‘Current Affairs’ Category

Andrew Fuller and Antinomianism

May 27th, 2014 Posted in 19th Century, Andrew Fuller, Baptist Life & Thought, Books, Church History, Current Affairs, Eminent Christians, Historians, Pastoral Ministry, Theology

By Nathan A. Finn

In recent months, a debate has been stirring mostly among our conservative Presbyterian friends over antinomianism, or the idea that because believers live under grace God’s moral law should not be considered an appointed means used in our sanctification. Most antinomians are not libertines (a common misperception), but because they downplay the necessity of good works in the life of a Christian, mainstream Reformed believers argue that antinomian views do lead to a stunted understanding of sanctification.

The Reformed version of antinomianism (there are many versions of this particular error) that has often appeared among Calvinists argues against the necessity of the moral law based upon a fatalistic view of predestination and/or a too-sharp distinction between law and gospel. PCA pastor-theologian Mark Jones’s new book Antinomianism retraces the history of Reformed antinomianism and makes some contemporary application. In fact, Jones’s comments about some well-known Calvinist pastors, especially Tullian Tchividjian, have played a key role in bringing the current controversy to a head. You can read more about the dust-up at The Gospel Coalition, Reformation 21, and Tchividjian’s website. For a timely and edifying word that is inspired by this controversy, see Nick Batzig’s excellent blog post “Dangers of Theological Controversy.”

Once upon a time, the English Calvinists Baptists faced their own kerfuffle over antinomianism. Robert Oliver discusses this topic at length in his book History of the English Calvinistic Baptists 1771-1892: From John Gill to C.H. Spurgeon (Banner of Truth, 2006). This issue played a key role in the separation of the Strict and Particular Baptists from the majority Particular Baptist movement during the first half of the eighteenth century. Among Particular Baptists, there was often a connection between antinomianism and High Calvinism, though this wasn’t always the case.

Andrew Fuller wrote against the Reformed version of antinomianism in a posthumously published treatise titled Antinomianism Contrasted with the Religion Taught and Exemplified in the Holy Scriptures (1816). Fuller’s treatise can be found in the second volume of the “Sprinkle Edition” of The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller. Fuller argued that antinomianism is, at root, a species of spiritual selfishness that is concerned more with the spiritual benefits of the faith than a wholehearted devotion to Lord that is evidenced, in part, though the pursuit of ongoing spiritual maturity.

For an excellent introduction to Fuller’s critique of antinomianism, check out Mark Jones’s plenary address on that topic from last fall’s Andrew Fuller Center Conference.

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Nathan A. Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also an elder at First Baptist Church of Durham, NC and a fellow of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.

 

Andrew Fuller on the extent of the atonement: A surrejoinder to Drs. Allen and Caner

April 28th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, 21st Century, Andrew Fuller, Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Current Affairs, Historians, Theology

By Michael A.G. Haykin

I suspect it is a sign of Andrew Fuller’s greatness as a theologian that his thought should occasion differing interpretations. Because of this, the blogosphere (let alone other social media like Facebook and Twitter) is not the best of places to carry on the sort of discussion that drills down into the depths of his thought. Such a conversation is best carried on in face-to-face discussions or through such media as monographs and academic articles.

This being said, let me make one final response to Drs David Allen and Emir Caner regarding their interpretation of Fuller. First of all, let me say that I am very thankful for the thoughtful response of Dr David Allen (“Gaining a Fuller Understanding: Responding to Dr. Michael Haykin”, SBC Today) to my earlier comments on an article by Dr Emir Caner that included a discussion of Andrew Fuller’s Calvinist soteriology (“Historical Southern Baptist Soteriology, pt. 2/3: What Were the Early SBC Leaders’ View of Salvation?”, SBC Today. He is obviously drawing upon his extensive article on “The Atonement: Limited or Universal” in his and Steve W. Lemke, eds., Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2010), 61–107, where he actually refers to Fuller on three occasions. This background to Allen’s remarks may well explain elements of his reply to me: he perceives there to be theological and biblical issues at stake and he is eager to recruit Fuller to defend his position on those theological and biblical issues.

