The Love of God Holds Creation Together

Andrew Fuller's Theology of Virtue

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Ryan P. Hoselton
Monographs in Baptist History
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , February
     2018.
     110 pages.
     $16.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781532618581.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Ryan P. Hoselton’s book The Love of God Holds Creation Together: Andrew Fuller’s Theology of Virtue is the seventh volume in the Monographs in Baptist History (Pickwick Publications) series and makes an important contribution to the theological recovery of one the most important Baptist theologians from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Andrew Fuller. As Michael A. G. Haykin remarks in the foreword, many modern readers of Fuller have examined his work for the purpose of answering modern soteriological questions, but in this work, Hoselton reads Fuller on his own terms and brings into view one of the central themes of his theology: love (ix). Specifically, Hoselton examines how the love of God is central to Fuller’s theology of virtue.

The book is divided into six chapters. In the introduction, Hoselton explains Fuller’s context, pointing out that his theology of virtue was intended to stand in direct contrast to the scholars of the Enlightenment who believed that “traditional Christian belief was deleterious to moral excellence” (2). He further shows that Fuller’s response to the Enlightenment critique of Christianity was an aretegenic theology; that is, the belief that a right knowledge of God fosters a love for God, which in turn fosters virtue in the lives of believers (3).

Chapter 2 explores Fuller’s answer to the “modern question” of whether all humanity has the obligation to obey God’s commands. Fuller answered the question in the affirmative and maintained that “since ‘there still exists a metaphysical and physical possibility of change within the dispositional inclination,’ it was the duty of every moral agent to believe whatever God prescribed—and he enjoined belief in the gospel” (11). Thus, the avenue to true virtue is a change in the disposition of the individual such that they begin to love God through embracing the truth of the gospel.

In chapter 3 Hoselton puts forth Fuller’s argument for the centrality of the person and work of Christ for the cultivation of true virtue. To compromise on Christian orthodoxy—especially on the question of the person and work of Christ—would destroy the means of becoming truly virtuous. Thus, for Fuller, doctrine was vital for ethics.

Chapter 4 looks at Fuller’s understanding of Christ’s atonement and shows that Fuller saw love as both the problem and the solution to humanity’s moral predicament. It was self-love that led to humanity’s fall into sin; it is God’s love that leads to the provision of a Savior; and it is only when a human is restored to a state in which they can love and glorify God that their moral predicament can be solved so that they can begin to pursue true virtue.

Chapter 5 further works out Fuller’s emphasis on the love of God as the motivation for true virtue. Hoselton writes, “Only when creatures learned to relish the excellence of God’s moral character for who he is can they begin to love the essence of virtue for what it is. When men and women enjoy God himself, they discover the enjoyment of virtue itself” (76). Chapter 6 concludes with recap of the book’s argument and a brief account of the relevance of Fuller’s theology of virtue for today.

Hoselton’s work is an important contribution not only to the study of Baptist history but also to modern discourse regarding the morality of religion. This brief account of Fuller’s life and theology reveals that even in the 17th and 18th centuries Christians were confronted for their beliefs on the basis of their morality. Overall, this work shows the value, particularly for Baptists, of returning to the past in order to receive answers for today.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Colin McCulloch is a doctoral student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
August 27, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Ryan P. Hoselton is Instructor and a doctoral candidate in Church History at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg in Germany, and a Junior Fellow of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.

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