Book Review: Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor-Theologian

Andrew Fuller

Introduction

In recent years, Andrew Fuller has reemerged as a prominent figure in Baptist thought and practice, as many of the battles we face today were the same battles he faced many years ago. Contributing to this ongoing renaissance of the life and thought of Andrew Fuller is Paul Brewster, who earned a Ph.D. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor-Theologian, Brewster describes the unnecessary divide between pastors and theologians that exists today, and in response he presents Andrew Fuller, the 18th century English Particular Baptist, as a pastor who combined careful theological study with an active pastoral and missional ministry. Brewster brings to light how doctrine and practice were inextricably linked in the life of Andrew Fuller. Rather than doctrine being an end in and of itself, it was Fuller’s doctrine that fueled his lifework.

Synopsis

Brewster begins his book by introducing the pastor as the primary theological influence in the local church. As such it is necessary for the pastor to be trained, and one aspect of pastoral training is the study of great pastor-theologians of former days. Therefore, the Baptist pastor, Andrew Fuller, who approached the work of theology with a balanced theological method, serves as a valuable point of study for the contemporary pastor.

In order to prove Andrew Fuller’s value for the contemporary pastor, Brewster exposes the formative years of Fuller’s life that served as the boiling pot in which his theological convictions were developed. It was the hyper-Calvinistic preaching of his childhood church that had implications both for his early pastoral years, as he found himself unable to converse with the ungodly, as well as for his later ministry, as he battled against the anti-evangelistic nature of the hyper-Calvinists. Fuller eventually came to reject hyper-Calvinism, and it was his newfound theological convictions that led him to Kettering, where he would serve as pastor for thirty-three years. During this time, Fuller emerged as one of the leading theologians among Particular Baptists. “Although he was a leading Baptist theological writer of his day, he never served as a professor of theology” (8). Andrew Fuller was a pastor who did not see pastoral ministry existing apart from theology.

Rather than diving straight into Fuller’s theology and practice, Brewster presents Fuller’s theological method, which began with his systematic approach to truth because “sacred truth is scattered in lovely variety” throughout God’s Word (40). While Fuller believed in developing a theological system, he was not bound to this system but gave priority to the Scriptures, for it is Scripture alone that is the proper source and standard for doctrine. Additionally, Fuller’s theological method included the role of Christian experience. The Christian faith, according to Fuller, is a Gospel to be accepted and experienced, and before our doctrinal convictions can be communicated to others it is necessary that “we have first applied [them] to ourselves; or, to use the language of Scripture, ‘tasted, felt, and handled the word of life.’” (54). While upholding Christian experience might sound subjective, Fuller believed in examining every experience in light of the objective Word of God. Moreover, Fuller’s theological method was not complete with his own experience and interpretation until he examined the positions of his contemporaries as well as those who had gone before him. Fuller believed accountability was essential, and he sought it through an association of pastors and through the study of the works of faithful saints.

Flowing out of Fuller’s theological method is the profound doctrinal impact he made in the field of soteriology. To help the reader understand the context within which Fuller’s soteriological impact was made, Brewster expounds that although Fuller was raised in a world of hyper-Calvinism, he developed a well-balanced soteriology through the study of Scripture that was consistent with T.U.L.I.P. (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints), yet he also believed in the free offer of the Gospel to all men, everywhere. Fuller was unable to escape the controversy regarding the free offer of the Gospel, and he engaged in the theological debates of his day. As Brewster provides us with an overview of Fuller’s soteriology, he also demonstrates that Fuller left quite the impact on Baptists as his strain of evangelical Calvinism became the predominate position among 19th century English and American Baptists. Seemingly standing between the hyper-Calvinists and the Arminians, Fuller’s soteriology consisted of both freely offering the Gospel to all men and wholly trusting in God to save sinners.

