Human heroes. We all have them. All of them are flawed, for they are all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. Yet, it is not unbiblical to have such (see Hebrews 11).
But which ones to choose from in the wide and broad history of the Church? Well, this question will be answered in part by one’s theological and ecclesiological perspective. Not totally, of course. I have always admired Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for instance, despite my disagreement with some elements of his Lutheranism and his reception of critical theology. But his exposition of Nachfolge in his study of the Sermon on the Mount and above all his study of what Christian community should be in his Life Together, from the very first when I read them, won my heart’s delight and conviction.
But for us who are Baptists who are the best guides? Where do we find those who will most challenge us with their radical Christ-centred Christianity? That question was answered for me in the academic year 1985-1986, when I picked up a copy of Andrew Fuller’s works—the 3-volume 1845 edition that Pastor Lloyd Sprinkle has republished.
I read Fuller’s essay The Promise of the Spirit—in part because of my early interest in the work and person of the Holy Spirit. I was smitten—yes, smitten by the force of his argument and his passion for the extension of the Kingdom of Christ and his biblical defence of the church’s utter need for the Spirit’s empowerment.
From Fuller I was led to his friends—William Carey, John Ryland, John Sutcliff, and above all Samuel Pearce. Then to Christopher Anderson, John Fawcett, Benjamin Beddome, Joseph Kinghorn, Benjamin Francis, Joshua Thomas, William Staughton, Anne Steele, Anne Dutton, the Stennetts and then back into the 17th century to men like William Kiffin, Hanserd Knollys, Hercules Collins, Benjamin Keach—where should I stop? In other words: I found my guides in men and women who were the fathers and mothers of my denominational persuasion, Baptist. Since then I have discovered Canadian Baptists in the 19th century like D.A. McGregor and William Fraser, and Americans like Oliver Hart and four men I am learning to know—J.P. Boyce, John Broadus, Basil Manly, Jr., and William Williams.
The theology of these brothers and sisters have set the ethos and temper, timber and shape of our denominational frame. And though their foundational work was not perfect, I have found it better than any other. Though I do admire many others—especially men like Jonathan Edwards and Basil of Caesarea—in the life and theology of these Particular Baptists I have found riches for the spirit and for the mind and a pattern of the Christian life most in accord—in my opinion—with Scripture.