I, on the other hand, am approaching Fuller as an historian: I am not uninterested in the theological and biblical issues, but my main approach to Fuller is as an historian. I really want to understand what he is saying and why and how his historical context shapes his interaction with Scripture. To that end, in addition to reading Fuller’s thoughts, secondary sources beyond Peter Morden’s fine study of Fuller—Offering Christ to the World (Paternoster, 2003), which Caner quotes at second-hand from a piece by Allen—like Gerald L. Priest, “Andrew Fuller, Hyper-Calvinism, and the ‘Modern Question’ ” in my ed., ‘At the Pure Fountain of Thy Word’: Andrew Fuller as an Apologist (Paternoster, 2004), 43–73; Chris Chun, The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards in the Theology of Andrew Fuller (Brill, 2012), 142–182; and especially Geoffrey F. Nuttall, “Northamptonshire and The Modern Question: A Turning-Point in Eighteenth-Century Dissent”, Journal of Theological Studies, ns, 16 (1965), 101–123 are absolutely vital to read before pronouncing any sort of magisterial interpretation of Fuller on the convoluted issue of the atonement. For my own take, on this question, see “Particular Redemption in the Writings of Andrew Fuller (1754–1815)” in David Bebbington, ed., The Gospel in the World: International Baptist Studies (Studies in Baptist History and Thought, vol.1; Carlisle, Cumbria/Waynesboro, Georgia: Paternoster Press, 2002), 107–128. So: I am writing as an historian, not as a biblical theologian. I am not trying to elucidate what the New Testament says about this issue, but understand what Fuller believed. The question of whether he was right or wrong is another issue as is the question of whether Southern Baptists are his heirs etc.

To read my 4+ page response in its entirety, please download the full PDF here.

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Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.

“Andrew Fuller’s Calvinist soteriology: a brief response to Emir Caner”

April 23rd, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, Andrew Fuller, Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Current Affairs, Eminent Christians, Historians, Missions

By Michael A.G. Haykin

It was extremely gratifying to see Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) cited as a vital theologian at the onset of the modern missionary movement in Dr. Emir Caner’s recent piece on “Historical Southern Baptist Soteriology” that appeared on the SBC Today website. Usually when Baptists are considered in this regard, the name of William Carey (1761–1834) alone receives mention, and Fuller, who was the theological muscle behind Carey, is forgotten. There were, however, some surprising aspects to Caner’s treatment of Fuller, especially as it relates to Fuller’s Calvinist soteriology. According to the article, Fuller really cannot be considered a Calvinist (something that, by the way, would warm the cockles of the hearts of hyper-Calvinist critics of Fuller like William Gadsby). By 1801, Caner reckons that Fuller had given up the concept of particular redemption for a general redemption, affirmed that “faith is not a gift from God,” and rejected “Total Depravity as articulated by some of his contemporary High [that is, hyper-] Calvinists.”

To read my response in its entirety, please download the full PDF here.

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Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.

 

Avoiding the follies of the present by remembering the follies of the past

November 29th, 2013 Posted in Church History, Current Affairs, Hymnody, Music

By Michael A.G. Haykin

Ah, one good reason to read the history of the church is to avoid the follies of the past. With the passage of time, the folly is patent, though at the time when it was committed, it may well have passed for wisdom. One thinks of the defence of slavery by God-fearing men and women in the 18th and 19th centuries and further back, the “learned’ ripostes by Christians to the new science of Copernicus. In the realm of worship, we Baptists can learn a lot from the conflict that ripped apart the London Particular Baptists in the 1690s. So fierce was it, that eventually some of the pastors called a halt to the treatises being written and so attempted to find a pax Baptistica.

