Happy Birthday, Charles E. Fuller

Today (April 25) is the day when Charles E. Fuller was born in 1887. Fuller is famous for the classic radio show The Old Fashioned Revival Hour, and for founding Fuller Theological Seminary. Charles Fuller started broadcasting in 1925, and the Revival Hour started in 1937, but it already sounded intentionally old-fashioned then. And Fuller Seminary started up in 1947, but somehow maintains an image too self-consciously contemporary to have had a mid-century origin. As a result, Charles Fuller’s 81-year lifespan (1887-1968) sometimes makes him look like a colossus bestriding two complete centuries of American evangelical life.

Charles E. Fuller was born in Los Angeles, and shaped by the unique cultural forces of southern California in its early boom days.  What many people overlook, though, is how closely Charles Fuller was linked with Biola. He was converted at Biola’s Church of the Open Door in 1916, graduated from the Bible Institute in 1921, served as a Field Representative for the school in 1926, and rescued Biola from near doom by taking over as president of the board of directors in 1928.  Fuller continued to collaborate closely with Biola for another decade after that, and his radio offices were located on the eighth floor of Biola’s main building at 6th and Hope Street in downtown Los Angeles well into the 1930s. His great successes with the Revival Hour and the seminary finally launched Fuller out of Biola’s orbit, but the man and his ministries make no sense without the Biola imprint.

Fuller’s conversion happened when he came to the Church of the Open Door, an interdenominational church founded by R. A. Torrey as part of Biola’s downtown mission. The preacher who Fuller came to hear that day, however, was not Torrey but Paul Rader, a former boxer who was preaching a sermon entitled “Out of the Cave.” As Fuller’s biographer (his son Daniel Fuller) summarizes the message, Rader argued that

apart from the Holy Spirit’s illumination, people were in a cave, as it were, blinded and unaware of the glorious and marvelous things  God had in store for them. They needed to ‘come out of the cave’ and realize the blessings God had promised to impart. As Charles Fuller listened to this message, the Holy Spirit convicted him that he was not living as one who looked forward to such blessings.

Fuller spent a few more years making a living in the orange business, and began teaching a Bible class. He and his wife Grace drove into Los Angeles to hear Torrey’s preaching at the Church of the Open Door whenever they could. Finally in 1919, he was able to enroll full time at Biola. Again, from Daniel Fuller’s Biography Give the Winds a Mighty Voice:

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