While the church undergoes a “small renaissance” in the thought of Andrew Fuller, Paul Brewster provides a surprisingly robust yet efficient look into the life and ministry of the “evangelical” Calvinist. Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor-Theologian (B&H Academic, 2010) challenges the current migration of theologians from churches to seminaries, finding in Fuller the fusion of sound theology and daily practice. Himself a pastor and church historian, Brewster presents history not for its own sake, but for a new generation of pastors facing the same perils of High Calvinism in eighteenth-century England. “As men can benefit from a personal mentoring relationship with older pastors, so too can they benefit from the study of some worthy examples of past Baptist leaders.” (6) This work serves as a model, true to its subtitle. In doing so, Brewster successfully parallels the challenges and victories of our own “Great Commission Resurgence.”
Throughout Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor-Theologian, Brewster presents Fuller’s ministry as a balance of pastoral and evangelistic endeavors. Therefore the flow of the book is from soteriology to missiology. Brewster can confidently assert that “Fuller’s greatest legacy among the Baptists (was) to support a missionary-oriented theology that helped foster deep concern for the salvation of the lost.” (106) For this reason, the work begins with the specific theological milieu in which Fuller’s beliefs were fostered. His road began under a pastor who would undertake the same journey to evangelical Calvinism that Fuller did. Under controversy, Eve’s resignation cast doubts over Fuller’s soteriological conclusions. Despite eventually admitting he’d been “sidetracked” spiritually by those who saw evangelism as an infringement upon the sovereignty of God, the future pastor still had questions.
Young Fuller read the works of High Calvinists John Gill and John Brine. Consequently, according to Fuller, he had very little to say to the unconverted. (24) However, he also began reading the works of John Bunyan as well as Abraham Taylor’s booklet on The Modern Question. He then began to seriously question the High Calvinist system. As he saw it, Gospel addresses in Scripture seemed to support Bunyan. Over time, Fuller’s complete embrace of evangelical Calvinism would coincide with his new pastorate at Kettering where he served for 33 years. His influence over that congregation and over the Northamptonshire Baptist Association would propel him to become one of the most prominent Particular Baptist theologians of his era.
According to Brewster, Fuller’s first book, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation (1786), was a “theological bombshell” aimed against High Calvinism. Instead the “modern question” was answered by Fuller in the form of evangelical Calvinism, exhorting ministers to exercise their “duty” to utilize means such as invitations, calls, and warnings.
Brewster locates Fuller’s systematic methodology in his Puritan roots: “According to Fuller, the task of the theologian is to recreate the system of truth that God has revealed in His Word.” (40) Against those who held that the nonelect had neither the power nor the duty to repent and believe, Fuller made a distinction between natural and moral inability, an idea he inherited from Jonathan Edwards in order to balance divine sovereignty and sincere appeals for salvation. Underneath it all was Fuller’s doctrine of biblical inspiration and infallibility. Against Thomas Paine, he held that reason was always subordinate to divine revelation. As a result, his defense against High Calvinism was likewise a defense of Sola Scriptura (63).
Fuller’s soteriology was born in the “winter of hyper-Calvinism.” (66) Election and predestination dominated the entire theological scheme of his era, at the cost of evangelism. “Methodologically, the ‘non-application, non-invitation scheme’ was the order of the day for the majority of Particular Baptists in the half-century prior to Fuller’s soteriological challenge.” (73) In response, Fuller embraced the affirmative answer to the “modern question” in A Gospel Worthy. Despite his aversion to the Hyper-Calvinist scheme, his evangelical Calvinism was consistent with traditional “5-point” Calvinism, appealing to Augustine, Calvin, and even Owen. However, in Fuller’s view, the atonement was sufficient for all, and efficient for the elect.