I am old enough to remember a wise pastor making the following statement in a public worship setting, and I quote, “There will be no rock music in heaven.” Yet, fifty years after the rock n’roll of the sixties, is it not true that in many of our worship settings, some of the music by which we worship the Lamb could not be envisioned without the rock revolution? Are we to regard this way of combining chords and rhythms as sinful or is it better seen as part and parcel of the creativity that God has packed into the human frame? And is it not true that some of the music that we like in worship or that we don’t like has more to do with personal preference than divine fiat?

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Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.

Charles Hodge on Demons and Evil Spirits

October 31st, 2013 Posted in 19th Century, Biblical Spirituality, Church History, Current Affairs, Eminent Christians

By Ryan Patrick Hoselton

You may be thinking that this is another Fundamentalist rant against Halloween. It’s not. In fact, I love dressing up in costumes, and I especially love candy. There is nothing wrong with how most celebrate Halloween. It’s a fantastic opportunity for parents to bond with children, communities to come together, and it’s a great excuse to eat candy.

However, the fact that most Westerners can enjoy the holiday with lightheartedness indicates a major shift in our culture: most do not take evil spirits as seriously as previous centuries. My colleague at work asked me what I’ve been writing about recently, and when I explained the topic of evil spirits, he said: “that’s ridiculous.” Case in point. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since the Salem Witch Trials, but have we gone too far to largely ignore the dimension of evil spirits? Of course there are still groups that celebrate witchcraft and the occult, but the mainstream culture has largely dismissed any notion of evil spirits as unscientific, mythical, and antiquated—if not in theory then at least in practice and conscientiousness. The truth is that the realm and agency of evil spirits is no light matter, and it exists just as actively in our modern world as it always has.

Charles Hodge (1797–1878), the Princeton theologian and author of the seminal Systematic Theology, maintained that “great evils…have arisen from exaggerated views of the agency of evil spirits” (Systematic Theology, 1.XIII.4). Nonetheless, he also recognized the reality of the evil supernatural realm and warned Christians not to underestimate it. “There is no special improbability in the doctrine of demoniacal possessions” Hodge wrote, “Evil spirits do exist. Why should we refuse to believe, on the authority of Christ, that they were allowed to have special power over some men? The world, since the apostasy, belongs to the kingdom of Satan” (1.XIII.4).

Many believers wrongly assume that the dimension of evil forces has no bearing on them. Hodge challenges Christians to consider that if we believe what the Scriptures say about the activity of evil spirits in the Old Testament and Apostolic eras, what indication to we have that it would be any different today? “As to the power and agency of these evil spirits,” they are “represented as being exceedingly numerous, as everywhere efficient, as having access to our world, and as operating in nature and in the minds of men” (1.XIII.4). Demons are still operative, actively trying to manipulate and pollute the souls of men and women. Thus we ought to “be on our guard and seek divine protection from the machinations of the spirits of evil” (1.XIII.4).  It is important to have a right and balanced theology of evil spirits in order to understand the import of Christ’s victory over them.

Redeeming the world from the dominion of Satan “was the special object of the mission of the Son of God” (1.XIII.4).  Christ’s incarnation was the apex of history when “he manifested his power” over the rule of Satan, “making the fact of his overthrow the more conspicuous and glorious” (1.XIII.4). Christ overturned the force of Satan’s power by conquering sin and rising victorious from the grave, demonstrating who truly has authority over death. That God sent his own Son to defeat evil forces shows that he takes them very seriously, and we should do likewise.

If men and women do not submit to the authority of God, they will bow to the authority of Satan. Perhaps the manifestation of mankind’s allegiance to Satan does not appear supernatural on the surface in our Western world, but it is nonetheless deceptively real. Christ will come again to claim his kingdom, and he will put a final end to Satan and his followers and gloriously deliver his people from their power.

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Ryan Patrick Hoselton is pursuing a ThM at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife Jaclyn, and they are the parents of one child.

