Radical Christianity: William Carey and a New Biography by John Appleby

I never tire of reading about William Carey (1761-1834) and his circle of friends. So it was with a sense of excitement that I bought the latest biography of Carey by John Appleby, who, like Carey, has served in India: ‘I Can Plod…’ William Carey and the early years of the first Baptist missionary Society (London: Grace Publications Trust, 2007). It is a study I would definitely recommend as a reliable introduction to Carey’s life by one who shares not only his ecclesial convictions but also his soteriological beliefs—both biographer and subject are Calvinists. I was struck afresh by some of the things that Appleby pointed out, including this note in the minute book of the Particular Baptist Church at Leicester that Carey served before going out to India—this is dated March 24, 1793:

“Mr. Carey, our minister, left Leicester to on a mission to the East Indies, to take and propagate the gospel among those idolatrous and superstitious heathens. This is inserted to show his love to his poor miserable fellow creatures. In this we concurred with him, though it is at the expense of losing one whom we love as our own souls.” (cited page 99).

Wow, what a text! Here is radical Christianity at work, both in Carey who went and in his church that stayed at home. His love for fellow sinners took him half-way around the world. Their love for sinners sent him out with their blessing. Some might say, their love was hardly as radical as Carey’s. Really? No, think again: here is one they loved as their own souls—the sort of love that marked Jonathan and David—whose love for one another knit them together like thread in a garment. And then to let go of the beloved. No, this is an expression of radical Christianity.

And why did he go and why did they send him? It was love: love for sinners who, like him and they, were “poor” and “miserable” without Christ. Creatures who were worshipping the creature rather than the Creator: the people of India, like the godless in Great Britain at the time, were “idolatrous.” The difference was that in the UK the Scriptures were available in English, there were gospel-preaching churches and there were faithful ministers of the Word. But India had little or none of this.

We live in a day when some are calling for new radical expressions of Christianity, in which Christ is wholeheartedly served as Lord. This is needed, but what should form should it take? Well, one good model is Carey and his Leicester Church.