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7 Southern Baptists on 7 Salvation Questions (Question 2)

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

See the previous post for the answers to Question 1.


Question 2: Does the theologian advocate decretal theology, also known as covenant theology?


John L. Dagg (1794–1884)

Yes. Dagg presents “divine grace” as the “covenant of grace.” Also, he explains, “Writers on theology have employed the term Decrees, to denote the purpose of God.”[1] Also, “The three persons co-operate in man’s salvation according to an eternal covenant.”[2] Dagg also writes, “All who will finally be saved, were chosen to salvation by God the Father, before the foundation of the world, and given to Jesus Christ in the covenant of grace.”[3]


James P. Boyce (1827–88)

Yes. Boyce writes on “The Decrees of God,” in which he explains: “The decrees of God may be defined as that just, wise, and holy purpose of plan by which eternally, and within himself, he determines all things whatsoever that come to pass.”[4] Also, his chapters on election and reprobation demonstrate a distinct bent toward decretal theology, probably passed on by his Princeton professor, Charles Hodge.


E. Y. Mullins (1860–1928)

No. Perhaps in reply to the view of James Boyce, his predecessor at Southern Seminary, E. Y. Mullins writes this regarding election: “In approaching the subject we should avoid certain errors in the manner of conceiving God’s sovereignty. Chief among these has been the habit of making the sovereignty of God depend upon his ‘mere will’ or ‘good pleasure.’ … Some forms of the older Calvinism will serve as examples of the danger we are considering. … One form asserted that God foreordained some men to eternal life for the exhibition of his love, and others to eternal death for the exhibition of his justice, and that he created men with these ends in view.”[5]


W. T. Conner (1877–1952)

Unclear. Conner repeats many of the concepts found in decretal theology, such as two calls (general and efficacious)[6] and advocates the doctrine of predestination. He writes, for example, “God does not save all men. He does save some men. Hence God did not purpose to save all, but did purpose to save some.” Also, “Any plan by which some are saved and others are lost necessitates that God should choose to save some and not others.” Conner’s emphasis, however, on human ability to resist God’s grace is not consistent with decretal theology. Consider, for example, this assertion: “We were saved when we ceased to resist and yielded to the God of all grace.”[7] Also, “He (God) has provided salvation for every man in Christ. He gives him the invitation. He brings influences to bear to bring him into the way of life. All this is grace. If in spite of these things the sinner will not come, he has nobody to blame but himself. As long as he is unwilling to receive the grace that God offers him, he cannot complain because God does not give him more grace. (new paragraph in the original) The sinner’s inability is an inability only so long as the sinner refuses to recognize his dependence on God. If he wants to come, he can. The difficulty is on his part, not God’s.”[8]


Dale Moody (1915–92)

No. Moody writes, “The called are those who have heard and believed, but there is no suggestion that some who heard were predestined in a predetermined way to unbelief.”[9]


James Leo Garrett Jr (b. 1925)

Garrett’s work tends to describe rather than advocate Christian views. Even so, his discussion of eternal decrees includes this series of questions: “Can we as finite, mortal beings correctly order and arrange the eternal decrees of God as they are indeed in the mind and purpose of God? Is such an effort not in itself a presumptuous attempt? Does the doctrine of decrees extend beyond the clear teachings of the Bible as to the will, purpose, and plan of God, thus posing conclusions that are not specifically provided within the biblical canon?”[10]


Kenneth Keathley (b. 1958)

No. Keathley notes three commendable aspects of decretal theology but levels four “weighty criticisms.” Between each statement below, Keathley provides further explanation and support for each claim. Only the thesis sentence of each claim is quoted below.

In its favor:

“First, decretal theology intends to present an entirely gracious salvation.”

“Second, decretal theology strives to uphold God’s sovereignty.”

“Third, the goal of decretal theology is to magnify God’s glory.”[11]


“First, decretal theology is highly speculative about issues on which the Bible gives little or no information.”

“A second criticism is that decretal theology is a logical system that ultimately fails logically.”

“The third problem is corollary to the previous one: decretal theology leaves the moral problems of predestination unresolved.”

“A fourth criticism brought against decretal theology is that it reduces Christ to the mere instrument by which the decrees are accomplished.”[12]


Tomorrow, I will attempt to answer Question 3 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), 103–4. Dagg raises and answers three objections to the eternal decrees, also known as the purposes of God, of the will of purposes (pp. 104–10).

[2]Dagg, 253–57. Quotation from p. 253.

[3]Dagg, 309.

[4]James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2006), 115.

[5]E. Y. Mullins, The Christian Religion in its Doctrinal Expression (np: 1917; reprinted Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2000), 338–39.

[6]W. T. Conner, Christian Doctrine (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1937), 157.

[7]Conner, 161–62.

[8]Conner, 164.

[9]Dale Moody, The Word of Truth: A Summary of Christian Doctrine Based on Biblical Revelation (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1981), 314.

[10]James Leo Garrett Jr., Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 2:447–48.

[11]Kenneth Keathley, “The Work of God: Salvation,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 712–13.

[12]Keathley, 713–15.

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