Andrew Fuller: A Mind for Modern Missions

The Unleashing of Modern Missions

It is totally possible that Andrew Fuller’s impact on history, by the time Jesus returns, will be far greater and different than it is now. My assessment at this point is that his primary impact on history has been the impetus that his life and thought gave to modern missions, specifically through the Baptist Missionary Society’s sending of William Carey to India in 1793 with the support of Fuller, the society’s first secretary. That historical moment—the sending of William Carey and his team—marked the opening of the modern missionary movement.

William Carey was the morning star of modern missions. Between 1793 and 1865, a missionary movement never before seen in the history of the world reached virtually all the coastlands on earth. Then in 1865, Hudson Taylor founded the China Inland Mission, and from 1865 until 1934, another wave of missionary activity was released so that by 1974 virtually all the inlands—all the geographic countries of the world—were reached with the gospel. In 1934, Cameron Townsend founded Wycliffe Bible Translators, which focused not on geographic areas or political states but on people groups with distinct languages and dialects and cultures—and gradually the church awakened, especially at the Lausanne Congress in 1974, to the biblical reality of “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9; cf. 7:9)—and the missionary focus of the church shifted from unreached geography to the unreached peoples of the world.

We are in the midst of this third era of modern missions. Today the great reality, as documented in Philip Jenkins’s The Next Christendom,[1] is that the center of gravity in missions is moving away from Europe and the United States to the South and East. Places we once considered mission fields are now centers of Christian influence and are major missionary-sending forces in the world.[2]

Andrew Fuller’s Impact

You won’t read it in the secular history books or hear it on the nightly news, but judged by almost any standard, this modern missionary movement—the spread of the Christian faith to every country and almost all the peoples of the world—is the most important historical development in the last two hundred years. Stephen Neill, in the conclusion to his History of Christian Missions, wrote,

The cool and rational eighteenth century [which ended with William Carey’s departure for India] was hardly a promising seedbed for Christian growth; but out of it came a greater outburst of Christian missionary enterprise than had been seen in all the centuries before.[3]

Andrew Fuller

John Piper

Best-selling author John Piper puts the life of Andrew Fuller on display as inspriration for all Christians to devote themselves to knowing, guarding, and spreading the true gospel—to the ends of the earth.

So how did it come about that the “cool and rational” eighteenth century gave birth to the greatest missionary movement in world history—a movement that continues to this day, which, if you’re willing, you can be a part of? God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his judgments are unfathomable and inscrutable (Rom. 11:33). More factors led to this great movement than any human can know.

The life and work of Andrew Fuller is one of them—just one of ten thousand things God did to unleash this great Christ-exalting, gospel-advancing, church-expanding, evil-confronting, Satan-conquering, culture-transforming, soul-saving, hell-robbing, Christian-refreshing, truth-intensifying missionary movement.

The reason that Andrew Fuller’s impact on history, by the time Jesus returns, will be far greater and different than it is now is that three volumes of his writings are still in print, and he was an unusually brilliant theologian. So, quite apart from his influence on the rise of modern missions, his biblical insights may have an impact for good on future generations all out of proportion to his obscure place in the small town of Kettering, England.

This article is adapted from Andrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission by John Piper.

[1] Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). See also Jenkins, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).
[2] Andrew Walls would view it a little differently than Jenkins: “While some scholars such as Philip Jenkins emphasize a shift of power from Western churches to those south of the equator, Walls sees instead a new polycentrism: the riches of a hundred places learning from each other.” Tim Stafford, “Historian Ahead of His Time," Christianity Today 51, no. 2 (February 2007): 89.
[3]Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions (New York: Penguin, 1964), 571.

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