By Jason Hall
The debate among Christian theologians is sometimes expressed as a tension between God’s total sovereignty over the world and man’s free will to make his own choices, often using the labels “Calvinist” and “Arminian.”
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary dean Kenneth Keathley has written a book proposing that the Bible teaches, and Christians can understand, an approach to the issue that affirms God’s sovereignty and man’s free will without pitting the two against one another.
Keathley’s book, titled Salvation and Sovereignty
, is published by B & H Academic. In it he proposes to affirm some of the central tenets of Calvinism while rejecting elements of that theology that seem to violate free will or make God the cause of evil. He does so by making use of Molinism, a philosophical framework associated with theologian Luis de Molina.
“Molinism, simply put, argues that God meticulously accomplishes his sovereign will in the lives of genuinely free creatures by means of his omniscience,” Keathley said. “The Molinist proposal suggests how this may be done. We all use Molinist intuitions on a daily basis, and more important for the matter at hand, the Bible regularly employs the conceptual elements of Molinism.”
Instead of the popular Calvinist acrostic TULIP – which is shorthand for basic Calvinist tenets and stands for Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the Saints – Keathley uses the acrostic ROSES – standing for Radical depravity, Overcoming grace, Sovereign election, Eternal life and Singular redemption.
“Most Reformed theologians express dissatisfaction with the TULIP formulation. TULIP was an ad hoc response to a particular situation in the early 17th century. Reformed theology is much broader and more nuanced than the five points of (the Synod of) Dort,” Keathley said. The Synod of Dort was a 15th century Dutch church council in which Calvinist theologians responded to challenges by Arminianism. That five-point response was largely the basis for the TULIP acronym. “(Southern Baptist theologian) Timothy George was the first to suggest ROSES as a replacement for TULIP, and Dr. George is a Reformed theologian.”
Keathley said the book is not an attack on Calvinism, but rather an attempt to consistently apply the best of Reformation theology in a way that is biblically faithful. He said the response to the book so far has been positive. He is even hopeful that it can quell some of the rancor in the debate over Calvinism in Southern Baptist circles.
“Hopefully, Salvation and Sovereignty
will demonstrate that it is possible to simultaneously affirm a high view of sovereignty and a genuine view of human choice,” he said. “Thus we can be certain of the harvest (Acts 18:10) while also aware that our failure to be evangelistic will result in souls perishing (Ezek 3:18). The goal of the book is to advance a Great Commission theology.”
Keathley also mentioned that the book is written primarily for pastors and students, but interested laypersons will find it accessible and enjoyable. Salvation and Sovereignty
is available now in bookstores and online.