Top Five Reasons You Should Attend Andrew Fuller and His Controversies

September 5th, 2013 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, Andrew Fuller, Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Conferences, Current Affairs, Eminent Christians, Historians, Pastoral Ministry, Theology

By Dustin Bruce

With the Fuller Conference coming up later this month, I thought I would present you with five reasons to consider attending this year’s conference. Thanks to Dustin Benge for contributing a number of these.

1. Engage first-class scholarship in the field of Baptist studies. The Andrew Fuller Center exists to further historical research and interest in the field of Baptist history, theology, and related disciplines. The annual conference, which features a number of distinguished speakers, serves as one way we try and do this. This year, you can hear notable scholars such as Paul Helm, Mark Jones, Tom Nettles, Nathan Finn, and more.

2. Equip yourself to face current controversy from a historical perspective. The Fuller Conference is not just for scholars. At The Andrew Fuller Center, what we care about most is the church. With every conference, we aim to empower ministers and lay leaders to serve more effectively in the context of local Baptist churches.

This year is no different. What church does not face controversy from time to time? If you are a ministry leader, come learn how to handle questions on hyper-Calvinism, Arminianism, and eschatology from a historical perspective.

There is truly nothing new under the sun. Controversies don’t die; they just reappear under a different name. You may have never heard the term ‘Socinianism,’ but listening to Dr. Nettles on the topic will guide your approach to dealing with its modern counterpart, Unitarianism. The same could be said about Deism, Socinianism, and more.

3. Engross yourself into another century. Evangelicals all too often fall into what C.S. Lewis described as “Chronological Snobbery,” the penchant to automatically discredit ideas from the past and uncritically accept contemporary thought. At the Andrew Fuller Conference, you will have the opportunity to leave the twenty-first century and travel back to the eighteenth-century. In doing so, you may just find that much of what you assume to be true is false (and vice-versa).

4. Enjoy the close fellowship of a smaller conference. At The Andrew Fuller Center, we thank God for giant conferences that bring together thousands to extol the riches of God’s grace through preaching and song. Yet, this is not our aim. At the Fuller Conference, our intention is to create a thriving environment of brotherly affection centered on the gospel. With our smaller size and more pointed focus, we think we do just that. Come join us and enjoy the fellowship of godly men and women in a smaller, more intimate conference setting.

5. Experience the campus of Southern Seminary. The Andrew Fuller Center has the great benefit of being located on the beautiful campus of Southern Seminary. Come join us and enjoy the amenities of The Legacy Hotel and Conference Center while enjoying Southern’s 80-acre campus located in the Cherokee Park section of Louisville, KY. Close to everything Louisville has to offer, the Fuller Conference would pair great with a family trip to this historical city.

We hope you will join us at the 7th annual Andrew Fuller Conference. If you have any questions, contact:

The Office of Event Productions

Phone: (502) 897-4072

Email: eventproductions@sbts.edu

or

The Andrew Fuller Center

Phone: (502) 897-4613

Email: andrewfullercenter@sbts.edu

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Dustin Bruce lives in Louisville, KY where he is pursuing a PhD in Biblical Spirituality at Southern Seminary. He is a graduate of Auburn University and Southwestern Seminary. Dustin and his wife, Whitney, originally hail from Alabama.

Southern Baptists, Evangelicalism, and … Andrew Fuller?

August 23rd, 2013 Posted in 19th Century, Andrew Fuller, Baptist Life & Thought, Books, Current Affairs, Eminent Christians

By Nathan A. Finn

Ever since “evangelical” became a household word in 1976, scholars have been debating the relationship between Southern Baptists and evangelicalism. In 1982, Mercer University Press published a book titled Are Southern Baptists Evangelicals? In that volume, James Tull essentially moderated a debate between James Leo Garrett and Glenn Hinson. Garrett argued Southern Baptists are “denominational” evangelicals, while Hinson distanced Southern Baptists from American evangelicalism.

