Getting the Facts Right

One of the great things about the ETS meetings are the books that have been significantly discounted and even some that are given away free. One that I received free was by C. Gordon Olson entitled Getting the Gospel Right: A Balanced View of Salvation Truth (Cedar Knolls, New Jersey: Global Gospel Publishers, 2005), which is an abridgement of an earlier volume entitled Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: An Inductive Mediate Theology of Salvation. The book comes highly endorsed by men like Tim LaHaye, who writes the Foreword, and Earl Radmacher, whom I heard with great profit as a graduation speaker at Central Baptist Seminary, Toronto, many years ago. I have not had time to read the book, but glanced at a few pages, including ones in which Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) was mentioned. On page 111 Fuller is given as an example of the way in which subjective introspection can be an obstacle in the way of finding assurance of salvation. On pages 121-122 the author argues that Fuller’s theology helped establish the foundation for the ministry of C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), which I think is true (see also page 350 in this regard). But then Olson states that “George Whitefield, Andrew Fuller, the New Divinity preachers, Charles Finney, Moody, and Spurgeon” were “key figures in moving Protestantism back to a more simple gospel presentation” (p.122). Putting all of these men together as if they believed the same thing does not bode well for a good understanding of biblical truth about salvation. Finney was an out and out Pelagian, while Moody was probably somewhat atheological. The others were clear-cut Calvinists.

On page 334 Fuller is rightly called William “Carey’s friend & theol[ogical] mentor,” though Olson wrongly states that Whitefield was saved through reading Philip Doddridge’s The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul. It was reading Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man that God used to bring Whitefield to the new birth. On the following page the impact of Jonathan Edwards and Joseph Bellamy’s True Religion Delineated on Fuller’s thought is noted.

Finally, on page 347, Olson reiterates the fact that Fuller “was moved from extreme Calvinism” by Edwards’ writings and those of the neo-Edwardsians, namely men like Bellamy and Samuel Hopkins. What he does not make clear is that Fuller remained a Calvinist—in his words, a “strict Calvinist.” Olson is right to point out that Fuller’s The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation (1st ed.: 1784; 2nd ed.: 1801) “caused a firestorm” for it challenged the Baptists of that day to engage in fervent evangelism. The impression given, though, is that by becoming committed to missions, Fuller and his friends abandoned Calvinism. This is simply not true. For Fuller, Calvinism and evangelism were ever warm friends.

How vital it is for a historian to get his or her facts right! If these are not right, it raises questions about the rectitude of other assertions—in this case the getting of the gospel right!