Review: An Enquiry

William Carey, 1792, 85 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Every Christian interested in missions should read William Carey’s An Enquiry. The word “enquiry” means investigation. In this book, Carey examines missions in a way never done before. The full name of the book is An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.

The book has five sections. Section One is the Argument, where he answers over a dozen objections to cross-cultural missions. Section Two is the Review, where he surveys the history of missions up to that point. Not a whole lot there. Section Three is the Statistical Survey. Map-making was a hobby of Carey’s. At the time of writing, the world population was just north of 700 million. Today it is 7.8 billion. Section Four is the Challenge, the part of the book I enjoyed the most. Section Five is the Program, where Carey gives practical ways the church can move forward in missions.

Four Reasons to Read the Book

First, William Carey is the GOAT. Many agree Carey is the greatest missionary of all time. He’s the father of modern missions. He kicked off the greatest missions movement the world has ever seen. God used this book to stir missionary zeal among pastors and parishioners. Carey has more ethos than any other missionary author. Loving missions but never having read An Enquiry is like being a student of the violin but having never heard Itzhak Perlman play.

Second, An Enquiry is short. Most versions only have about 85 pages, which includes large margins. The PDF version I have, which cuts out the second and third sections, is only 10 pages, single spaced. You can get the book on Kindle for free.

Third, An Enquiry is logical. Logic used to be a standard requirement in the pastoral training curriculum. Not any more. I’ve had over a dozen years of theological training. I’ve never taken a class on logic. Carey is very clear in his thinking. He anticipates the most common arguments against missions, then answers them one by one. For example, consider this sentence from Section One:

“Where a command exists nothing can be necessary to render it binding but a removal of those obstacles which render obedience impossible, and these are removed already.”

That’s not an easy sentence to follow. Essentially what he is saying is that if a mother commands her child to exit his room but his little legs will not allow him to reach the door handle, then he is not obligated to leave the room. But as soon as this “obstacle” is removed and an adult gives the child a stool, then obedience is mandatory. In the same way, though Scripture may command Christians to take the Scriptures around the whole world, this may not be binding in every era should there be obstacles in the way. There may be no maps of the world, or no means to travel etc. But by Carey’s time, those obstacles had been removed and now the church is obligated. The church is on the hook.

Fourth, An Enquiry is inspiring and practical. How can one not be motivated to missions after reading Carey’s pleas for Great Commission work. He does not close his book in theory. He gives practical ways to move forward, which included starting a Baptist mission society, intense prayer and financial support for the world evangelists.

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