I was in Sri Lanka when a man from that country approached me, telling me that Daniel P. Fuller had passed away at the age of 95. The man who told me had been one of his students. He also told me how Dr. Fuller had changed his life. I was not surprised. Even though not many have heard of him, Dr. Fuller’s students are around the world.
Dr. Fuller’s most famous student is surely John Piper. But there are many more of us. I like to say that my understanding of my faith can be measured in the time before I met him and after. He has more profoundly changed my life and thinking than any living man I have ever met. Many of his students say the same.
One of those ways was in the discipline he demanded of all of us who were learning the art of Bible interpretation. The meaning of any text was not determined by how the reader understood the text. If we, his students, could not demonstrate the meaning of the text from the actual grammar of the text, we were quickly corrected. Fuller believed that we read the Bible the way we read any other book: By paying attention to the rules of human communication. But what of the Holy Spirit? Fuller taught us that the Holy Spirit was given to create a love for that which our minds see as we read. Were it not for the Spirit, we would either reject the text utterly, finding it an unwelcome intrusion into our lives, or we would twist the meaning to suit our own sinful desires. But to claim to have a special “Holy Spirit interpretation” of any Bible text, to him, was sheer folly. This view has led the Church away from the gospel and created many heresies.
Another way Dr. Fuller changed my life was in my understanding of the glory of God, and the depravity of my own sin. Dr. Fuller demonstrated our primary sin is that we have not desired to enjoy God in all His glory; rather, we have sought to exalt ourselves so that we might enjoy our own greatness. And we must acknowledge that God is just in having wrath against us for our sin. Rather than being inconsistent with His love, God’s wrath satisfies the very nature of His love. Only in this way can the exceeding worth of His glory be maintained in spite of men’s contempt for Him.
Fuller showed me that “All God’s energy and the intensity of His feelings are fully directed towards delighting in the worth of Himself.” He demonstrated that scripture constantly affirms this, that God finds Himself to be the highest of all His affections. If this were not so, if God thought we as humans were the highest of His affections, God would be unrighteous. For surely, the weight of God’s glory is of infinitely greater worth than human glory. If God acted as if it were not so, He would be living a lie. And therefore, since God knows He is the greatest of all joys, our task was to agree with God and find Him to be the greatest of all our joys as well. Hence, we were to become true hedonists. We were to seek the greatest of all joys, which is God. And we were also to reject all short-term joys that lead to great sorrow. We were to be motivated by joy. The joy of knowing Him who was ultimately praiseworthy.
A third way Dr. Fuller changed my life was in showing me the Unity of the Bible. Patiently and faithfully, he showed that the Bible consists of one story. Until I took his course on the unity of the Bible, I never understood how the entirety of the biblical revelation is a part of one narrative. Until then, I thought more about Bible stories. Now, through his careful work in taking us through the entire narrative of scripture, I saw one story, and was able to demonstrate that one story in all the details.
There are many more ways Dr. Fuller changed my life. He helped me see that faith and obedience were not two separate topics, but were one and the same. We obey the commands, he said, because we believe that the great physician is using those very commands to heal our souls of their hellish desires. God gave us the commands to heal us. Trusting His future promises to be true, we gladly forgo earthly joys and embrace heavenly ones. The commands are given, not for God’s good, but for ours. As we learn to believe Him enough to obey Him, He is showing where true joy is found.
I have hardly scratched the surface. Dr. Fuller was the one who introduced me to the writings of Jonathan Edwards, on whose writings I have often relied. He taught me to highly regard the Puritans. He taught me to mistrust my own heart, and to trust more in the Scriptures. But above all, I remember him as a man who deeply loved us, his students. He knew us all by name and remembered to pray for us.
I end with a note of gratefulness to God. God saw fit to allow me the privilege of being trained by such a godly and biblical man. I look forward to seeing my mentor again in glory. Well done, Dr. Daniel P. Fuller. Your faithfulness was all to God’s glory.