A Response to Dr. Ken Keathley’s Presentation on the Perseverance of the Saints

[Read the live-blog account of this presentation HERE.]

In attending the John 3:16 Conference, I was especially interested to see how the anti-Calvinist Southern Baptist presenters at this Conference would address the Perseverance of the saints, seeing as how the Baptist Faith and Message has a fairly strong statement in favor of this doctrine– even using the word “persevere” according to the historic, Calvinistic understanding.

In this [relatively] short response to Dr. Keathley’s presentation, I hope to clarify one point, provide some links to respond to another point, and then provide some points of discussion concerning matters of historical theology.

First, the point of clarification: in Dr. Keathley’s survey of various theological positions on perseverance, Dr. Keathley spoke of the ‘Calvinist and Dispensationalist’ view. In discussing this view, Dr. Keathley described the views of the Grace Evangelical Society (GES), a hyper-dispensationalist group that believes repentence is not a necessary component of a person’s response to the gospel in order to become a Christian. Dr. Keathley rightly pointed out that the teachings of the GES ignore or simply explain away all the warning passages of Scripture, that they encourage laxity in Christian commitment, and that they grant false assurance to false believers. In labelling this the ‘Calvinist and Dispensationalist’ view, I think that Dr. Keathley may have given the false impression that the views of the GES are indicative of what Calvinists in general believe. I do not think that this false impression was intentional on Dr. Keathley’s part, as he mentioned differing views from others who are Calvinists, and as he is surely aware of John MacArthur’s opposition of the teachings of the GES (MacArthur himself being both a Calvinist and dispensationalist).

Second: in Dr. Keathley’s presentation he leveled a serious accusation against Dr. Thomas Schreiner and Dr. A.B. Caneday, equating their view of perseverance with the teaching of Roman Catholicism. Commenters (notably, former SBF blogger Gene Bridges) provided a brief response to Dr. Keathley’s accusation following my notes on Challies’ blog, and Dr. Caneday responded to this accusation on his own blog.

Finally: Dr. Keathley made a few comments concerning historical theology in his presentation, and pointed out some legitimate theological mistakes that modern Calvinists would be wise to avoid. In speaking of the Reformers’ doctrine of assurance, Dr. Keathley claimed that the distinction between the revealed and hidden will in God, the doctrine of Limited atonement, and the doctrine of temporary faith given to the non-elect are all doctrines that tend to undermine assurance.

I think that the distinction between the revealed and hidden will of God can, indeed, be harmful to assurance when taken to an extreme [as seen, I believe, in some of Luther’s later writings, in which God’s true disposition toward people seems unknowable]. I would argue against the idea that the doctrine of Limited atonement undermines assurance, unless it is combined with the third doctrine Dr. Keathley mentions– that of temporary faith. This doctrine of temporary faith was picked up by Puritan pastor William Perkins, as Dr. Keathley demonstrated, showing a PowerPoint picture of Perkins’ chart in the Golden Chain [see a picture of this chart HERE]. “Temporary faith” for Perkins and some others referred to a Christian faith given by God to the reprobate, which faith could even produce a false sanctification, but which would ultimately damn rather than save. This doctrine would be terrifying if believed, but is obviously unbiblical [verses such as Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (NASB), would be nonsensical if there were such things as “temporary faith” and “false sanctification”].

Dr. Keathley also criticized the Puritans for promoting great anxiety about assurance and for teaching people to look inward to find whether they are saved, rather than teaching them to look to Christ. I think that this is a valid criticism of some Puritan preachers, as even my evangelism professor at Southern Seminary, Dr. Timothy Beougher, who did his doctoral work on Richard Baxter’s theology of conversion, has made some similar criticisms.

Explore posts in the same categories: Andrew, John 3:16 Conference

3 Comments on “A Response to Dr. Ken Keathley’s Presentation on the Perseverance of the Saints”

  1. Darrin Says:

    Thanks for the info, Andrew.

    On a side note, it intrigues me that so many Protestants today are accepting of the doctrine of perseverance while otherwise despising what they understand to be Calvinism. They are really 4-point Arminians, since they don’t like the concept of losing one’s salvation. Yet I think they must not see that this doctrine (of falling away) is consistent with the Arminian viewpoint, while contrary to the whole framework of Calvinism.

    Back to your post, it is amazing that anyone from the John 3:16 Conference could accuse a Reformed theologian of proximity to Romanism! This group made a great leap down one of the many roads to Rome just by carrying on this conference!

    Regarding the revealed and hidden will, it appears important to maintain that distinction, but to be careful to follow scripture in discovering what is knowable. Many today would have us see as unknowable that which is clearly declared by God! It certainly should not undermine believer’s assurance to accept that “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever”.

    The reason Arminians see limited atonement as undermining assurance is that they do not understand the Calvinist understanding of the atonement. Indeed as Owen states it is they who limit it, in that it does not actually secure salvation for anyone, from their perspective. Those who believe in Christ should be greatly helped by an understanding that Christ has done everything for them and will keep them, just as He brought them to faith in the first place.

    The “temporary faith” concepts seems quite odd. However, is it significantly worse than the “prevenient grace” of Wesleyan doctrine? Of course this is a different topic, but in both cases something essential is given but proves to be ineffective or short-lived for the non-elect, correct?

    Regarding anxiety about assurance, we could learn much from the Puritans about examining ourselves, but certainly they were fallible. And yes, “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ”, as M’Cheyne said. Yet both have their place. But what of Finney and that bunch, with their “anxious seats”? Considering the legalists and fundamentalists (often Baptist) who can lead one to this anxiety because of unbalanced focus on man’s responsibility (with little on God’s sovereignty), it seems odd to point to the reformed for faults in this area.

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  3. Nathaniel Says:

    “Dr. Keathley also criticized the Puritans for promoting great anxiety about assurance and for teaching people to look inward to find whether they are saved, rather than teaching them to look to Christ.”

    This is false. Anyone who looks to the Westminster Confession of faith would see that the Puritans held that one should not look inward to see if they are saved, nor would they say that assurance is absolute evidence of salvation.

    “…but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God” – Westminster Confession Chapter 18

    Basically, this is saying that we have assurance through knowledge of the promises through Scripture, through the performing of works which God has given us, and through personal experiences of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Not once do they commend people to look inward for their assurance. The only inward-looking they commend is to search for sin, and then they bring you back to Christ to overcome that sin.

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