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7 Southern Baptists on 7 Salvation Questions (Question 1)

Click here for the introduction to this series. The question is: What have Southern Baptist systematic theologians taught about the doctrine of salvation?

Question 1: Does the theologian identify who initiates salvation, God or man?


John L. Dagg (1794–1884)

The language “initiate” was not found in his systematic treatment of salvation. However, Dagg argues that all people are “justly condemned, totally depraved, and in ourselves, perfectly helpless.” Also, “Salvation is entirely of God.”[1]


James P. Boyce (1827–88)

The language “initiate” was not found in his systematic treatment of salvation. However, Boyce argues that “election is an act of God.”[2] Also, “The Scripture attributes the birth to the will of God exclusively, thus showing that in some aspect it is not to be regarded as due to the reception of the truth.”[3]


E. Y. Mullins (1860–1928)

Yes. The subtitle of Mullins’ chapter on election is “God’s Initiative in Salvation.” He writes, “The motive, the method, and the end of human salvation all arose out of the nature of the infinitely holy God. The initiative was with God, not with man.”[4]


W. T. Conner (1877–1952)

Yes. In a section titled “All saving efficacy is of God,” Conner writes, “Men do not turn from sin to God on their own initiative. God must move them to do so if ever they turn.” Also, “In the Bible, salvation is everywhere attributed to God.” And, “He sought us before we sought him. Our seeking was in response to his seeking. Our love was in response to his love. He took the initiative in our salvation.”[5]


Dale Moody (1915–92)

Moody does not use the word initiate, but he quotes favorably James Denney, who uses the term. Moody quotes Denney as follows: “When reconciliation is spoken of in St. Paul, the subject is always God, and the object is always man. The work of reconciling is one in which the initiative is taken by God, and the cost is borne by Him; men are reconciled to God in the passive, or allow themselves to be reconciled or receive the reconciliation.”[6]


James Leo Garrett Jr (b. 1925)

Garrett writes, “The new birth / new creation stems from the initiative of God or the agency of the Holy Spirit.”[7] Also, Garrett asks this related question: “Is conversion primarily or exclusively the work of God, primarily or exclusively the work of human beings, or in some sense both?” Then, he summarizes three answers: conversion is essentially God’s work (Jonathan Edwards, John Gill); conversion is the human side of regeneration (A. H. Strong, E. Y. Mullins); conversion is the work of God and man (James Boyce, Donald Bloesch).[8]


Kenneth Keathley (b. 1958)

“Salvation originates within God’s sovereign choice of Jesus Christ to be the Savior of the world, and we are saved because of God’s plan to redeem a people for himself.”[9]


Tomorrow, I will attempt to answer Question 2 by quoting from each systematic theology.


Click here for a free PDF of the first four chapters of a new book I co-edited, Anyone Can Be Saved: A Defense of “Traditional” Southern Baptist Soteriology. This book sample is provided with the permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. The book can be purchased here.


[1]John L. Dagg, Manual of Theology (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1990), 259.

[2]James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2006), 348.

[3]Boyce, Abstract, 375–76.

[4]E. Y. Mullins, The Christian Religion in its Doctrinal Expression (np: 1917; reprinted Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2000), 338.

[5]W. T. Conner, Christian Doctrine (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1937), 156–57, 162.

[6]James Denney, The Death of Christ, 2nd ed. (New York: Armstrong, 1903), 143f., in Dale Moody, The Word of Truth: A Summary of Christian Doctrine Based on Biblical Revelation (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1981), 329.

[7]James Leo Garrett, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 2:284.

[8]Garrett, Systematic Theology, 2:259.

[9]Kenneth Keathley, “The Work of God: Salvation,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 705. Note: The quotations and page numbers are from the first edition (2007). The page numbers are different in the second edition. I am unaware of any changes in content in Keathley’s chapter in the revised edition (2014).

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