3rd Annual Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies Conference

December 4, 2008

Be sure to mark on your calendar the 3rd Annual Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies Conference being held at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY from August 24-25, 2009. This looks to be a great conference!

The theme is “Baptist Spirituality: Historical Perspectives.”

The plenary sessions are as follows (the parallel papers will be added later):

Monday August 24

9:00 AM – Crawford Gribben – “Irish Baptist Piety in the 17th Century”

10:25 AM – Michael Haykin – “Welsh Baptist Piety in the 17th and 18th Centuries”

11:45 AM – Robert Strivens – “The Piety of English Dissent: Philip Doddridge and Eighteenth-Century Baptists”

8:40 PM – Greg Thornbury – “Baptist Spirituality and Theological Education”

Tuesday August 25

8:45 AM – Kevin Smith – “African-American Baptist Piety”

11:30 AM – Tom Nettles – “The Piety of James Petigru Boyce”

2:15 PM – Greg Wills – “Relevance, Severity, and Spiritual Power in Baptist Piety”

3:30 PM – Gerald Priest – “Fundamental Baptists and the Holy Life”

7:15 PM – Jason Lee – “The Piety of John Smyth”

8:30 PM – Malcolm Yarnell – “17th and 18th Century General Baptist Piety: Its Significance for Today”


Solution for the Dead

November 14, 2008

“… the sinner can find no fault with the gospel of Christ, yet the perpetual language of his heart is, away with it. He hates–he abhors it. Truth as it is (and his conscience bears witness to its truth), he will not receive it. He hates both the gospel and its author–he has seen and hated, both Christ and his Father. Such is his rooted hatred to the gospel that nothing but Divine power can remove it.”

— Alexander Stewart 1774-1840 – Founding Pastor of the oldest Baptist church in Ontario

Quoted in Glenn Tomlinson, From Scotland to Canada: The Life of Pioneer Missionary Alexander Stewart (Guelph, ON: Joshua Press, 2008), p. 152.

 


A Reissue of the Prayer Call

July 15, 2008

Prayer is the effectual means for accomplishing the will of God in this age. What does this mean? It means that God uses our prayers as ordained means for accomplishing His end. This means that prayer is the lifeblood of the church. It is through prayer, not through marketing agendas, that God brings revival and fresh movings of the Holy Spirit. Historically this has always been the case. It was always through renewed efforts of prayer amongst the churches that God used to move the Spirit and bring revival with men and women repenting and turning to Jesus Christ.

John Sutcliff of Olney (1752-1814) was the pastof of the Baptist church in Olney, Buckinghamshire. He was a close friend of Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) and helped in the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society which sent out William Carey (1764-1831) to India. In 1784 Sutcliff recommended that the churches in the Northamptonshire Association  add to their services a monthly prayer meeting devoted to seeking revival from God. He had been influenced by the great Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) work, An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and visible Union of God’s people in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, Pursuant to Scripture-Promises and Prophecies Concerning the Last Time (1748).

Sutcliffe called the churches to set aside the first Monday of every month to pray for God’s outpouring of His Holy Spirit and the resultant revival in Great Britain.

The prayer call was circulated to the churches in the association in the 1784 circular letter. Most likely attributed to Sutcliff, he wrote regarding the prayer call:

The grand object in prayer is to be, that the Holy Spirit may be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinenrs may be converted, the saints edified, the interest of religion revived, and the name of God glorified. At the same time remember, we trust you will nto confine your requests to your own societies or to your own immediate connection; let the whole interest of the Redeemer be affectionately rememberd, and the spread of the gospel to the most distant parts of the habitable globe be the object of your most fervent requests. We shall rejoice if any other Christian societies of our own or other denomination will unite with us, and do now invite them most cordially to join heart and hand in the attempt.

Who can tell what the consequences of such an united effort in prayer may be! Let us plead with God the many gracious promises of His word, which relate to the future success of His gospel. He has said, “I will yet for this be inquired of by the hosue of Israel, to do it for them, I will increase them with men like a flock” (Ezekiel 36:37). Surely we have love enough for Zion to set apart one hour at a time, twelve times in a year, to seek her welfare. (The Nature, Evidences, and Advantages, of Humility [Circular Letter of the Northamptonshire Association, 1784], p. 12).

