On today’s episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols is joined by Michael Haykin to discuss John Calvin’s view of missions.
John Calvin’s view of missions
Stephen Nichols (SN): Today we are again visiting with someone who was with us just a little bit ago, Dr. Michael Haykin. Dr. Haykin, good to have you with us.
Michael Haykin (MH): Good to be here.
SN: Dr. Haykin is professor of church history and biblical spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. And last time we talked about his book 8 Women of Faith, published by Crossway. We are going to be talking about another book he published with Crossway called To the Ends of the Earth. Now, Dr. Haykin, that book is about the history of missions and significant figures who contributed to our thinking on missions or were missionaries themselves. But there is something they all have in common: they are all from the Reformed tradition. And some people would say that is an oxymoronic thing to have Reformed theologians talking about missions. Would you care to respond to that?
MH: I think the book grew out of the fact that there has been significant upsurge in the embrace of Reformed truth in the last twenty-five, forty years, and along with that there has been pushback that this is not good for the church. It is not good for the church because it is supposedly well known that the Reformed tradition is not interested in missions. We don’t do missions well. To me, that’s a very, very narrow mind-set. Narrow because it fails to understand the fact that in church history, the missionary movement—going back through people like William Carey, some of the Puritans, back to the Reformers—has been strongly populated by people of the Reformed tradition. We begin with John Calvin, who stands in some regard as the fountainhead of the tradition. He wouldn’t be happy with the nomenclature Calvinistic because he would have seen himself as one of a number who were contributing to the recovery of biblical truth. But as you look at Calvin’s writings, you get this sense of a man who had a global vision. You see it especially in one area, very interestingly, in his prayers. When he would preach, the elders in Geneva had designated a number of individuals—particularly a man named Denis Raguenier, nobody remembers him today—to copy down everything Calvin said in the pulpit and . . .
MH: You’d have to write fast and remember, he’s doing this with a quill pen, putting it in a pot of ink. And at a certain point Calvin would say, “Now, let us turn to the Lord,” and at that point, his sermon was finished and he was about to pray. And we are deeply thankful that Raguenier did not put his pen down. He recorded the prayers of Calvin, and as you read them, you can hear a man praying for what he had just preached, that it would impact the congregation, but it would also have an impact on Europe and the world. You can hear Calvin praying for the gospel to go forth around the world. Now, one of the reasons that the Reformers are accused of not being missionary is because they didn’t undertake missions in their day. In one sense that is true, if you are talking about crosscultural missions outside of Europe; there are very few instances of that. Part of that’s because they didn’t have the resources—Geneva is landlocked, unlike, say, the great powers of Spain and Portugal that had vast navies. But also it’s because Calvin, as he looked at Europe, did not see a Christian continent. What he saw was Christendom, with the Christian faith a mile wide and an inch deep, and he realized that he had to plant churches in Europe before he would ever think about global.
SN: The mission field for Calvin was Europe.
MH: Exactly. And so he trained upward of twelve hundred, maybe as many as fifteen hundred, pastors to go, particularly to France, to plant churches.
SN: You know, Calvin lived in Geneva but his heart was always for his native France.
SN: And you see that in his heartbeat. Well, the story ends with Calvin and continues there. Grateful for that book, To the Ends of the Earth, and thank you for being with us.
MH: Thank you.
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