as a church regularly mentioned the advance of God’s kingdom and the spread of the gospel abroad? Don’t overlook the formative impact that corporate prayer can have on your church’s missional vision and zeal.
Haykin and Robinson have set the historical record straight concerning Calvinism and missions. Now the question becomes will we improve or squander the rich resources that lie within our own tradition?