So, my call today is to recommit to prayer for the outpouring of the Spirit and the bringing of revival. I call all pastors to institute at least an hour of prayer in their churches the first Monday of every month for the purpose of revival. God can use this prayer to accomplish His will. Do you want to see revival today in North America and around the world? Then we must as a people pray! Let us come together and seek the Lord’s face! Let us ask Him to bless us and use us to bring people to Christ!

 I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. (1 Tim 2:8)

Pray continually. (1 Thess 5:17)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Eph 6:18)


Annual Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies Conference

May 4, 2008

Steave Weaver, the extraordinary PhD student at SBTS, pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church, and new Administrative Assistant of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies located at SBTS, has posted a reminder about the upcoming Andrew Fuller conference in Louisville, KY on August 25-26, 2008. You can see the update and a brochure of the conference here.

Make sure you are there and here me present my paper, “‘An Uncongenial Soil’: Thomas Patient (d.1666) and the Irish Baptists.”


Which Baptist History Text?

April 15, 2008

Which Baptist History text would you use to teach your people or your students the tradition of our forefathers and foremothers? When my former boss Michael Haykin was picking his text to use for his Baptist History class at SBTS this semester we had a brief discussion about what was the best Baptist History textbook. Is McBeth too long? Is Torbet too short? Is Oliver too specific?

What are your thoughts? This obviously presumes you would have your students reading primary source material, but what would you have them read when it comes to secondary material? What do you feel is the best Baptist History textbook?


John Gill (1697-1771), Defender of the Trinity in the English Enlightenment

January 15, 2008

Here’s some information extracted from my PhD research proposal. This will help for you to see where I hope to go with my dissertation.

Overall Aim

The overall aim of this dissertation is to examine the theological structure and exegetical details of the response of John Gill, the leading British Particular Baptist theologian of his era, to the challenge of the English Enlightenment, especially as it relates to the doctrine of the Trinity. From the perspective of Reformed orthodoxy, the English Enlightenment gave rise to a number of heterodox perspectives on the Trinity. Gill sought to provide a robust defence of a traditional orthodox teaching in the face of these heterodoxies, specifically in The Doctrine of the Trinity Stated and Vindicated which was published in two editions (1731 and 1752).

Specific Objectives

In order to accomplish the aim of this dissertation a number of objectives will need to be met.

First, a chapter surveying and evaluating the secondary literature on Gill will be necessary to put the work of this dissertation into context. A biographical chapter on John Gill will follow so as to introduce the reader to him and his life and contributions to theology. Third, an historical survey of heterodox views of the Trinity during the English Enlightenment will be outlined so as to provide the context in which Gill wrote his defence of orthodox teaching. Fourth, a detailed study of the theological structure of Gill’s work, The Doctrine of the Trinity Stated and Vindicated (1731/1752) will be developed to specifically see how Gill responded to the Enlightenment arguments concerning the Trinity. Fifth, there will be a chapter which will show how Gill developed his arguments in defence of the Trinity through solid biblical exegesis and through his understanding of the early church fathers on this issue. Finally, a concluding chapter will show how Gill’s Trinitarianism was maintained throughout his career as a Reformed theologian.

Explanation of Need for Dissertation

The orthodox teaching of the Trinity remained unchallenged from the time of the Ancient church until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the rise of the English Enlightenment. Through the Socinian and Arian denials of the Trinity, this anti-trinitarian thinking began to pervade conservative Christianity. It became necessary for religious leaders to confront this teaching. The stalwart Particular Baptist theologian John Gill rose to the challenge to defend Trinitarianism. It was through Gill that Particular Baptist were spared this departure into anti-trinitarianism.

Even though Gill is known as one of the greatest theologians of the Baptist tradition, very little has been actually written on him or his thought. And what has been done on Gill has focused on his understanding of salvation, especially in the debate as to whether Gill was a hyper-Calvinist or not (see the issue below in my brief biography of Gill). Gill’s thought goes far beyond soteriology and issues of Calvinism. This self-taught theologian truly was a giant amongst men when it came to the exegesis and exposition of Scripture and his understanding of theology. Therefore, it is necessary to study Gill more in depth and less on the area of soteriology. Gill’s work on the Trinity is masterfully developed especially as it interacts with Enlightenment denials of the Trinity. It is a model of biblical and historical exegesis and needs to be studied further.

