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  • Easier for a Camel Review

    Easier for a Camel: Andrew Fuller’s View of Man’s Absolute Dependence on Grace. Tom Nettles. Conway, AR: Free Grace Press, 2019.

    By Jordan A. Senécal

    The last few decades have seen an increased interest in the “indefatigable and fearless” Andrew Fuller (p. 16), a “key thinker among the Particular Baptists of England” (p. 41). As pastors and scholars have been encountering Fuller, they have been realizing the importance of his works and the multifaceted, timeless wisdom with which he preached and wrote, helping to bring revival to his contemporary Calvinistic Baptists. Fuller has much to teach us, for “he gave a brilliant theological rationale for the beginning of the modern missions movement, rallied Baptists and evangelicals in England and America for the support of the missionary society, and propagated a robust doctrinal orthodoxy through his polemical, apologetic, and theological writings” (p. 41). His thought became known, even in his day, as “Fullerism” (p. 17).

    Tom Nettles, in Easier for a Camel, has succinctly arranged Fuller’s “defenses of Calvinism” from “among his theological and polemical writings” (p. 41). Originally written as “short ad hoc articles” produced in response to “erroneous presentations of Fuller’s views” on “God’s saving grace,” they have been compiled into this nine-chapter work, with some slight reworking to “create a sense of coherence and continuity in the overall arrangement” (p. 12). Nettles’ desire is “that any who read it may find it helpful in advancing their understanding of Andrew Fuller and his importance as a devoted steward of the manifold grace of God” (p. 13).

    While Nettles is not exactly clear on what the source of these erroneous views are, the reader can begin to see, as a recurring theme throughout the book, that Nettles is responding to a controversy within the Southern Baptist Convention over the doctrines of grace (otherwise known as “Calvinism”)—as put forward by the “Traditional Baptists” in their 2012 Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation (pp. 39, 89).

    Nettles states that the “late-eighteenth-century controversy duplicates many of the issues currently under discussion as matters of difference among Southern Baptists” and that he sees the current controversy as being “a renewal of the discussion between the non-Calvinist Baptist Dan Taylor and the Calvinist Baptist Andrew Fuller” (p. 46). The chapters themselves do a wonderful job in presenting Fuller within his own context, and the resulting application to this controversy only appears in brief remarks, often in the concluding paragraph (pp. 32, 38, 46, 53, 60–61, 89–93).

    Easier for a Camel, while being short, is dense and will require the reader to be focused on the carefully selected and pointed argumentation contained within. In this work, he follows some of Fuller’s interaction with, and response to, the errors of Socinianism, Sandemanianism, Arminianism, and in some instances, High Calvinism. Nettles points out that Fuller “identified Arminianism as one step on the journey from robust Christianity toward eventual infidelity” (p. 28). Tracing this progression, he noted that it is not common for “persons who go over to Socinianism, to go directly from Calvinism, but through one or other different stages of Arminianism, or Arianism, or both” (p. 32). For this reason, Nettles understands the current controversy to be an important one in avoiding the slippery slope into greater error, which includes Open Theism (p. 32).

    The first two chapters examine some “rules of engagement” from the “master Baptist controversialist” (pp. 19–20) as well as some convictions that led Fuller to engage in controversial matters. These chapters will prove to be helpful, especially in a day and age of constant (and instant) interaction, often involving controversial matters. Principled engagement is necessary.

    Much of Easier for a Camel is devoted to Fuller’s interactions with Dan Taylor, “the leading light among the English New Connection General Baptists” (p. 42). In so doing, Nettles presents various defenses of Calvinism that Fuller put forward in his writings, namely on the issues of human inability and responsibility, the freedom (or bondage) of the will, election, the relationship between regeneration and faith, the nature of saving faith, irresistible grace, definite (or limited) atonement, the free offer of the gospel, and perseverance.

    One major strength of the book is how Nettles models the principle of ad fontes by filling the book with primary source quotations. In reading this work, the reader will be receiving a crash course in the Calvinistic theology of Andrew Fuller.

    The only notable chapter where Nettles’ voice is dominant is in chapter 8, however, even then he is mostly examining the biblical data on the nature of the atonement—the reality of Christ’s dying both for sin (general) as well as sins (specific). This chapter, as well as the one that precedes it, will prove to be a helpful contribution to the debate surrounding Fuller’s view of the atonement.

    Given that the book is a collection of articles, it could have benefitted from more effort in organizing and synthesizing the material. For example, persons and works who appear without much comment in earlier parts of the book receive more complete or detailed introductions and qualifications in later parts when they are brought up again. Likewise, the repetition of material was noticeable, however it was not unbearable. The book could have also been aided by a more robust introduction wherein the context of the chapters would have been more clearly presented, framing the context for the reader before diving headlong into the material.

    Despite these few shortcomings, Easier for a Camel is commendable. It may be best served by those who are already familiar with Fuller, his works, and the controversies he was involved in. While it could serve as an introductory work, it could prove to be a difficult read for the uninitiated.

    Regardless of the book’s density, it is a definitive work in clarifying some of the confusion surrounding Fuller and his thought, and, while speaking to a specific context within the Southern Baptist Convention, will prove to be useful to any and all who are interested in the thought and theology of the man who was described in his funeral sermon as being “perhaps the most judicious and able theological writer that ever belonged to our [i.e., the Particular Baptist] denomination” (p. 16).

    Buy Easier for a Camel here.

    Jordan A. Senécal is a third-year Master of Divinity student at Heritage Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. He is currently working on writing a Master’s thesis on Jean-Henri Merle d’Aubigné, a nineteenth century French Swiss church historian and key leader of the Evangelical movement in French Europe. He is a member at Hespeler Baptist Church in Cambridge, Ontario. He was born and raised in Montréal, Québec which has shaped him to love hockey, poutine, and smoked meat. He is passionate about church history and hopes to contribute to the church’s understanding of her own history and, more importantly, to appreciate the rich heritage that we have.

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