‘Theology’ Category

Was John Bunyan a Baptist? A Test Case in Historical Method

July 29th, 2014 Posted in 17th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Eminent Christians, Historians, Theology

By Nathan A. Finn

In recent weeks, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on the life and legacy of John Bunyan (1628–1688). Some readers will know that Bunyan was the famous tinker-turned-pastor who spent most of 1660 to 1672 (and a few months in 1675) imprisoned for preaching illegally during the reign of King Charles II. This was a season when many Dissenting pastors, including Baptists, were fined and often imprisoned for violating the Clarendon Code, a series of laws meant to promote Episcopal uniformity in Britain. Over 2000 Puritan ministers lost their pulpits during the “Great Ejection” of 1662 alone.

No doubt even more readers will know that Bunyan authored the famous allegory Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), a work that has remained continuously in print, been translated into over 200 languages, and likely outsold every book in the English language besides the King James Bible. Of course, Bunyan also wrote numerous other books and tracts, including his famous spiritual autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666) and the allegory The Holy War, which focuses on cosmic spiritual warfare (1682).

What many readers may not know is that scholars have debated whether or not Bunyan was a Baptist or a Congregationalist since at least the late-1800s. There are several reasons for this debate. First, Bunyan’s church in Bedford, which began as a Congregationalist (Independent) meeting, seems to have embraced a dual baptismal practice prior to his pastorate. Second, though there is no evidence the church baptized infants during Bunyan’s pastorate, the church continued an open membership policy that included both credobaptists and pedobaptists. (Bunyan even engaged in a literary debate with William Kiffin, among others, over the relationship between the ordinances and church membership.) Finally, after Bunyan’s death in 1688, the church gravitated toward mainstream Congregationalism and rejected credobaptism as a normative practice.

For these reasons, scholars have tended to fall into three camps when debating Bunyan’s baptism bona fides. First, some scholars argue he was not a Baptist, but rather was a Congregationalist who privately preferred credobaptism to pedobaptism. Second, some scholars argue that Bunyan was an “Independent Baptist,” i.e., a Baptist who practiced open membership. Finally, some scholars punt (ahem) and suggest that Bunyan was “baptistic,” but falls short of being a consistent Baptist.

This makes for a good test case in historical method.  A growing number of scholars argue there was considerable interchange and even intercommunion between various Dissenters prior to 1660. It was not unusual for one to move between Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and even Quaker meetings during his lifetime (besides other lesser-known sects and the Church of England). Among Baptists, even the very terms “General Baptist” and “Particular Baptist” are arguably anachronistic when used prior to the 1640s, because the two groups were different trajectories rather than fully formed denominational traditions.

Furthermore, many scholars of the Independents in particular suggest that there was a great diversity of baptismal views in the tradition prior to the adoption of the Savoy Declaration in 1658. In other words, it was perfectly possible, even acceptable to be an anti-pedobaptist Independent, yet not self-identify as a Baptist (the latter carried considerable cultural baggage due to frequent association with Anabaptism). Other historians have suggested that there was a “dotted line” between many Independents and their Particular Baptist friends.

Finally, there is no doubt that a number of self-identified Baptist congregations, all of which had their roots in Independency, did practice an open membership policy, at least for a season. Examples include Henry Jessey’s congregation in London, the Broadmead Church in Bristol, the Baptist meeting in Oxford, and some Welsh Baptist congregations.

As in so many historical debates that touch upon the nature of Baptist identity, the answer to the question of whether or not Bunyan was a Baptist depends upon whether one is speaking descriptively or prescriptively. From a descriptive standpoint, I find it hard to argue that Bunyan was anything other than a Baptist, at least during his years of formal pastoral ministry. He was an Independent Baptist who practiced open membership and open communion. While this was a minority position, it was not unknown among British Baptists. For the past century, this exact position has been quite common among Baptists in the British Isles and Australasia (and, increasingly, in North America).

