by Ron Davies
Davies discusses five pioneers who had a profound influence on mission thinking and activity years before Carey took up his pen: Jan Amos Comenius, Richard Baxter, Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards and Count Zinzendorf.
Christian Focus Publications, Fearn, Tain, Ross-Shire, Scotland, 2002, 144 pages. $10.99.
—Reviewed by Kevin S. McWilliams, director, Intercultural Studies program, Columbia International University, Columbia, S.C.
What? William Carey was not the Father of Modern Missions?
The Protestant missionary movement or “modern missions” history is said to have begun in 1792 with William Carey. Though the Reformation began in 1517, there was little to no mission vision or activity until Carey published his Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. At least, that is how the story usually goes.
Ron Davies, in a short, clearly written volume, reminds us this is not necessarily the case. Davies discusses five pioneers who had a profound influence on mission thinking and activity years before Carey took up his pen: Jan Amos Comenius, Richard Baxter, Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards and Count Zinzendorf. Though less known or not typically associated with mission, each was passionate about the spread of the gospel around the world.
Each of the five pioneer thinkers is introduced through a brief biographical sketch which is followed by a discussion of their heart for mission and the contributions they made. Com-enius, born in 1592 in Moravia, is known for his education reforms. But Comenius also argued for “the use of education as a missionary method.” Baxter was a highly effective local pastor in England but also did all he could to support the missionary work of John Eliot in New England. He even envisioned a school for preparing missionaries to go to all nations. In his own words, Baxter says, “No part of my prayers are so deeply serious as that for the conversion of the infidel and ungodly world” (p. 54).
Mather was a missionary biographer and was involved in the work of German Pietist missionaries in Asia. Davies claims that Edwards can be spoken of as “missionary theologian, missionary biographer, missionary trainer, missionary strategist, missionary administrator, missionary advocate—and missionary.” (p. 80). And Zinzendorf led the great Moravian missionary advance beginning in 1732. By the time of his death in 1760, 226 missionaries had been sent out to twenty-six countries—some thirty years before Carey’s Enquiry.
In his helpful conclusion, Davies considers the impact each of these five had on William Carey through their writings and own mission activity. A fascinating comparative time chart and several pages of further reading are also included in the volume.
It is difficult to overlook the powerful impact William Carey had on the Protestant missionary movement. His place in history as the Father of Modern Missions is probably still safe. A Heart for Mission effectively reminds us, however, that God was also at work during the years leading up to 1792. He was, through these five thinkers and others, laying the foundation upon which Carey, and eventually we, would later build.
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