Recently, Baptist theologian Malcolm Yarnell put up a brief review of Fullerism as Opposed to Calvinism: A Historical and Theological Comparison of the Missiology of Andrew Fuller and John Calvin (hereafter “Fullerism”) by A. Chadwick Mauldin ($12.80 Wipf & Stock Publishers, Eugene, OR, 130 pages). With a Foreword written by Michael A.G. Haykin, Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Mauldin offers an invigorating proposal to contemporary Baptists—perhaps especially to those Baptists among us who insist on making Calvinism proper the theological benchmark for orthodoxy within our specific theological heritage…>>>
Fullerism is a popularized version of Mauldin’s Master of Theology thesis at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. And, Mauldin mixes no words in stating his thesis which is both concise and straightforward: to raise the question whether Fullerism constitutes a theologically more appropriate descriptor for modern missions-oriented Baptists than Calvinism (xi). Indeed it is the very subject of a hearty, weighty focus on evangelical missiology which becomes the line of demarcation between those following Calvin and those following Fuller.
Mauldin begins by offering an overview and subsequent analysis of Calvinistic influence within modern Baptist life, offering annotated biographical notes on many contemporary Baptist Calvinists including Wayne Grudem, Tom Nettles, and John Piper which the author believes to be today's most influential Baptist Calvinist thinkers* (chapter one). In light of the pronounced movement toward Calvinism spawned by these influential Baptist Calvinists, Mauldin proceeds to examine the theology of Andrew Fuller asking if he constitutes a “potentially superior model for preserving Baptist doctrine and practice” and “whether it is appropriate for such Baptists to be regarded as Fullerites rather than Calvinists” (pp. 11-12).
In chapter two, Mauldin sweeps through Baptist history establishing a proper context to answer his intriguing probe concerning Fullerism verses Calvinism. The heart of his study obviously lands the reader among English Particular Baptists. After acknowledging the General Baptist, Thomas Grantham, as the first Baptist systematic theologian (pp.13-14), Mauldin flings the reader toward the birth of the Particular Baptists with the First London Confession (1644), and moves to the JLJ church, John Spillsbury, and William Kiffin. Staunch Baptist Calvinists may find much with which to contend when Mauldin shows significant Anabaptist influence—particularly from Anabaptist theologian, Menno Simons—upon early Particular Baptists (pp.19-23). Mauldin ends the chapter with a brief synopsis of Andrew Fuller.**
Mauldin next analyzes Calvin’s missiology (chapter three). Beginning with John Calvin’s life, he develops Calvin’s view of the Great Commission and how it plays out in history, finally concluding with a two-pronged critique of the Geneva don (pp.41-48). Keeping in mind Mauldin contests those who presume Calvin to have been “utterly lacking [in] any sort of missionary impulse” as definitively failing to consider the entire historical record (p.34), nonetheless, Calvin “continually applies” his exegetical skills to deny the Great Commission texts applied to any other than the apostles (p.41). “Calvin fails to apply the Great Commission to the whole church.” And again, “To Calvin, the Great Commission was intended for the apostolic office—an office that is temporary in nature” (p.42). The second prong of Mauldin’s critique regards the conundrum with which Baptist Calvinists continue to wrestle—the mixing of secular and sacred powers (pp.44-48). Indeed Calvin perhaps more than any other magisterial Reformer personified the use of political force to conform the unorthodox to Christendom. Need one bring up Calvin's nortorious approval of Michael Servetus's death?
Chapter four offers Mauldin’s historical analysis of Andrew Fuller’s alternative to Calvinistic missiology (pp.49-65). Mauldin shows the young, self-taught theologian struck the match which fueled the firestorm on English soil beginning the necessary but difficult move away from the crusty, spiritually stale Hyper-Calvinism embodied in Particular Baptists like John Gill. Fuller’s most powerful shot was his short work entitled, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation (1846). Mauldin sums up his historical-literary analysis of Fuller by noting, in contrast to Calvin’s under-developed missiology, that Fuller rightly embraced a robust missions strategy built upon biblio-apostolic principles. He explains in detail four missiological principles which contrasts with Calvinism (pp.60-65): urgent call, human means, final triumph of Christ, and the Great Commission which, contra Calvin, belong to every church of every age (p.63).
Mauldin concludes in a final chapter that Calvin’s under-developed missiology cancels out any rightful place Calvinism may legitimately claim among modern Baptists who are, as he has argued, more the descendants of Andrew Fuller than John Calvin. Hence, Fullerites rather than Calvinists as a descriptor seems more in line with historical precedent and theological acumen for modern day Baptists who adhere to some of the soteriological presuppositions of Calvin but who rightly reject his woefully inadequate missiology not to mention Calvin's biblically vacuous ecclesiology.***
Rounding out the volume are two helpful appendixes. The first is an interview with the eminent Southern Baptist theologian-historian, James Leo Garrett, Jr. The second appendix is a collection of letters by Andrew Fuller. Both are helpful additions to Mauldin’s work.
Personally, I found Fullerism to be invigorating and helpful. Hence, I would without reservation recommend it to Baptists interested in our theological heritage. Mauldin even-handedly handled what could have been some polemical sections and well earns respect from both sides of the question as a scholarly voice offering an innovative proposition particularly to Southern Baptist Calvinists: drop allegiance to being Baptist Calvinists and become self-described Baptist Fullerites.
Only time will reveal if Mauldin struck a nerve in contemporary Baptist theological sub-culture.
With that, I am…
*I thought it odd that Mauldin placed Al Mohler and Mark Dever along with two other strong and influential Calvinists in a footnote. However, he may have offered more commentary in his original thesis which necessarily had to be washed out for editorial reasons
**I found Mauldin’s entry on Fuller at such a key juncture in the book to be disappointing mostly because of its sheer brevity
***while Mauldin did not focus in his book on Calvin's inadequate ecclesial beliefs, it was surely implied in Mauldin's two-pronged critique of Calvin, the second prong of which was the unbiblical mixture of secular and sacred societies