The Mangled Narrative Of Missions And Evangelism In The Reformation -- By: Ray Van Neste

Journal: Southeastern Theological Review
Volume: STR 08:2 (Fall 2017)
Article: The Mangled Narrative Of Missions And Evangelism In The Reformation
Author: Ray Van Neste


The Mangled Narrative Of Missions And Evangelism In The Reformation

Ray Van Neste

Union University

In the nineteenth century, Gustav Warneck, often considered the father of missiology, argued that the Reformers had no concern for missions. This idea has been picked up and repeated by a long series of evangelical missions textbooks and popular writings. However, there is a significant amount of research on the Reformers that disproves this widely held idea. This article examines Warneck’s arguments exposing various weaknesses. Second, it examines the writings and work of Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin, noting the significant concern for the spread of the gospel throughout the world.

Key Words: evangelism, Gustav Warneck, John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Martin Luther, missions, Reformation.

Over the past century, many of the books dealing with the history of Christian missions have declared, with varying degrees of certainty, that the Protestant Reformers were derelict in their duty to spread the gospel throughout the entire world. Writers have accused the Reformers of both inactivity and indifference. This unverified opinion has become a virtual certainty among the popular audience. However, is this a fair assessment of what the Reformers did and taught? In this essay I will trace the history of this deleterious account of the Reformers in regard to missions and evangelism, critique the methodology of this view, and then present the writings and actions of three Reformers: Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin.

A Negative Interpretation

The Reformation has long been considered by Protestants as a great spiritual revival and doctrinal renewal of the church. However, some writers have argued that the Reformers failed to grasp the missionary imperative of the church and have even accused the Reformers of leading the church astray. This view appears to originate with German missiologist Gustav Warneck (1834-1910), a pastor and missions enthusiast whom many regard as the father of Protestant missiology. In his influential survey, Outline of the History of Protestant Missions from the Reformation to the Present

Time, Warneck stated that although the conclusion was “painful,” nevertheless it is clear that Luther and Calvin’s “view of the missionary task of the church was essentially defective.”1 Warneck concedes that Luther preached the gospel earnestly himself, but “nowhere does Luther indicate the heathen as the objects of evangelistic work.”2 Furthermore, Luther “never ...

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