Andrew Fuller’s significance in the history of Christianity
The Andrew Fulller Center is named after the leading Baptist theologian of the latter half of the long eighteenth century. Why? Well, Fuller’s importance for the history of Christianity in general lies in five areas (the very fact that there is the term “Fullerism” in English, I think, says something about his importance. But I leave that to one side).
a. First, in his apologetic work with regard to two key religious options that developed out of the Enlightenment, namely Deism and Socinianism/Unitarianism, Fuller pens the key Baptist eighteenth century defence of the Trinity and deity of Christ. So good, in fact, is his response to Unitarianism that it is highly used by Thomas Chalmers, the leading Scottish Presbyterian theologian of the first half of the nineteenth century. Fuller shows us a key way classical confessional Christianity sought to respond to the challenges of the Enlightenment. His response to Socinianism is of great importance for it heavily draws upon the theology of virtue and thus connects Fuller to centuries of classical pagan and Christian thought with regard to virtue theory.
b. Second, Fuller is the central conduit in the first half of the nineteenth century in the British Isles for the transmission of the theological heritage of Jonathan Edwards (1703–58), Ewardseanism, especially this heritage’s discussion of the relationship between “sense and sensibility,” that is, reason and the affections. Fuller’s embrace of the Edwardsean emphasis on the affections as the key to Christian conversion and sanctification anticipates the reaction of Romanticism to the ideals of the Enlightenment.
c. Third, Fuller’s rebuttal of Hyper-Calvinism prepares the way for his theology of preaching to be the mainspring for William Carey, the Baptist mission to India, and the founding of other missionary societies in Britain, and America at the turn of the nineteenth century. Thus, Fuller is a central figure in the springing up of the modern missionary movement and the development of global Christianity. In addition to being a theologian of mission, he was also an ardent practitioner, serving as the Secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society from 1792 till his death in 1815.
d. He was a mentor to Robert Hall (1764–1831), the leading preaching celebrity of the Regency era, and, while he would not have agreed with all of Hall’s theological nuances, he did have an indirect influence on the sort of theology Hall preached. It is noteworthy that Charles Spurgeon (1834–92), the Victorian preaching celebrity, regarded Fuller as the most important Baptist theologian of his era.
e. Finally, as an heir of seventeenth-century Reformed orthodoxy, typified by men like John Owen (1616–83) and Herman Witsius (1636–1708), Fuller carries on a tradition of anti-Arminianism, though not without certain modifications.
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