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Andrew Fuller is conference spotlight

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The ministry and writings of Andrew Fuller, the 18th-century Baptist pastor-theologian who helped spawn the modern missions movement, have great significance for Baptists today, Russell D. Moore told attendees of the “Andrew Fuller: The Reader” conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Fuller, an English Baptist who lived from 1754-1815, defended the Gospel against the heresy of hyper-Calvinism but is perhaps best known for his connection with the foundation of the Baptist Missionary Society. His best-known work, “The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation,” left a profound impact on Baptist churches of his day and laid the theological groundwork for modern missions.

Moore, who is dean of Southern’s school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration, said Fuller is a key example for modern evangelicals of a local church pastor who had a global vision for the Gospel. During his life, Fuller pastored two congregations, first at Soham from 1775-82 and then at Kettering from 1782-1815.

“What is it that is unique about Andrew Fuller? He seems to combine the real-world earthiness of Martin Luther with the biblical spirituality of the Puritans,” Moore said. “He had both a global passion and local affection. The two are both necessary for understanding the task of theology and the stewardship of ministry.

“The recycling activists tell us ‘Think globally, act locally,’ but Fuller seemed to understand that in many ways it is reversed — think locally; act globally,” Moore said. “It is here that we may best see the influence of Fuller. This is the way the Gospel is. We see this in Isaiah where light rises from Galilee and covers the entire earth.”

The conference was the first event sponsored by the seminary’s Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, which seeks to promote the study of Baptist history and doctrine as well as reflection on the contemporary significance of that history.

The center will hold an annual conference examining various aspects of Baptist history and thought and also will publish a scholarly edition of Fuller’s works.

“When English Baptist life was threatened by the winter chill of hyper-Calvinism, Andrew Fuller warmed the churches with the free offer of the Gospel, and thus fueled the modern missions movement,” Moore said.

Michael A.G. Haykin, professor of church history at Southern Seminary and head of the Fuller Center, examined Fuller’s great thirst for reading. First and foremost, Fuller was a voracious reader of the Bible, Haykin said, but he also read other theologians intensely, including the English Puritans such as John Bunyan and John Owen, along with the American theologian Jonathan Edwards.

“The reading of books, past and contemporary, was an important aid in the confirmation of Fuller’s theology, what some later called ‘Fullerism’ and which was ultimately and primarily derived from the oracles of God, Holy Scripture,” Haykin said.

Tom Nettles, professor of historical theology at Southern, addressed Edwards’ influence on Fuller. Fuller quoted Edwards extensively in his own writings, Nettles noted, and integrated Edwards’ ideas into his own major works.

Fuller’s use of Edwards is particularly clear in Fuller’s book The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation in which he draws on the central ideas of Edwards’ famous work, “Freedom of the Will” to defend the biblical teaching that all men have a duty to repent and believe in Christ, Nettles pointed out.

“Fuller took the difficult ideas of Edwards, digested their spiritual implications and used them for the good of souls,” Nettles said. “Both his personal counsel and his pulpit ministry show the helpful effects of the integration of ideas for which Edwards was largely the catalyst.”

Several other speakers examined other influences on Fuller and assessed the impact of his ministry. Next year’s conference will be held Aug. 25-26 at Southern Seminary and will focus on 17th-century British Baptists.
Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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  • Jeff Robinson
    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.Read All by Jeff Robinson ›