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Sweeney’s Booknotes: Recognizing Andrew Fuller

Chris Chun, The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards in the Theology of Andrew Fuller, Studies in the History of Christian Traditions (Leiden: Brill, 2012).

Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) is finally getting the recognition he deserves among historians of Christianity. Thanks largely to the tireless labors of Michael A. G. Haykin, his Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at Southern Seminary, and Haykin’s work in organizing a modern, critical edition of The Works of Andrew Fuller (to be published by Walter de Gruyter), Fuller’s life, thought, and legacies are attracting new attention from a host of scholars in England and America.

This revival of Fuller studies is overdue, to say the least. Fuller was arguably the most important English Baptist thinker prior to Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), on whom he had a major influence. A leading Particular Baptist and associate of William Carey (1761-1834), Fuller helped to found Carey’s Baptist Missionary Society, playing a greater role than anyone else promoting the modern missions movement in England theologically.

The latest and most critically weighty work to come of this renaissance, Chun’s book began as a doctoral thesis written with Stephen Holmes at St. Andrews (2008). Chun’s project is to “trace the extent of Fuller’s theological indebtedness to Edwards” (p. 1), which–as many of us have known but Chun has laid out in impressive detail—was vast.

Chapters one and two examine the ways that Freedom of the Will (1754) lent a metaphysical frame to Fuller’s evangelical Calvinism. According to Fuller, Edwards’ work on the Freedom of the Will had gone “further toward settling the main points in controversy between the Calvinists and Arminians, than any thing [sic] that has been wrote” (p. 11). Thus he used it to steer a course between what he viewed as the twin dangers of hyper-Calvinism (still popular with fellow Particular Baptists) and Arminianism in England.

Chapter three looks at Edwards’ Humble Attempt (1747) and the way that its optimistic eschatology shaped Fuller’s view of history, inspired the English “Prayer Call of 1784” through Fuller, and helped to spur the rise of the modern English missionary movement.

Chapters four and five assess the role that Edwards’ Religious Affections (1746) and “sense of the heart,” found in Affections and throughout Edwards’ corpus, played in Fuller’s life and theology, especially as he combated Sandemanianism in Scotland.

Chapters six and seven treat Edwards and the New England theologians on the atonement and justification, showing that Fuller was indebted to New England on these matters but usually stayed closer to Edwards himself than to the New Divinity.

Chun demonstrates that Fuller drank deeply at Edwards’ well, dipped his ladel into the buckets of the New Divinity men, and that the liquid he imbibed had an enormous effect on British evangelical thought and mission. His book suffers a bit from the sins of most doctoral dissertations (hastily-written sentences, typographical errors), but will prove to be a major boon to students of Fuller and Edwards.

Highly recommended.

–By Douglas Sweeney, Director of the JEC at TEDS