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. Continue reading →
You’d be surprised how many books on missions never get around to actually defining “missions” or “missionary”.
John Piper’s acclaimed book on missions, Let the Nations Be Glad, waits until the second to last page to give a somewhat nebulous definition of a missionary: “A missionary is someone who goes out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.” David Doran’s definition of missionary in For the Sake of His Name wasn’t too specific either: “One who is sent on a mission.”
So I was happy to see that Johnson clearly defines both missionary and missions, and he did it by Chapter Two. Missionary: “Someone identified and sent out by local churches to make the gospel known and to gather, serve, and strengthen local churches across ethnic, linguistic, or geographic divides” (p. 36). Missions: “Evangelism that takes the gospel across ethnic, linguistic, and geographic boundaries, that gathers churches, and teaches them to obey everything Jesus commended” (p. 35).
This is one of those “see the forest, not the trees” little books that gives a nice overview of missions. Andy Johnson is a pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and has experience with international churches. Let’s overview some of the pros and cons.
I’d much rather eat a cheesecake baked by a great cook than a Black Forest gateau baked by PhD-holder in cuisine. And I’d much rather read a missions book by a missionary than a missions book by a missiologist. Missiologists are often armchair missionaries. They write from a comfortable desk in their homeland.
I want the book to smell of dusty pathways and busy marketplaces, to sound like foreign voices, to taste of danger, sadness and joy. This is why great missionary biographies are the best books on missions. They’ve been there and done it.
There are exceptions, sure. Some great books on missions were not written by life-long missionaries (e.g. Paul the Missionary by Schnabel; Missionary Methods by Allen). But a main reason Clark’s work takes flight is because he’s labored on the mission field himself.