In 1994, David Dockery edited a collection of essays for B&H titled Southern Baptists and American Evangelicals: The Conversation Continues. Some of the contributors were Southern Baptists (including Garrett and Hinson), while others were non-SBC evangelical scholars. Most of the contributors argued for some form of continuity and discontinuity between Southern Baptists and the broader evangelical movement.

Since 2006, several scholars have revisited this discussion in the form of journal articles and contributed book chapters. Examples include Malcolm Yarnell, William Brackney, Jeff Robinson, and Nathan Finn. Others such as Dockery, Al Mohler, Steve Lemke, Timothy George, and Russell Moore have also participated in this discussion through conference addresses, popular articles, and online writings. Still other scholars don’t so much enter into the debate as they assume that Baptists either are or are not evangelicals.

This scholarly discussion applies to Baptists and evangelicals in general, not just in America. At this year’s annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, I will be participating in a session that looks at various perspectives on Andrew Fuller’s thought. My paper is titled “Andrew Fuller: An Evangelical Theologian.” I hope to dialogue with the mostly Baptist authors who are reticent to identify Baptists with evangelicalism, but I also hope to engage scholars who discuss Fuller as if he were a generic evangelical who just happened to be a Baptist. (David Bebbington, Mark Noll, and Bruce Hindmarsh fall into the latter category.)

I will contend that Fuller, like most Baptists, most certainly was an evangelical. But, it would be anachronistic to divorce Fuller’s evangelical emphases from his Baptist identity. He was a Baptist evangelical, or, perhaps more specifically, a Baptist Edwardsean. His version of evangelicalism, while certainly exhibiting the characteristics of evangelicalism is general, was filtered through his robustly baptistic understanding of ecclesiology. Keith Grant goes partly down this road in his recent monograph on Fuller’s pastoral theology, but I hope to push a bit farther. Prior to the advent of nondenominational evangelicalism—a mostly 20th-century phenomenon—most evangelicals filtered their evangelicalism through the lens of their denominational identity. And for Fuller, that denominational identity was Particular Baptist.

I would suggest that contemporary Southern Baptists who are convictionally baptistic but also committed to a broader evangelicalism might learn something about our own identity from the Fullerites who wed similar emphases in their own context. To be a theologically orthodox Southern Baptist is to be an evangelical, albeit a particular type of evangelical.

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Nathan A. Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also an elder at First Baptist Church of Durham, NC and a senior fellow of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.

Boston Not Jerusalem

April 30th, 2013 Posted in 17th Century, 18th Century, 21st Century, Current Affairs, Puritans

By Ryan Patrick Hoselton

The Boston Marathon bombing represents a society that is worlds apart from the Boston inhabited by the Puritan Increase Mather (1639-1723). Abhorrent evils perpetrated in any city—like the Newtown shooting, 9/11, and the Oklahoma City bombing—raise the very human question: why? Each generation has to wrestle with new and complicated manifestations of wrongdoing. Increase Mather had no category for making sense of how two Chechen brothers could plant explosives at a massive annual foot-race. However, perhaps his response to the calamities of Boston in his day could help us gain perspective on the city’s recent catastrophe.

In many ways, modern-day Boston has failed to live up to Mather’s lofty aspirations for the city. Mather, the former minister of the historic Second Church and President of Harvard from 1685-1702, planned for Boston to become the new Jerusalem—God’s holy society on earth. But even in his day, Boston was far from heaven. The seventeenth-century New Englanders intimately knew suffering. The reason many of them came to New England was to flee religious persecution. If they survived the long voyage, they faced the threat of frequent and devastating plagues.