With the current historical fascination with the Enlightenment and Enlightenment thinking it behooves the historian to understand better the Enlightenment and specifically their argumentation against various areas of orthodox Christian theology. Their argumentation in denial of the Trinity is of extreme importance, and therefore, needs to be studied, and the argumentation of those against the Enlightenment thinkers needs to be explored. This is where this study comes in. It is important to put this debate over the Trinity into historical context and understand a key thinker like Gill who was responding to this debate. Since so little is actually written on Gill, this dissertation will fill a much needed gap in Gill studies and hopefully Enlightenment thought studies as well.

Historical and Scholarly Context of Dissertation

Gertrude Himmelfarb has shown that there was not some monolithic movement called the Enlightenment, but that different countries had their own Enlightenments. France had quite a different Enlightenment than England for instance.[1] England’s Enlightenment was more moderate than France’s. Yet, it had its own particular challenges. While France moved toward atheism, England moved into areas of Arianism. This “Age of Reason” denied much of the supernatural from the Scriptures and believed that their embracing of logic and reason could eliminate that which was based upon “faith” which included much of what was distinctive to orthodox theology like the doctrine of the Trinity. And while Trinitarians were more learned than their anti-trinitarian enemies, the anti-trinitarians were better writers and thus lead to the continued denial of much of what was distinctively orthodox Christianity.[2]

In fact, both Socinianism and Arianism in England in the late 17th and 18th century began to dismiss the doctrine of the Trinity as an invention of the early church and an unnecessary adoption of Greek logical thinking to theology. Samuel Clarke in particular of the Arian controversy wrote his Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity (1712) which had Arian tendencies. This particular controversy came to a head in the Salter’s Hall Synod (1719).[3] Here Presbyterians, Independents, Particular and General Baptist met to discuss whether ministers could be asked to subscribe to a Trinitarian creed. The Presbyterians and General Baptists voting no, moved into areas of Unitarianism and other heretical doctrines. The Independents and Particular Baptists though voted yes and remained faithful to orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.Yet, these Trinitarian controversies created confusion amongst many individuals. Isaac Watts (1674–1748), the hymn-writer, for instance near the end of his life, re-wrote a number of his works and never did seem to have a clear understanding of orthodox Trinitarianism.[5] Robert Robinson (1735–1790), the Baptist pastor and hymn-writer, seemed to deny Trinitarian theology near the end of his life as well.[6] The issue of the Trinity is incredibly important even today as many continue to deny this core theological doctrine.

While there is continued interest in the doctrine of the Trinity, there has been a failure to really understand the English Enlightenment denial of the Trinity and the continued orthodox affirmation and defence of the Trinity during this time. For instance, in his recent detailed work on the Trinity, Robert Letham argues that conservative Reformed theologians have contributed little to the doctrine of the Trinity since the time of John Calvin (1509–1564) until the twentieth century.[7] Yet, the defence of the Trinity in the seventeenth and eighteenth century is a crucial part of the story of the church’s teaching on this crucial doctrine.

John Gill (1697–1771) amongst the Particular Baptists vigorous defence of the Trinity as it had been held since the early church is important in the discussion of the Trinity in the eighteenth century. Muller writes, “Among the British writers of the late orthodox era, the Particular Baptist John Gill stands out as a defender of the doctrine of the Trinity as ‘a doctrine of pure revelation’ to the setting aside of all but biblical argumentation and patristic usage.”[8] With the rise of interest in Enlightenment studies and Enlightenment thinking on religious issues and doctrine, it is important to look at the orthodox response to English Enlightenment thinking, especially on an issue as important as the Trinity. Gill is such a person that must be studied. Not only did he study the Scriptures and the early church in his defence of the Trinity, he lived out his ministry with a complete commitment to the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. His biographer John Rippon (1751–1836) and the pastor who followed him at his Carter Lane Church wrote of him regarding the influence his thinking on the Trinity had on his ministry. He writes,

The Doctor not only watched over his people, “with great affection, fidelity, and love;” but he also watched his pulpit also. He would not, if he knew it, admit any one to preach for him, who was either cold-hearted to the doctrine of the Trinity; or who denied the divine filiation of the Son of God; or who objected to conclude his prayers with the usual doxology to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as three equal Persons in the one Jehovah. Sabellians, Arians, and Socinians, he considered as real enemies of the cross of Christ. They dared not ask him to preach, nor could he in conscience, permit them to officiate for him. He conceived that, by this uniformity of conduct, he adorned the pastoral office.[9]