This does not mean I agree with Bunyan from a descriptive standpoint—far from it. I reject Bunyan’s contention that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are private ordinances that are not directly related to the church. Scripturally, I see a close connection between the ordinances and the church, leading me to affirm a closed membership that restricts communion to biblically baptized believers. However, for me to hold Bunyan to my prescriptive convictions would be to confuse the work of the historian with the work of the theologian. The same point could be made about nearly all General Baptists and, eventually, Particular Baptists prior to 1641/1642; their baptism by affusion does not measure up to my theological standards, but for historical reasons I consider them to be Baptists.

Historians of Christianity will always be tempted to be theologians. And, of course, one cannot be a very good historian of Christianity if he or she doesn’t understand theology. Nevertheless, the task of the historian is primarily descriptive, whereas the task of the theologian is primarily prescriptive. We would do well to avoid confusing the two, even when we hold very strong theological convictions. As a historian, I have little doubt Bunyan was a Baptist. As a theologian, I have strong disagreements with aspects of Bunyan’s ecclesiology. It’s a matter of description versus prescription, and for the historian, the former ought to win every time.

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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.

Caleb Evans refutes Antinomianism

July 21st, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Pastoral Ministry, Theology

By Michael A.G. Haykin

A month or so before the seizure of the Bastille in 1789, an association of English Particular Baptist churches in the West Country met, as was their annual wont, for two days of worship and fellowship. This annual meeting on this occasion—June 3–4, 1789—took place at Horsley, Gloucs., where the redoubtable Benjamin Francis was the pastor. On such occasions as these, a circular letter would be drawn up by one of the pastors; then, when approved by the association messengers, it would be sent out to the churches. On this particular occasion Caleb Evans, the Principal of Bristol Baptist Academy, was asked to write the letter.

Among other comments in the letter, which was aimed at refuting especially Antinomianism, although Socinianism was also targeted, was Evans’ critique of what he called a “poisonous doctrine”: “That as God’s love to his people is from everlasting, it must have existed when they were sunk in sin and sensuality, in as high a degree, and in the same manner, as it will be when they are brought to glory” (The Elders, Ministers, and Messengers of the Several Baptist Churches [Circular Letter, Western Association, 1789], 8). Evans called this perspective—usually associated in that era with hyper-Calvinism—an “ignorant, shocking doctrine” and proceeded to refute it. Little did he know the firestorm his remarks would create.

Within the year, one of his fellow pastors in the Western Association, the minister of Chard, Samuel Rowles, attacked Evans in his Thoughts on the Love of God, which led to a reply from Evans and then a surrejoinder by Rowles. And to make things even more difficult the London minister William Huntington also entered the lists against Evans.

Reading over Evans’ circular letter just recently, it struck me that although Andrew Fuller is remembered as the great theologian of this era—David Bebbington once referred to him as a theologian of the caliber of Athanasius—he was surrounded by many capable men: such a man was Caleb Evans.

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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.

“All is Alike Inspired”

July 10th, 2014 Posted in 19th Century, Biblical Spirituality, Books, Church History, Eminent Christians, Theology

By Evan D. Burns

Seeking to counter those who say the Bible is not inspired because of the varieties of its style and authorship, J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) employed metaphors and analogies that are very helpful for understanding the continuity of Scripture and its overall sufficient inspiration:

It proves nothing against inspiration, as some have asserted, that the writers of the Bible have each a different style. Isaiah does not write like Jeremiah, and Paul does not write like John. This is perfectly true— and yet the works of these men are not a whit less equally inspired. The waters of the sea have many different shades. In one place they look blue, and in another green. And yet the difference is owing to the depth or shallowness of the part we see, or to the nature of the bottom.  The water in every case is the same salt sea. The breath of a man may produce different sounds, according to the character of the instrument on which he plays. The flute, the pipe, and the trumpet, have each their peculiar note. And yet the breath that calls forth the notes, is in each case one and the same. The light of the planets we see in the skies is very various. Mars, and Saturn, and Jupiter, have each a peculiar color. And yet we know that the light of the sun, which each planet reflects, is in each case one and the same. Just in the same way the books of the Old and New Testaments are all inspired truth— and yet the aspect of that truth varies according to the mind through which the Holy Spirit makes it flow. The handwriting and style of the writers differ enough to prove that each had a distinct individual being; but the Divine Guide who dictates and directs the whole, is always one. All is alike inspired. Every chapter, and verse, and word— is from God.[1]


[1]J.C. Ryle, Bible Reading.

