Volume 38 - Issue 2

Andrew Fuller and the Evangelical Renewal of Pastoral Theology

by Keith S. Grant

Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) was arguably the key theologian among British Calvinistic Baptists during the so-called Long Eighteenth Century. He was also an evangelical who, like Baptists in general, was shaped by the later years of the Evangelical Revival in the British Isles. Though several monographs have been published on Fuller in the past decade, Keith Grant’s Andrew Fuller and the Evangelical Renewal of Pastoral Theology, based upon his ThM thesis at Regent College, is unique in that it situates Fuller in the broader context of British evangelicalism.

Beginning with David Bebbington’s groundbreaking Evangelicalism in Modern Britain (1989), many historians have argued that the Evangelical Revival birthed the modern evangelical movement in the English-speaking world. Evangelicalism was a transdenominational movement that gave rise to numerous voluntary societies and inspired significant religious activism, especially foreign missions. Grant’s study provides some needed nuance to this narrative, which has often overemphasized the Church of England, where the revivals often spread through networks of likeminded evangelicals and the societies they formed rather than awakening entire parish churches. This pattern mirrored the renewal movements inspired by Continental Pietists, to whom the Wesleys looked for inspiration.

For Grant, Fuller serves as a case study for the type of local renewal of pastoral theology that took place during the Evangelical Revival within Dissenting congregations. Grant believes that Fuller’s influential pastoral ministry in a congregationalist tradition provides a useful prism for exploring how evangelicalism affected individual pastors and their churches. He argues,

Andrew Fuller’s pastoral theology, which was characterized by evangelicalism’s emphasis on conversion and affectionate pastoral ministry as well as congregationalism’s concern for orderly ministry and discipline, demonstrates that there was also an important evangelical renewal of pastoral theology and practice in the local church. (p. 2, emphasis in original)

Grant further argues, “evangelical renewal did not only take place alongside the local church, but especially in congregational ecclesiology, there was a transformation within the existing pastoral office” (p. 3, emphasis in original). For Fuller, revival was evidenced in and fueled by a healthy congregationalism as much as it was evangelical voluntary societies and the missions movement. This is an important point because Fuller founded the Particular Baptist Missionary Society and was the leading promoter of the foreign missions movement among the Baptists. But he was an evangelical pastor first.

According to Grant, Fuller’s transition from High Calvinism to evangelical Calvinism was a result of his coming to grips with the negative pastoral implications of the former. High Calvinism had been spiritually deadening, while evangelical Calvinism seemed more spiritually vibrant. This scenario was true not only in Fuller’s own spiritual journey, but it also applied to others. As a pastor, Fuller came to believe that evangelicalism, with its emphasis on conversion, assurance of salvation, and the freedom of gospel proclamation, offered more spiritual nourishment to his congregation than High Calvinism. Jonathan Edwards emerged as Fuller’s key mentor in this transition, with the Edwardsean concept of “affections” proving crucial to Fuller’s own evangelical theology.

Congregationalist ecclesiology provided the ecclesial context for Fuller’s pastoral theology to develop and spread. In a congregationalist church, where every member takes ownership of the church’s ministry, evangelical pastoral theology cultivates an evangelical flock. This results in a more orderly, vibrant congregation that works together to spread evangelical emphases beyond the particular local church. He also believed preaching to be the primary means the Lord uses to inspire evangelical affections within the church. Fuller not only cultivated congregationalist evangelicalism in his church in Kettering, but he also commended it to younger pastors in the many ordination sermons he preached. Fuller was at the forefront of a version of the Evangelical Revival among Particular Baptists that took root in local churches, which in turn gave birth to denominational voluntary societies sponsored by those revived churches.

Grant emphasizes that Fuller was no generic evangelical (if such a thing existed during his lifetime). He was, rather, a congregationalist evangelical in the Particular Baptist tradition. Fuller’s ecclesiological convictions helped mediate his experience of the revival and became the primary means through which he promoted evangelical renewal. His ministry is one example of an experience common to numerous dissenting pastors who don’t fit the dominant Methodist paradigm for interpreting the revival. In the appendices, Grant includes sermons and correspondence that further illustrate Fuller’s evangelical and Baptist pastoral theology.

Andrew Fuller and the Evangelical Renewal of Pastoral Theology makes several important contributions. As previously mentioned, it situates Fuller in his broader evangelical context, challenging the tendency among Baptist historians to focus their attention almost entirely upon Fuller’s denominational identity. Yet in focusing on Fuller’s evangelicalism, Grant provides a helpful corrective to the tendency among historians of evangelicalism to focus on either the Methodist/Anglican side of the Evangelical Revival or to downplay denominational commitments entirely. Like Fuller, in the days before non-denominational evangelicalism, pastors like Fuller were evangelicals and Baptists. Finally, Grant shows how evangelical (particularly Edwardsean) thought not only influenced Fuller’s soteriology, but also shaped his understanding of pastoral theology. He was a second generation Edwardsean pastor-theologian; both words in that compound phrase were equally true. Other scholars might find it profitable to build upon Grant’s insights by examining how other aspects of Fuller’s Baptist identity besides his congregational polity were related to his evangelical convictions.

Nathan A. Finn

Nathan Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, director of Southeastern’s Center for Spiritual Formation and Evangelical Spirituality, and a book review editor for Themelios. He is co-author of the forthcoming book The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement (B&H Academic).

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