[1] Getrude Himmelfarb, The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments (Essex, England: Vintage Books, 2005).
[2]See Philip Dixon, ‘Nice and Hot Disputes’: The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Seventeenth Century (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2003), p. 215.
[3] For more on this see Roger Thomas, “The Non-Subscription Controversy amongst Dissenters in 1719: the Salter’s Hall Debate,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 4 (1953): 162–186.
[4]See Arthur Paul Davis, Isaac Watts: His Life and Works (Published PhD Dissertation, Columbia University, 1943), pp. 109–126.
[5]See Two Original Letters by the Late Mr. Robert Robinson (London: J. Marsom, 1802). For the whole story of Robinson’s life see Graham W. Hughes, With Freedom Fired: The Story of Robert Robinson, Cambridge Nonconformist (London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1955).
[6] Robert Letham, The Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), pp. ix–x.
[7] Richard A. Muller, The Triunity of God in his Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), IV, 140. Despite the lack of scholarly study in the Baptist stream of historical theology, Gill can rightly be included in the stream of other Post-Reformation Reformed theologians and thus is important to be studied in and of himself (see Richard A. Muller, “John Gill and the Reformed Tradition: A Study in the Reception of Protestant Orthodoxy in the Eighteenth Century,” in Michael A. G. Haykin, ed., The Life and Thought of John Gill (1697–1771): A Tercentennial Appreciation (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2007): 51–68. See especially pp. 55–56.
[8] John Rippon, A Brief Memoir of the Life and Writings (Reprint ed., Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1992), 127–128. Emphasis in original.

Brief Biography of John Gill (1697-1771)

January 15, 2008

The following is the brief biography I wrote for the up-coming 3 volume Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization from Blackwell Publishers this year. Since I’m working more specifically on Gill I thought I should briefly introduce him!

John Gill was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire on November 23, 1697 to Edward and Elizabeth Gill. His parents were God-fearing individuals of the Calvinistic Baptist tradition. His father served as a deacon in the Baptist work in Kettering. Gill grew up in a good Christian home. His early years were spent studying in the local grammar school where he excelled in languages. Unfortunately, he was no longer able to attend by the age of 11 since it was required that students attend morning prayer at the parish church. His parents being dissenters would not allow this. This was the end of Gill’s formal education but he spent his time wisely teaching himself and not only excelled in Greek and Latin but was quite adept at Hebrew by the age of nineteen.

He was converted to Christ at the age of twelve but was not baptized until he was nineteen on November 1, 1716. He was married to Elizabeth Negus (d. 1764) in 1718 and they had three children that lived beyond infancy: Elizabeth, John, and Mary. The church at Kettering recognized his gifts as a preacher and in 1719 became pastor of the famous Horselydown congregation in London. Benjamin Keach had previously served as pastor in this church and eventually C. H. Spurgeon would become pastor of this church.

Gill would become a prolific author and influential theologian of the Particular Baptist cause. His writings include The Doctrine of the Trinity Stated and Vindicated (1731), The Cause of God and Truth (1735–1738) which was a return to Daniel Whitby’s Discourse on the Five Points which was a refutation of Calvinism. His magnum opus was his three volume An Exposition of the New Testament (1746–1748) and his six volume Exposition of the Old Testament (1748–1763). He also wrote A Dissertation on the Antiquity of the Hebrew Language (1767), A Body of Doctrinal Divinity (1767) and A Body of Practical Divinity (1770). He received an honourary Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Aberdeen in 1748. He would become one of the most influential Baptist theologians ever.

The major controversy that has erupted over the influence of Gill has been over the issue of Hyper-Calvinism (the belief that unsaved man is not obligated to respond in faith in Christ and therefore preachers should not offer the Gospel to those who are the non-elect). Some have attributed to Gill to be the first systematizer of a Baptist Hyper-Calvinist theology. Others have argued that Gill was in fact not a Hyper-Calvinist. Regardless, it was during Gill’s time period when the Particular Baptist Churches began their decline into Hyper-Calvinism. Gill did believe in eternal justification (that the elect were justified in eternity past) and did not seem to appeal to all in the same way that further generations of Evangelical Calvinists did, but it seems difficult to say that Gill was undeniably in fact a Hyper-Calvinist. Instead, most likely, Hyper-Calvinists used Gill’s theology and went past him to solidify their own theology.

Gill is the first major writing Baptist theologian and his works retain its influence even to this day.