Soteriology was not merely intellectual knowledge unto Fuller’s own intellectual end; rather, his soteriology had a considerable influence on his life and practice. This is evident in Brewster’s explanation of the impact Fuller’s soteriology had on his preaching. Andrew Fuller gave priority to preaching, and he believed every sermon needed to include the proclamation of salvation in Jesus Christ alone; therefore, it is necessary for the preacher to bring his hearers to a point of decision. While Fuller’s soteriology impacted his preaching, it also impacted his work within the Baptist Missionary Society. Alongside William Carey, Fuller labored to form the missionary society, for which he would he would tirelessly exert himself securing funds, informing donors of the ongoing mission work, sending necessary aid and resources to missionaries, and corresponding with the missionaries, which was evidence of the value and “importance he attached to the missionary enterprise” (139). Not only did Fuller’s soteriology impact his role as a preacher and as secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society, but it also affected his apologetic engagement with the theological debates of his day. Brewster writes, “In addition to his apologetic work on behalf of missions, Fuller engaged in a series of other theological debates, and each one had a direct bearing on his soteriological convictions” (144). Fuller wrote against Deism, because it denies the basis for the knowledge of salvation; he wrote against Socinianism, because it threatens the doctrine of Christ’s deity which is essential to make atonement for the sins of fallen humanity; and he also wrote against Universalism, Sandemanianism, and Antinomianism, all of which have profound soteriological ramifications. Ultimately, it was Fuller’s soteriology that impacted his life as a pastor, as a secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society, and as an apologist.

While Paul Brewster wrote this book with the intention to present Andrew Fuller as the model pastor-theologian, he realizes the limitations connected to this work. First off, Brewster understands that while he presents Fuller in light of his soteriological understanding and shows how his life was driven by this doctrine, Fuller is more than a one-dimensional theologian. Fuller’s favorite theme was the doctrine of soteriology, yet he also made contributions to other fields, such as the doctrine of God, the doctrine of revelation, eschatology, and ecclesiology, but further work and study of Fuller’s views in these areas is needed. Brewster also acknowledges that writing a book such as this one potentially lends itself to hagiography; therefore, Brewster dedicates a few pages to point out Fuller’s weaknesses, which include his workaholic habits, his reluctance to delegate responsibilities, and his use of governmental language when describing the atonement.

Although Fuller had his weaknesses, this book is not written to emphasize his shortcomings but to provide the twenty-first century pastor with a model in which theology is foundational for the life and work of pastoral ministry. Because we face similar issues today, Andrew Fuller serves as a great warning to the dangers of hyper-Calvinism and he also serves as a profound testimony to the spiritual vitality of evangelical Calvinism. Andrew Fuller’s heart for theology, his willingness to engage contemporary theological debates, and the Gospel’s centrality in his ministry serve as a model for pastors in the twenty-first century and beyond.

Critical Evaluation

This is a timely book due to the theological meagerness that exists today both in the pew and in the pulpit. With many pastors giving themselves to a number of tasks, their ministries are becoming less and less oriented to the task of theology. Brewster’s attempt at presenting Andrew Fuller as the model for pastors to emulate is both helpful and appropriate for our day. He achieves his goal with clarity and well-explained arguments that are both thought provoking and inspiring for the reader.

Brewster significantly helps the reader understand the driving theological force behind Andrew Fuller within the context of his life and times, as well as within the context of his theological method. Rather than plunging directly into Fuller’s soteriology, Brewster ingeniously provides the reader with Fuller’s theological method, which serves as a helpful aid for the reader to envision the framework wherefrom his soteriological doctrine derives, making this book a treasure not only for Baptists but for Christendom at large.

While Brewster makes a clear and well-executed argument for Andrew Fuller as the model pastor-theologian, he does risk toeing the line of hagiography, as he paints Fuller in a very positive light. Even Fuller’s weaknesses are painted as redeemable attributes, such as the neglect of his own local church ministry and family responsibilities. An example of this is seen as Brewster writes, “Although Fuller may legitimately be criticized for allowing his local church ministry and family responsibilities to be crowded out by other concerns, his sacrificial service to the kingdom of God still calls forth great admiration” (162). With the lenient treatment Brewster gives to this legitimate concern, he poses the risk of underscoring just how dangerous it was for Fuller to neglect his local church for the sake of the Baptist Missionary Society. Dedicating a handful of paragraphs to Fuller’s neglect of both his local church and his family belittles the significance of his error. This is certainly an area of concern, as Brewster stands in defense of Fuller’s shortcomings instead of letting his faults serve as a prohibitive warning for the contemporary pastor.

Although Paul Brewster toes the line of hagiography, Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor-Theologian provides the reader with excellent scholarship in an attainable work that effectively reminds us why Andrew Fuller still has something to say, as he remains a noteworthy model for the pastor-theologian.

 

Brewster, Paul. Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor-Theologian. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010. 208 pp. $24.99. 978-0805449822.

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