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Greatest Century of Missions, review

Peter Hammond. The Greatest Century of Missions. Cape Town, South Africa: Christian Liberty Books, 1982. pb. 146 pp.

I read this book over Christmas break and have been waiting since then to post something about it. It is such a good book, I have kept putting off writing “until I could really do it justice.” Well, that time may never come so here is an attempt.

This is a dynamic discussion of missions, well-written and crafted to inspire, motivate and challenge. This is not dry, abstract discussion. This is moving sermonic book.

The overall point of the book is to ask what inspired the great missionary thrust of the 19th century so that we might seek to have another such bold advance today. He briefly lays out the evidence for the claim that the 19th century was the greatest century of missions (Carey, Livingstone, etc.). Then he first notes three key, common characteristics of missionaries at this time:
1. Sacrifice and Service- He makes the point that they saw sacrifice and hardship as simply part of the call, and therefore willingly endured things which are hard for us to imagine today. Hammond here chastises our pursuit of comfort.

Hammond writes: “A mission organisation wrote to David Livingstone asking: ‘Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to send other men to join you.’ Livingstone replied: ‘If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come even if there is no road at all.’” (p. 6)

2. They were interested in body, mind and soul. They were not simply seeking professions of faith, but they sought to see the gospel transform all of society. He points to Carey as an example as he sought not only to start churches but to set up schools and to effect local laws.

3. They had an eschatology of victory. He basically is referring to post-millenialism. They expected to see the gospel change the world, instead of expecting the world to deteriorate as so many today do. In the end I am not convinced of post-millenialism, but we ought to learn something about expecting to see the gospel advance instead of the overly pessimistic expectation sometimes produced by certain brands of pre-millenialism. The hope of victory is what drove these pioneers of the past onward, what convinced them that any sacrifice was worth it.

He quotes William Carey- “. . .We are neither working at uncertainty nor afraid for the result. . . He must reign until Satan has not an inch of territory!” (p. 8)Later (chapter 5) he makes the argument that Reformed theology (particularly the sovereignty of God in salvation) is what empowered this great mission advance.

All of these are useful points. The best part of the book though is recounting of missionary examples. Some you probably have heard of before, but having them all in one “well told” source is great. This would be a good book to hand to people to challenge them to think more seriously about our obligation to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

This is long enough for now. So I will post some further quotes in subsequent posts.

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