But it was the attacks from the native New England tribes that evoked one of Mather’s fullest reflections on the evil of his times, An Earnest Exhortation to the Inhabitants of New-England (1676).[1] In this treatise, Mather blamed the tragedies on the sins of Boston’s citizens: “What shall we say when men are seen in the Streets with monstrous and horrid Perriwigs, and women with their Borders and False Locks…whereby the anger of the Lord is kindled against this land (9)!” He’s just getting warmed up. He listed Boston’s iniquities and warned that unless the citizens reform their lives, “New-England hath not seen its worst dayes.” For Mather, Boston’s prosperity and its demise was contingent on its righteousness before God. Thus, his solution for eradicating Boston’s suffering was to recruit its citizens to significant moral reform.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking (or should be thinking if you’re not): so far, Mather is not helping us understand evil today! But briefly give him a little grace. As a result of these events, Mather ministered to many hurting people: “Is it nothing that Widdows and Fatherless have been multiplyed among us?” He wanted to see evil and its effects eliminated just as much as those impacted by the Boston Marathon bombings. However, no earthly city could ever be righteous enough to completely evade adversity—all of mankind is fallen. His solution was geographically misguided.

Mather placed his hope in the right city, but he located it in the wrong place. Revelation 21:2-4 describes how the new Jerusalem will come:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

Boston is not the New Jerusalem—it does not exist on earth. The events from last week’s race testify to the sad reality that evil still afflicts the city four-hundred years later. Ever since Babel, mankind has had the tendency to rely on the kingdoms that we can construct. We like our societies because they reflect us rather than God. However, despite our best efforts, we cannot create the righteous kingdom that will bring us peace.

Mather was right that God will entirely eradicate all evil and its consequences in his new Jerusalem. However, this is not a city that mortals can build.  Instead, we must rest our hopes for peace on the King of the new Jerusalem, Jesus Christ, who will lovingly assemble this city for his people.


[1]Increase Mather, An Earnest Exhortation to the Inhabitants of New-England (Boston: John Foster: 1676). You can access the full text here: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/etas/31/

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Ryan Patrick Hoselton is pursuing a ThM at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife Jaclyn, and they are expecting their first child in August.

 

Should Baptists Care About Social Concerns? William Ward Believed So (PART TWO)

April 12th, 2013 Posted in 19th Century, Church History, Current Affairs

By J. Ryan West

As shown yesterday, Ward was concerned deeply to see significant changes regarding social issues in India.  Successful social action would not, however, come without the power of Christ’s gospel according to Ward.  When reading this book, it is highly important to note Ward’s evolution concerning how he addressed injustices.  Otherwise, readers easily misunderstand his position.  In his earlier years, Ward proved to be a radical activist that nearly escaped imprisonment twice.  Political upheaval modeled on the French Revolution was his ideal during the 1790’s.  His conversion and subsequent development over several decades of ministry in India brought about a much different approach to such concerns by the time he preached these sermons.  For the seasoned Ward, lasting social change would only occur if the gospel permeated a society: “Let the females of the United Kingdom speak, and they must be heard…By such an interposition, so worthy of the sex in these countries, the females in India will be blessed with all that profusion of privileges which women in Christian countries enjoy; and, being thus blessed, will become the light, the shade, and the ornament of India” (83-84).  As one can see, he never expected significant change apart from the gospel taking root in India.  Ward had thus transformed from a political activist to a ‘gospel activist’ by the end of his career.

For Ward, addressing social concerns was a given.  Biblical Christians could not be concerned with their neighbors’ eternal condition without caring for their immediate needs.  Biblical Christians had no choice but to pursue biblical justice through the means of social action coupled with anchoring a society in biblical beliefs.  As contemporary Baptists think about the relationship of addressing the physical, social, and mental needs evident in the surrounding culture, it would be helpful to look to our Baptist predecessors.  Baptists should concern themselves with rescuing women from sex trafficking, loving—and possibly adopting—children abandoned to foster care or absentee parents, and speak out against the horrors of abortion and systemic oppression.  To ignore these matters is irresponsible and unloving.  Such responses would prove equally irresponsible and unloving, however, if Baptists do not seek to establish gospel wisdom in these conversations.  Lasting social change will only come through individuals who experience the grace and peace of Jesus Christ.  The gospel activist William Ward certainly thought so.

