Who’s Ultimately Converting?

By Ryan Patrick Hoselton

Contextualization—in culture and on the mission field—has perennially been one of the most sensitive and complicated subjects for Christians interested in sharing their faith. To what degree should believers talk, dress, act, and think like their non-Christian community in order to effectively present the gospel to it? Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) offers a helpful test for Christians wrestling through these questions, simply ask: who’s ultimately converting? Are you seeing unbelievers embrace a new identity in Christ, or are your neighbors actually seeing you convert?

In his apologetic work against the Socinian Joseph Priestley (1733–1804), Fuller paralleled the compromise of doctrine to cultural trends to an example of a compromise on the mission field:

Nearly the same things might be observed respecting heathens and Mahometans. We may so model the gospel as almost to accommodate it to their taste; and by this means we may come nearer together: but – whether, in so doing, we shall not be rather converted to them, than they to us, deserves to be considered. Christianity may be so heathenized that a man may believe in it, and yet be no Christian. Were it true, therefore, that Socinianism had a tendency to induce professed infidels, by meeting them, as it were, half way, to take upon them the Christian name, still it would not follow that it was of any real use. The popish missionaries, of the last century, in China, acted upon the principle of accommodation; they gave up the main things in which Christians and heathens had been used to differ, and allowed the Chinese every favourite species of idolatry. The consequence was, they had a great many converts, such as they were; but thinking people looked upon the missionaries as more converted to heathenism, than the Chinese heathens to Christianity.[1]

Why would unbelievers even consider becoming a Christian when its representatives have nothing unique to offer, for what would they “do more, by embracing Christianity, than they already do?”[2] When Christians compromise their doctrine for the sake of reaching a certain demographic, they divest their mission of its life-source.  The missionaries that Fuller referenced “stripped the gospel of all its real glory” and “of all that is interesting and affecting to the souls of men.”[3] When identifying with unbelievers, be careful not to lose your own identity. Don’t be ashamed of the uniqueness of the gospel when evangelizing. The reality is that the gospel is different than us, and that’s exactly why we need it.

            [1] Andrew Fuller, The Calvinistic and Socinian Systems Examined and Compared, As to their Moral Tendency, in The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller with a Memoir of His Life by Andrew Gunton Fuller, 3 Vols., ed. Joseph Belcher (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1845. Repr., Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle, 1988), 2:126.

            [2] Andrew Fuller, The Calvinistic and Socinian Systems Examined, in Complete Works, 2:127.

            [3] Andrew Fuller, The Calvinistic and Socinian Systems Examined, in Complete Works, 2:126–27.


Ryan Patrick Hoselton is pursuing a ThM at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife Jaclyn, and they are expecting their first child in August.