Book Reviews

Salvation and Sovereignty

A Molinist Approach

Kenneth Keathley Nashville, TN 2010-01-01

Keathley is professor of theology and dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina. In this book he defends a “Molinist model of salvation and the sovereignty of God” that “endeavors to maintain the biblical balance of certainty and contingency, confidence and urgency. Our sovereign God saves. Despite [the fact] that God granted genuine freedom to us” (p. 210). Typical of his characterization of Calvinism, he concludes, “God is perfectly accomplishing His plan of salvation. And He is doing so in a way that maintains His perfect integrity from evil and does not turn humans, who [sic] He created in His image, into robots. Salvation is of the Lord, all of grace and for His glory” (ibid.)

Keathley begins his book with a discussion of TULIP, the five points of Calvinism, and then explains, “I agree with three of the points of TULIP: total depravity, unconditional election, and perseverance of the saints. The biblical evidence seems clear enough. But the Bible also presents a genuine desire on the part of God for the salvation of all humanity and declares a real offer of the gospel to everyone who hears it. In addition, the biblical case for limited atonement and irresistible grace is shockingly weak. This means that ‘L’ and ‘I’ must go. Limited atonement and irresistible grace cannot be found in the Scriptures unless one first puts them there” (pp. 1–2). This style of writing characterizes the book. Keathley’s view is biblical; the view of his opponents is dismissed as lacking biblical support. Here is another example: “Calvin declared that God created certain persons whom ‘it was his pleasure to doom to destruction.’ Yet the Lord, speaking through Ezekiel, explicitly rejects such a conclusion” (p. 117). Calvin’s conclusion comes at the end of a discussion of Romans 9, which Keathley neglects to mention. Furthermore, here is Calvin’s quote in its original context: “We say, then, that Scripture clearly proves this much, that God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined once for all those whom it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was his pleasure to doom to destruction. We maintain that this counsel, as regards the elect, is founded on his free mercy, without any respect to human worth, while those whom he dooms to destruction are excluded from access to life by a just and blameless, but at the same time incomprehensible judgment” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.21.7; v.xxii.html, accessed March 13, 2012). Surely Calvin’s exegesis of Romans 9 deserves more than the dismissive claim that it is contradicted by Scripture.

Believing that “the acronym has outlived its usefulness” (p. 3), Keathley rejects TULIP and adopts Timothy George’s acronym ROSES (in Amazing Grace [Nashville: Lifeway, 2000], 71–83). He explains that George’s understanding differs from his, since George “favors reformed theology” (p. 2). Keathley proposes that Radical depravity, Overcoming grace, Sovereign election, Eternal life, and Singular redemption fit the biblical data better than TULIP. Molinism, according to the author, combines “a Calvinist view of divine sovereignty and an Arminian view of human freedom” (p. 5) and is thus “the only game in town for anyone who wishes to affirm a high view of God’s sovereignty while holding to a genuine definition of human choice, freedom, and responsibility” (p. 6). In the chapters that follow, Keathley provides a biblical case for Molinism and defends the view that God desires the salvation of all. Then a chapter is devoted to each of the five points of the acrostic.

In the foreword Paige Patterson recommends this book for two groups of people. “First, for all those who are uncomfortable with Calvinism and feel that it has exceeded the actual witness of Scripture, while ignoring other major emphases in Scripture, this book is the one for which you have waited. [Second], for my Calvinistic friends, I do not believe this book will change your mind. . . . Of course, I hope you read the volume because I think some of you who do not change your minds will nevertheless have been exposed to an irenic and profoundly Christian response, which without a trace of uncharitableness should move all toward taking the gospel to the world until Jesus comes” (pp. x–xi). It is unlikely that Calvinists will change their minds based on this book, but it is likely that Calvinists will disagree with Patterson’s assessment of the irenic and charitable nature of this book. 

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Glenn R. Kreider
Dr. Kreider is professor of theological studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He identifies his motivations as his passion for the triune God and his desire to help others respond to divine revelation in spirit and truth. Prior to coming to DTS he served as director of Christian education and pastored a church in Cedar Hill, Texas. Dr. Kreider’s research interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, and our eschatological hope. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children, a son-in-law, and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and their four rescue dogs—two pugs, a chihuahua, and an adorable black lab named Chloe.
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