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

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.

 

Registration Now Open for “Whitefield & the Great Awakening”

May 2nd, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, Church History, Conferences, Eminent Christians, Revivals, Theology

By Steve Weaver

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Registration is now open for this year’s conference on George Whitefield and the Great Awakening. This will be the eighth annual conference of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at Southern Seminary and it promises to be one of the best. The conference speakers are some of the top scholars who have published on George Whitefield and the Great Awakening. The conference schedule is packed with excellent topics being addressed by the most well-respected authors on Whitefield. The parallel sessions are filled with excellent papers by accomplished scholars.

The conference will be a tercentenary celebration of the birth of Whitefield, occurring as it does on the 300th anniversary of the year of his birth.  This year will also mark the release of a major new work on Whitefield by Thomas S. Kidd to be published by Yale University Press, hopefully in time for the conference.

I am sure there will be no better celebration of George Whitefield and the Great Awakening anywhere else in 2014. Make plans to join us in Louisville, Kentucky on October 21-22 for a concentrated two days focused on George Whitefield and his legacy.

Register now!

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Steve Weaver serves as a research assistant to the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children.

 

 

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.

Why Read Andrew Fuller?

February 13th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, Andrew Fuller, Baptist Life & Thought, Books, Eminent Christians, Historians, Theology

By Evan D. Burns

A number of years ago I started reading Andrew Fuller’s writings.  I have come to admire and respect this great man of God who has not shared the same spotlight as other famous theologians.  But, thanks to the upcoming critical edition of Fuller’s published and unpublished works, Fuller’s theology and spirituality will hopefully continue to gain more influence.  I have discussed my appreciation of Fuller here, and in honor of Fuller’s 260th birthday last week, below are a few reasons (and suggested reading) that I commend his evangelical piety:

  • His cross-centered instinct (e.g., God’s Approbation of Labours Necessary for the Hope of Success;  The Common Salvation)
  • His Scripture-saturation (e.g., The Nature and Importance of an Intimate Knowledge of Divine Truth;  On an Intimate and Practical Acquaintance with the Word of God)
  • His missionary spirituality (e.g., The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation;  The Promise of the Spirit)
  • His prayerfulness and hunger for revival (e.g., Causes and Declension of Religion and Means of Revival)
  • His heavenly-mindedness (e.g., “The Blessedness of the Dead Who Die in the Lord”)
  • His Trinitarianism (e.g., “On the Trinity,” Letters of Systematic Divinity)

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

Dr. Haykin contributes to New Book on the Atonement

November 15th, 2013 Posted in Ancient Church: 2nd & 3rd Centuries, Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Books, Church Fathers, Church History, Theology

By Steve Weaver

Final coverReleasing this month from Crossway is a massive new book on the doctrine of definite atonement titled From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. As the title suggests, this volume will approach the doctrine historically, biblically, theologically, and pastorally.

Edited by David and Jonathan Gibson, the volume assembles a world-class group of scholars to address their “particular” topics. Dr. Haykin drew from his patristic training to write his chapter: “We Trust in the Saving Blood”: Definite Atonement in the Ancient Church.

There is a website dedicated to promoting the book. On the website, you will find a list of the contributors, the table of contents, endorsements, and a free preview (PDF) of the book.

The book is slated to release on November 30, 2013, but is already available for pre-order from Amazon.com.

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Steve Weaver serves as a research assistant to the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children between the ages of 2 and 14.

Audio for “Andrew Fuller & His Controversies” Now Online

October 15th, 2013 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, Andrew Fuller, Church History, Conferences, Eminent Christians, Historians, Pastoral Ministry, Theology

By Steve Weaver

Audio of this year’s conference, Andrew Fuller & His Controversies, is now available online for free streaming or MP3 download. The conference, which was held on September 27-28, 2013, featured speakers such as Paul Helm, Mark Jones, Tom Nettles, Nathan Finn and other scholars. You may access the audio for the conference here. Audio of previous conferences is available by clicking on “Conference” on this website’s left sidebar. On the conference page, you may choose from previous conferences on the right sidebar. Most of these include the audio of all sessions for free streaming or MP3 download.

