William Carey: Statistics and the Modern Missionary Movement

By Steve Bishop

(Disclaimer: The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of GodandMath.com. Guest articles are sought after for the purpose of bringing more diverse viewpoints to the topics of mathematics and theology. The point is to foster discussion. To this end respectful and constructive comments are highly encouraged.)

William Carey (1761-1834) once wrote: “Expect great things [from God]. Attempt great things [for God].” He did just that. He is considered by some to be the father of the modern missionary movement. As well as a missionary he was also a cobbler; a pastor – he spent six years pastoring Particular Baptist churches in Northamptonshire; a linguist – he promoted Bengali as a language and translated the Scriptures into the Indian languages, was a professor of languages at Calcutta’s Fort William College, as well as compiling a Bengali dictionary; a botanist – he introduced the daisy and the Linnean classification system to India;  a social activist – he campaigned against the cultural oppression of women and battled against sati (widow burning) and helped get it banned; and an educator – he founded Serampore College.

As a shoemaker in Northamptonshire he grew concerned with the fate of the unbelieving “heathen.” He had come into contact with the writings of Jonathan Edwards and came to see that his Calvinism and evangelism were compatible. The responsibility to reach the “heathen” arises out of what God has done.

To help him convince others of the need for word-wide evangelism he began to compile statistics. These were presented in 1792 in his wonderfully titled An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, in which the religious state of the different nations of the world, the success of former undertakings, and the practicability of further undertakings, are considered (http://www.wmcarey.edu/carey/enquiry/anenquiry.pdf). In section III he provides a survey of the then present state of the world. He then writes:

FIRST, The inhabitants of the world according to this calculation, amount to about seven hundred and thirty-one millions; four hundred and twenty millions of whom are still in pagan darkness; an hundred and thirty millions the followers of Mahomet; an hundred millions catholics; forty-four millions protestants; thirty millions of the greek and armenian churches, and perhaps seven millions of jews.  It must undoubtedly strike every considerate mind, what a vast proportion of the sons of Adam there are, who yet remain in the most deplorable state of heathen darkness, without any means of knowing the true God, except  what  are  afforded them by the works of nature; and utterly destitute of the knowledge of the gospel of Christ, or of any means of obtaining it.

The statistics and his arguments in the Enquiry led to the formation of the forerunner of the Baptist Missionary Society and Carey and John Thomas as its first missionaries. This provides a good example of mathematics as a tool for the gospel.

Steve Bishop is the compiler of A Bibliography for a Christian Approach to Mathematics and the author of several articles on the relationship between faith and math. He is the author of the Christian Mathematicians series here at GodandMath.com

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