Dr. Tom Ascol’s chapter “Calvinism Foundational For Evangelism and Missions” by David L. Allen
3. Testimony of History.
Dr. Ascol now turns his attention to address the testimony of history and argues that Calvinists were among the greatest missionaries and evangelists. This cannot be gainsaid. One of the mistakes often made by non-Calvinists is to assume or state that Calvinists are not evangelistic. This is an over-generalization and as such is simply not true. Some Calvinists are not evangelistic just like some Traditionalists are not evangelistic. But to generalize that Calvinists are not evangelistic is false.
Ascol contends in the remainder of his chapter, “Far from being a drag on missionary endeavors, Calvinism has actually been a catalyst for them” (280). To demonstrate his thesis, he briefly discusses the following: Calvin and the Puritans, George Whitefield, William Carey, Andrew Fuller, Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice.
Ascol asserts that Geneva under Calvin was a missionary and church planting center, with hundreds of missionaries being sent out across Europe and many French refugees being trained to return to their homeland to plant churches. It is one thing to send missionaries “across Europe,” but quite another to send them to foreign nations. The Magisterial Reformers’ record on the later, including Calvin, is weak at best. Grosart’s claim, which Ascol cites, that Richard Baxter was the most successful preacher and soul winner England ever had (281), coupled with Ascol’s claim that George Whitefield was the “greatest evangelist of the eighteenth century, both stand in need of a two-word qualification: John Wesley.
The last four names Dr. Ascol discusses are all famous Baptists known for their missionary spirit. I freely grant his point that all these men were Calvinists who exhibited missionary and evangelistic zeal. I do not grant his presupposition that all these men were Calvinists of Ascol’s stripe, i.e., five-point Calvinists.
William Carey’s story is legendary. Ascol mentions the Serampore Compact of 1805 which Carey and his fellow missionaries drew up as a summary of their guiding principles and its stress on God’s sovereignty in the missionary enterprise (283). But consider what this compact says in one place:
Fifthly. In preaching to the heathen, we must keep to the example of Paul, and make the greatest subject of our preaching, Christ Crucified. It would be very easy for a missionary to preach nothing but truths, and that for many years together, without any well-grounded hope of becoming useful to one soul. The doctrine of Christ’s expiatory death and all-sufficient merits has been, and must ever remain, the grand mean of conversion. This doctrine, and others immediately connected with it, have constantly nourished and sanctified the church. Oh, that these glorious truths may ever be the joy and strength of our own souls, and then they will not fail to become the matter of our conversation to others. It was the proclaiming of these doctrines that made the Reformation from Popery in the time of Luther spread with such rapidity. It was these truths that filled the sermons of the modern Apostles, Whitefield, Wesley, etc., when the light of the Gospel which had been held up with such glorious effects by the Puritans was almost extinguished in England. It is a well-known fact that the most successful missionaries in the world at the present day make the atonement of Christ their continued theme. We mean the Moravians. They attribute all their success to the preaching of the death of our Saviour. So far as our experience goes in this work, we must freely acknowledge, that every Hindoo among us who has been gained to Christ, has been won by the astonishing and all-constraining love exhibited in our Redeemer’s propitiatory death. O then may we resolve to know nothing among Hindoos and Mussulmans [Muslims] but Christ and Him crucified. (http://www.wholesomewords.org/missions/bcarey13.html)
Notice Carey’s reference to “Christ’s expiatory death and all-sufficient merits.” Notice Carey includes Wesley with Whitfield who preached “these doctrines.” Notice his reference to the Moravians as being “the most successful missionaries in the world at the present day” and keep in mind the fact that they were not Calvinistic and affirmed an unlimited atonement. Notice finally Carey’s reference to the “all-constraining love exhibited in our Redeemer’s propitiatory death.”
Consider also this quotation from Carey in a letter dated April 10, 1796:
I preach every day to the Natives, and twice on the Lord’s Day constantly, besides other itinerant labours, and I try to speak of Jesus Christ and him crucified, and of him alone, but my soul is often much dejected to see no fruit. This morning I preached to a number from “to know the Love of God which passeth knowledge”. I was much affected myself, filled with grief and anguish of Heart, because I knew they were going to Idolatrous and Mohammedan feasts immediately after, this being the first day of the Hindu Year; and the new Moon Ramadan of the Mohammedans. They are going I suppose to their Abominations at this moment, but I hope to preach to them again in the evening. I spoke of the Love of God in bearing with his Enemies, in supporting and providing for them, in sending his Son to die for them, and in sending the Gospel to them, and in saving many of them from eternal Wrath. (The Journal and Selected Letters of William Carey, ed. Terry G. Carter [Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000], 85. Emphasis mine.)
Also consider this letter from Carey to Andrew Fuller dated November 1800 where Carey explains to Fuller how he shared the gospel with several of the people in one of the villages:
You and I, and all of us are Sinners, and we are in a helpless state but I have good things to tell you. God in the riches of his Mercy became incarnate, in the form of Man. He lived more than thirty years on earth without Sin and was employed in doing good. He gave sight to the Blind, healed the Sick, the lame, the Deaf and the Dumb – and after all died in the stead of Sinners. We deserved the wrath of God, but he endured it. We could make no sufficient atonement for our guilt but he compleatly made an end of Sin and now he has sent us to tell you that the Work is done and to call you to faith in, and dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ibid., 149. Emphasis mine.)
In these two quotes, it sounds like Carey is making “the bold proclamation,” saying that God sent his Son to die for them (all in his lost audience) and other “enemies,” some of which (not all) are saved from eternal wrath. If Carey accepts limited substitution (limited atonement), he would have to be equivocating on the term “sinners” and fudge on the inclusive term “we,” as if he really didn’t mean all those in his audience.
I am not at all convinced that Carey was a full-fledged card-carrying member of the high-Calvinist order with respect to limited atonement as Ascol appears to assume.