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J. Ryan West (PhD Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the LoveLoud National Coordinator at the North American Mission Board. He assists Southern Baptist churches and educational institutions throughout the United States and Canada in establishing and conducting gospel-centered ministries of mercy to proclaim Christ while meeting human needs in significant and sustainable ways.  Also, he was tasked recently as an Assistant Editor for The Andrew Fuller Works Project, a fifteen-volume series to be published by Walter de Gruyter.

Should Baptists Care About Social Concerns? William Ward Believed So (PART ONE)

April 11th, 2013 Posted in 19th Century, Church History, Current Affairs

By J. Ryan West

A growing conversation has emerged within Baptist life surrounding the believer’s responsibility concerning the poor, the neglected, and other social issues. In fact, Tuesday was set apart by many leading evangelicals such as Louie Giglio and Andy Stanley to raise awareness concerning sex trafficking, forced labor, and other forms of modern-day slavery. An individual can read about the End It Movement and find ways to become involved if one is inclined to do so. Such calls for action, however, raise fundamental concerns for many within the Baptist fold. Questions abound as to whether believers should engage in actions such as helping the poor or pursuing social justice for the oppressed. Or, should Christians simply share the gospel and make an eternal difference by saving souls? To be fully informed, believers must consider these issues from several angles, including Scriptural teaching and historical inquiry. Many authors have made convincing arguments from Scripture regarding this topic including Russell Moore and Tim Keller. One perspective that is rarely addressed is the historical perspective. How have Baptists handled this issue in the past?

For a helpful case study, one should look to William Ward (1769-1823). William Ward was one of the famous Serampore Trio in Bengal India and a leading missiologist in his day. During his twenty-plus years as a missionary, he encountered atrocities that were horrific. Infanticide, euthanasia of the elderly, beheadings to placate Hindu gods, and widespread prostitution were commonplace. His approach to undermine such evils was two-fold. He sought to take appropriate action and to ensure that the gospel permeated all of India’s society. These two forms of response were based on a fundamental conviction: lasting social change would occur only when the gospel took root within a culture.

The best source for understanding Ward’s mentality, which undergirded this approach, comes from his Farewell Letters (1821). Originally, these letters were sermons that he delivered while on a three-year preaching tour of America and Britain. Eventually, he rewrote his manuscripts as if sending them as letters to various recipients. Letter VI offered insight to his view of social action in relation to gospel proclamation. His preached it to “awaken in the minds of benevolent females in Britain and America…which will ultimately secure an amelioration of their [oppressed Indian women] condition” (63).[1] Through preaching this sermon, Ward expected Christian women to respond to the message with benevolence and action. By raising awareness concerning the abuse of women in India, Ward believed he would “ultimately secure an amelioration” of their suffering. Allowing Indian women to continue as prisoners and slaves would be unimaginable in Ward’s mind once he preached this sermon (69). Throughout this book of letters, Ward’s emotions leap off of the page and readers cannot help but imagine how deeply his words must have pricked his audience. After offering a gruesome account of families killing women by burying their mothers alive, he urged the women of Britain and America to unite and make the case of Indian women their common cause (81-82). Thus, Ward called for significant action to affect horrific social issues in India.

Part two will be posted tomorrow.


[1] All references are taken from William Ward, Farewell Letters to a Few Friends in Britain and America, on Returning to Bengal in 1821, 2nd edition, (London: S. & R. Bentley, 1821).

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J. Ryan West (PhD Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the LoveLoud National Coordinator at the North American Mission Board. He assists Southern Baptist churches and educational institutions throughout the United States and Canada in establishing and conducting gospel-centered ministries of mercy to proclaim Christ while meeting human needs in significant and sustainable ways.  Also, he was tasked recently as an Assistant Editor for The Andrew Fuller Works Project, a fifteen-volume series to be published by Walter de Gruyter.