Andrew Fuller and the Need for Spiritual Guardrails

Humans are often people of the extreme. We don’t eat ice cream, we eat a massive bowl of ice cream (okay, maybe I’m the only one who struggles with that). Everything in our society is “awesome,” or to quote a former president, “yuuuuuge.” Think about the politics of our day. You are a democrat or a republican (or one of those weird confused people who identifies as independent), and whichever of those boxes you check is accompanied by a whole list of beliefs and positions that you MUST adhere to. This has been one of the great tragedies of the modern age because it has minimized or removed all together, the conversations and civic debates that should be taking place. Are you a republican? You had better like everything about Donald Trump, love guns, and be skeptical of anything related to COVID. Are you a democrat? Well, fall in line for abortion, big government, and defunding the police (though this has seemed to begun to reverse itself). We live in a time of extremes.

These extremes can penetrate the theology and practice of the local church. That should not be a surprise, as we understand that the church is made up of the same broken and fallen people who make up the political parties of our nation. But we should know better. We have a guide that exists outside of our own logic and reasoning. We have the inspired Word of God. That is our true north. But debate exists even over how to best interpret the Bible. And no debate seems to rage stronger than the argument over Arminianism and Calvinism, or free will and the sovereignty of God.

That debate intersected the life of Andrew Fuller. Fuller lived from 1754-1815, and was one of the most influential missionary advocates of his day. He helped to found the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS), of which William Carey was the first missionary. Fuller also believed that God was sovereign over the salvation of man. Is that a contradiction? To seek the salvation of the lost by sharing the truth of the gospel while believing that the Scriptures held that the ultimate salvation of the lost lay in the hands of a sovereign God? There is mystery here, but not contradiction. There is also room for error. On one side lies the error of hyper-Calvinism, which attributes so much to the sovereignty of God that the need for evangelism is minimized. This is a clear disobedience to Scripture, and must be rejected. But on the other side lies the error of Pelagianism- the argument that man is a moral agent who can “freely” respond to the claims of the gospel. Paul makes it clear in Romans that the will of man is tainted by the fall, and that none seek after God.

Fuller spent a significant portion of his ministry battling some of these errors. His battles exposed even further the need for spiritual guardrails. If your theology leads you to disobey the clear teaching of Scripture, you are in error. Scripture tells us that we are to take the gospel and make disciples of all nations. It also makes it clear that we are not the primary agent in the salvation of the lost. We cannot minimize the task before, but we cannot pridefully boast of our evangelistic prowess either. We are to be faithful servants in the field laid out before us. And hopefully, we can have some lively (and spiritually beneficial) discussions along the way.