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 posts for the answers to Questions 1–4.
Question 5: Does the theologian understand God’s grace to be resistible, irresistible, or something else?
John L. Dagg (1794–1884)
Those terms are not found in his systematic work, but his acceptance of covenant theology suggests Dagg affirms some view of God’s grace as irresistible grace for those whom God has elected to salvation. Dagg writes: “The gospel calls all who hear it to repent and believe. This call proceeds from the Holy Spirit, who qualifies the ministers of the gospel for their work, and gives them the written word. But men resist and disobey this call of the Spirit, and remain under condemnation” (Acts 7:51–52; 2 Thess 1:7–8). Also, “Besides the call which is external, and often ineffectual, there is another, which is internal and effectual. This always produces repentance and faith, and therefore secures salvation” (Prov 1:24; Matt 20:16; 2 Tim 1:9; Rom 8:30; 1:7; 1:6; 8:28). So, the calling of the non-elect is external, ineffectual, and resisted. The second calling of God is internal and effectual only for those whom God has elected to salvation.
James P. Boyce (1827–88)
Boyce contrasts the outward calling and the effectual calling. He explains that the gospel is commanded to be preached to all. This outward call, which is not effectual, consists of declarations of the nature of salvation and an offer of salvation upon faith and repentance. This failure of the outward call is not due to any deficiency in the gospel but due to something sinful in either the human heart or the will. In contrast, the effectual call comes through the agency of the Holy Spirit and results in people repenting and believing. This agency of the Holy Spirit is required due to man’s “blind” and “dead” moral condition. Boyce explains that God is sincere is making an outward call but providing efficient grace only to some people. Boyce’s first line of defense is to assume the position is true. He writes regarding the two calls, “If they be taught in the Scripture, it is impious and blasphemous to doubt God’s sincerity.” Also, Boyce states that God shows “partial grace” to all people. Also, “acceptance (of the gospel) depends simply upon the willingness of each man to take it.”
Regarding the question above, Boyce writes, “The attempt has been made by Lutheran theologians, and adopted by some others, to harmonize the sincerity of God’s External Call with the salvation of some only, by supposing that God gives equally to all his Spirit, which makes salvation effectual in some, but that those who reject the gospel resist the Spirit given to them, and thus refuse, while the others yield to it, and thus are saved.” In reply, Boyce calls this concept of yielding to God’s grace as “merit and work.” Also, Boyce writes, “But if some do not resist and others do, however much of grace there is, there is certainly some merit in those not resisting by which they can boast over others who resisted.” Boyce concludes his case for reprobation by writing that “the salvation of the saved is distinctly based in the word of God on the election of some” and quoting Eph 1:4–6.
E. Y. Mullins (1860–1928)
As quoted above, Mullins writes, “Christ died for all. God is willing to receive all who will come. God knows that some will not accept. Indeed, he knows that all will refuse unless by his special grace some are led to believe.”
After addressing God’s initiatives in salvation, Mullins writes, “The Holy Spirit operates most effectively through the use of means. Hence the means of grace are necessary for the effectual propagation of the gospel of the grace of God.” These means of grace are calling and conviction of sin, which are “prior to God’s saving act in the soul.” Rather than divide this into two callings, one which is outward/ineffectual and another call which is inward/effectual, Mullins writes of one calling. He explains, “Calling is the invitation of God to men to accept by faith the salvation in Christ. It is sent forth through the Bible, the preaching of the gospel, and in many other ways. Nothing can be clearer from the teaching of Scripture than the fact that the call and invitation are universal and that there is a free offer of salvation to all who hear and repent and believe.” Mullins places responsibility for any final state of lostness on human sin and freedom. Mullins writes, “Human sin and human freedom are factors in God’s problem with man. His grace goes as far as the interests of his moral kingdom admit. His omnipotence does not enable him to do a moral impossibility.”
W. T. Conner (1877–1952)
Conner explains: God “has provided salvation for every man in Christ. He gives him the invitation. He brings influences to bear on him into the way of life. All this is grace. If in spite of these things the sinner will not some, 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. … If he wants to come, he can come. The difficulty is on his part, not God’s.”
Chapter one is titled “Man’s Capacity for God.” Conner writes about Jesus, “Men aligned themselves for and against him. He appealed to the wills of men. They must choose to follow Him.” Also, he writes, “Only, then as an intelligent and free being, with power to know and choose, can man respond to and accept the gospel of Christ.”
Dale Moody (1915–92)
Moody denies that God issues an irresistible calling of grace. He writes, “When calling is considered in the New Testament writings, free from the creeds of Calvinism, there is no need for the refined distinctions between an external call in general revelation and the preaching of the gospel in an ‘effectual, irresistible call.’ There is only one call from God in general revelation and in the preaching of the special revelation in Scripture, and whenever man hears the call is can be made effectual when there is the response of repentance and faith (Acts 20:21).”
James Leo Garrett Jr (b. 1925)
Garrett does not answer this question. However, he writes this about the means of regeneration: “In addition to the gospel as the primary means, theologians and exegetes have often added as secondary means the Bible, Christian baptism, the church, proclamation, personal testimony, and the like.”
Kenneth Keathley (b. 1958)
Keathley rejects both irresistible and prevenient grace in order to affirm overcoming grace. Regarding irresistible grace, he concludes, “The problem with this view is that it freely accepts the notion that God offers salvation from eternal damnation while at the same time withholding the ability to accept it. The irresistible grace position ensures a purely gracious salvation but does so at a high cost. The logical conclusion is that those who reject the gospel remain lost because God wants them lost.”
Keathley also rejects the Arminian explanation of prevenient grace, because “it seems to render the doctrine of total depravity irrelevant.”
Keathley explains that the overcoming grace view is an attempt to provide a “mediating” view between the previous options. This view “sees the convicting and enabling work of the Holy Spirit accompanying the preaching of the gospel and believes this work is accomplished in every believer. Unlike prevenient grace, which is considered “universal or permanent,” overcoming grace is “limited and temporary.” Unlike irresistible grace, “Tragically, God’s grace can be resisted.” Also, the Holy Spirit convicts the world, rather than only the elect, of sin, righteousness, and judgment. In this way, “The gospel is genuinely available to all, including those who ultimately turn it down.”
Tomorrow, I will attempt to answer Question 6 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.
John L. Dagg, Manual of Theology (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1990), 331–32. Verses listed were cited for support by Dagg.
James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2006), 367–72. Quotations from p. 372.
E. Y. Mullins, The Christian Religion in its Doctrinal Expression (np: 1917; reprinted Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2000), 354.
W. T. Conner, Christian Doctrine (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1937), 164.
Conner, 22. Also, Conner writes, “Man thirsts for God … All men of all races and climes have cried out for God.” This craving for God (Ps 42:1) is answered by the revelation of Christ as the light of the world, bread of life, and way, truth, and life (John 9:5; 6:35; 14:6). “Man’s nature was made for God, and apart from God man misses his true destiny” (pp. 22–23).
Dale Moody, The Word of Truth: A Summary of Christian Doctrine Based on Biblical Revelation (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1981), 316.
James Leo Garrett Jr., Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 2:285.
Kenneth Keathley, “The Work of God: Salvation,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 725.