Andrew Fuller, Adiel Sherwood, and Georgia Baptist Missions

Adiel Sherwood was one of the major leaders among Georgia Baptists during the period between the War of 1812 and the Civil War. He helped introduce Sunday Schools and temperance societies in Georgia. He was one of the leaders in the formation of the Georgia Baptist Convention in 1822. A tireless advocate of theological education, Sherwood served as the first professor of theology at Mercer University. He was involved in mission work, especially on the frontier that was the 19th century American west. Sherwood was also something of a controversialist, particularly in his arguments for cooperative missions over against Primitive Baptists and his contending for distinctive Baptist principles on the frontier.

Like many 19th century Southern Baptists, Sherwood was also significantly influenced by Andrew Fuller. The following quotes are from Jarrett Burch’s fine biography of Sherwood, Adiel Sherwood: Baptist Antebellum Pioneer in Georgia (Mercer University Press, 2003).

[T]hrough the publication of Fuller’s theological works in America, mission-minded Baptists possessed a theological text that defended a missionary rationale of calling on sinners actively to repent. Many Baptists in America adopted “Fullerism” as it was called and used his theology as a justification for doing mission work in the 1820’s. Sherwood promoted the same theological emphases as Fuller in his promotion of mission causes in Georgia (pp. 11-12).

Influenced by the evangelical thrust of Andrew Fuller, Sherwood’s earliest letters and newspaper articles accentuated the theme of duty faith. Sherwood believed, like Fuller, that faith was a moral duty. Mirroring a similar transition Fuller made in England, Sherwood took the revivalist theology of Jonathan Edwards, which claimed that unconverted people lacked the moral ability to exercise faith. Even though God alone could bestow this moral ability, all sinners had a duty to believe … Sherwood followed Fuller in adopting Edwardsean Calvinism (p. 51).

Sherwood represented the form of evangelical Calvinism filtering into the South that held to this modified view of the atonement–an atonement sufficient for all but efficient for the elect. By embracing Andrew Fuller’s version of limited atonement, Sherwood, like many other Georgia Baptist preachers, could uphold God’s intent to save his own, while assuring their audience that Christ’s atoning work could be offered to all people (p. 243).

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2 responses to “Andrew Fuller, Adiel Sherwood, and Georgia Baptist Missions

  1. Paul Brewster

    Dear Nathan,

    Thanks for your tip about Burch’s study of Adiel Sherwood. I’ve been reading it in snippets between writing my dissertation. It shows that much more work needs to be done in the area of Fuller’s influence on American Baptists.

    It is common for advocates of evangelical Calvinism to suggest that early Southern Baptists embraced Fuller’s soteriology. That is true, but needs nuanced somewhat. They certainly embraced his missiology with its strong call for open invitations and mission work. But many American Baptists were concerned with Fuller’s views of the atonement.

    Anthony Chute makes Jesse Mercer’s reservations about aspects of Fullerism very plain, especially Fuller’s fondness for governmental language about the atonement. I do not see that Burch has documented Sherwood’s embrace of Fuller’s soteriology quite as carefully–though I am not finished with his book.

    In any event, the degree to which Sherwood agreed with Fuller’s soteriology is a question that needs to be answered, as also Fuller’s influence on many other American Baptists.

    With my dissertation nearly finished, I hope to begin research along these lines soon.

    Blessings,

    Paul Brewster

  2. Nathan Finn

    Paul,

    I know this topic is near and dear to your heart. I just read Chute’s biography last week, and I appreciated the degree of nuance in terms of Fuller’s influence. Burch actually goes in depth at one point, describing the difference between Sherwood and Mercer vis a vis Fuller’s view of atonement, but I agree there is a whole lot more that can be said.

    Best,

    Nathan

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