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Steve Weaver serves as a research assistant to the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children between the ages of 2 and 14.

 

“A Large Portion Do Not Preach the Gospel at All”

October 3rd, 2013 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, Andrew Fuller, Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Eminent Christians, Great Quotes, Theology

By Evan D. Burns

In his eminent biography of Adoniram Judson, Francis Wayland carefully demonstrates how the Judson’s valued the preaching of the gospel in missions as opposed to doing other good “fruitful” ministries which seemed to bring in more immediate “fruit”.  The following account is very applicable to missions, especially today amidst our need-for-speed missions pragmatism.

During these long years of preparation, surrounded by heathen, not one of whom had ever received a single Christian idea, and, for the greater part of the time, destitute of any religious associations, except what they found in each other, Mr. and Mrs. Judson were never for a moment harassed with a doubt of ultimate success.  It never entered into their minds that it might be desirable to find a more promising field.  If the idea had once arrested their attention, he could not, he said, tell what the result might have been; but God preserved them from being tempted with it.  They never felt a single regret or misgiving, and hence their letters never even allude to it, except it be to encourage their friends at home, who, they feared, might despond, in consequence of their want of success.  They always enjoyed the most entire certainty as to the result of their labors, though occasionally doubting whether they should live to witness it.  Their confidence rested solely and exclusively on the word of God.  They believed that he had promised; they, doing, as they believed, his will, accepted the promise as addressed to themselves personally.  Their daily work was a transaction between God and their own souls.  It never seemed possible to them that God could be false to his promises.  Their confidence was the offspring of that faith which is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  By it they went forth, not knowing whither they went.  By faith, through many long years of discouragement, they endured, as seeing Him who is invisible; relying not at all on what they could do, but wholly on what God had promised to do for them.

….The direct way of securing the aid of almighty power, is to follow in the path marked out by omniscient wisdom. Mr. Judson therefore endeavored, first of all, to ascertain the manner in which Christ and his apostles labored to extend Christianity.  This seems plainy exemplified in the New Testament.  It is by the action of individual mind on individual mind.  It is by embracing every opportunity, which our intercourse with men presents, to tell them of the love of Christ, of their danger and their duty, and to urge them, in Christ’s stead, to be reconciled to God.  Thus did Christ, and thus did his apostles labor.  They had no plan, no sapping and mining, no preparatory work, extending over half a generation before they should be ready for direct and energetic effort.  As the apostles opened their commission, they saw that it commanded them to preach the gospel to every creature.  They obeyed the commandment, and God wrought with them by signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.

Mr. Judson followed these examples, and his labors were attended with signal success.  Hence it will be perceived that he addressed himself at once to adults, to those who denied the existence of an eternal God; and the Holy Spirit carried the message directly to their hearts.  Missionaries have sometimes said that we could scarcely expect men grown old in heathenism ever to be converted, since they were beyond the reach, at least, of our immediate efforts.  We must therefore begin with children.  We must establish schools, by our superior knowledge gain influence over the young, and with their daily lessons instill into their minds a knowledge of Christianity.  And more than this: as the religious systems of the heathen are indissolubly associated with false views of astronomy, geography, and physical science generally, if we can correct these errors, the religion resting upon them must by necessity be swept away.  As these views have been carried into practice, a change has naturally come over missionary stations.  Ministers of the gospel to the heathen have become schoolmasters.  Instead of proclaiming the great salvation, they have occupied themselves in teaching reading, spelling, geography, arithmetic, and astronomy.  While some are thus engaged as teachers, others are employed as book makers for the schools.  Thus it sometimes comes to pass, that of the men sent out for the express purpose of preaching the gospel, a large portion do not preach the gospel at all.[1]


[1]Francis Wayland, The Memoir of Adoniram Judson, 1:205-208.

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.