Despite the new following for “Fullerism” amongst Particular Baptists, his second edition of A Gospel Worthy raised serious questions about his new understanding of the atonement. As a student of Edwards, Fuller had read considerably from the New Divinity School of theologians and had seized upon their governmental views of the atonement. The result was his distinction between “figurative” and “proper” imputation. That, combined with his language of God’s “moral justice,” raised once again the age-old Antinomian debate. However, according to Brewster (via Nettles), Fuller’s view of moral justice never conflicted with his view of substitutionary atonement. Regardless, “Fullerism had become the new orthodoxy,” helping unite the General and Particular Baptists. (99)
Fuller’s new approach to preaching caught on. No sermon was complete until the Gospel had been explained and a fervent invitation made. His passion outweighing his oratorical skill, Fuller used every possible “means” to progress the Gospel forward for the salvation of the lost. (125) As the distinction between clergy and laity diminished, Fuller brought more and more people to embrace the Great Commission. As founding secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society, Fuller agreed to “hold the rope” for William Carey as he left for India. For Fuller, doctrine drove practice. Soteriology drove missiology. Battling Sandemanians, Socinians, and Deists, Fuller’s apology for the integrity of the Gospel is of great modern application for pastor-theologians today.
As Brewster’s subtitle suggests, the aim of the work is to provide a model for pastors and theologians alike. The author certainly accomplishes this. He does so by providing a thorough canvas of Fuller’s soteriology and ministerial practice: “A pastor-theologian cannot hope to expound fully the doctrines of the Christian religion apart from a fervent and ongoing personal walk with God.” (54) This is as true for Fuller as it is for the reader. Thus Brewster’s account of Fuller is as much narrative as it is analysis. The author chronicles Fuller’s transitions from Soham to Kettering, from High Calvinism to Evangelicalism Calvinism, from Gill and Brine to Bunyan and Taylor, from the first edition of A Gospel Worthy to the second, from one “spiritual friendship” to another, and so on. With each stage of ministry, Brewster increasingly presents Fuller as a pastor-theologian translating soteriology into missiology.
Brewster’s perspective of that soteriology is particularly Baptist in his own right. The author is the pastor of a Southern Baptist church in Madison, Indiana. He is also a church historian with a doctoral degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In fact, Brewster twice quotes R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in summarizing the duty of the reader as well as Fuller himself. In his concluding remarks, Brewster cites Mohler: “Every pastor is called to be a theologian.” (171) The author also cites Mohler in explaining Fuller’s task of “theological triage.” (8) From these two instances it could be sufficiently said that the author views the role of the pastor (including Fuller and his audience) through a particularly Baptist lens. Therefore Baptist soteriology is a familiar friend of Brewster’s.
Several strengths of this work make it a valued part of any Andrew Fuller study. Specifically, Brewster proves equitable in his presentation of differing views on pre-Fuller England. While some contend that High Calvinism was rampant throughout Particular Baptists, others do not agree and Brewster presents these arguments also. The author is also keen to agree with Hayden that Fuller was not “birthed in a vacuum” and should not be treated without due consideration to his heterogeneous context. (68) Likewise, the author also agrees with Tom Nettles that John Gill was not solely to blame for the infiltration of High Calvinism into English Particular Baptists during the eighteenth-century. This proves a wise and discerning insight on the part of the author. Still, against those who would contend that most Particular Baptists in Fuller’s day were not High Calvinists, Fuller goes straight to the source: Fuller himself. (70)
One weakness of Brewster’s work comes from a strength. In helpfully clarifying the meaning of “High Calvinism,” he uses it interchangeably with “hyper-Calvinism” (10), claiming that Fuller himself did so. But where are these instances? (1) For many, the two are not interchangeable. (2) And because of that, it would be helpful if Brewster had provided an example or context to his statement that Fuller used the two interchangeably. Of the quotations cited from Fuller concerning “hyper-Calvinism,” the phrase “High Calvinism” is nowhere to be found. For a word so commonly used throughout the book, more diligence in explaining these terms would be helpful. Brewster, however, does well to distance so-called “5-point Calvinism” from “hyper-Calvinism.” (177)
I would recommend this pastoral presentation of Fuller’s ministry to any Christian eager to study Andrew Fuller. Whether they be pastor or layman, the reader can profit greatly from Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor-Theologian. Brewster’s ability to present Fuller’s transition from High Calvinism to evangelical Calvinism, simultaneously with his transitions through life, creates a usable lens through which to view Fuller the pastor-theologian.
The tension in Fuller’s career and marriage that Brewster highlights in the conclusion is particularly relevant to his portrait of the man. (161) After displaying the pastor/secretary/theologian in such a balanced manner, the author is cognizant of the personal struggles behind these “professional” successes. Thus even in discussing Fuller’s imbalance, the author maintains a balanced portrait of his subject. Brewster hands his readers a realistically helpful model for pastor-theologians navigating through the traverses of life and ministry.