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.