The following, reproduced with permission, is a section of an article written by Braxton Hunter in the Spring 2013 edition of the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry entitled “Commentary on Article 8: The Free Will of Man”. “Article 8” refers to the Baptism Faith and Message Statement of 2000.
A Soft-Libertarian Model of Soteriology
If a position that is anything like what Traditionalists have in mind is to be adopted, then it seems needful that a libertarian soteriological explanation be given. Nevertheless, what follows is but one explanation that might be accepted by Traditionalists. As previously mentioned, Southern Baptists who have in the past been described as “non-Calvinists” have understood salvation in a few varying ways which neither violate orthodoxy nor depart from soft-libertarianism. With this disclaimer in mind, I will begin with a consideration of the sovereignty of God.
God’s sovereignty necessitates His power, ability and freedom to act authoritatively with
respect to the created order. It does not mean that he is incapable of creating free agents in that created order. Indeed, His glory shines all the more evidently in that, via his omniscience, he is able to instantiate a universe of free agents while ensuring that ultimate victory is certain. The Creator would only lack sovereignty if it were the case that He found himself unable to superintend or affect His creation. God, however, is both aware of all temporal events and able to affect them. Neither open-theism nor lack of sovereignty holds. Furthermore, this sovereignty implies, for both Calvinists and Traditionalists, that the salvation of the believer is in no way meritorious.
Despite man’s soft-libertarian free will, he is in no way deserving of praise for accepting the gift of grace. Even if one rebuts that the acceptance of the gift of salvation itself is, in some way, an intrinsically admirable work on the part of the new believer, Traditionalists are prepared to offer a response that seems philosophically favorable.
Because Scripture teaches that grace is of God (Ephesians 2:8), and that God is not responsible for human sin (Luke 17:1,2), a model is necessary that would satisfy both of these propositions. Typically, Calvinists are criticized for implicating God as the source of evil, while non-Calvinists are accused of teaching that man merits his own salvation. Thus, a soteriological view must be located that would plausibly handle these matters.
In his work, Salvation and Sovereignty, Kenneth Keathley argues for what is known as an
“ambulatory model of overcoming grace.” Keathley writes, “If you believe, it is because (and only because) the Holy Spirit brought you to faith. If you do not believe, it is only because you resisted. The only thing you are able to ‘do’ is negative.”10 In other words, man is not able to achieve a work of grace for himself, however, he is free to resist God’s grace. The explanatory power of the model should be apparent. On this view, man cannot be praised, since he did not bring about the grace he has experienced, but he is at fault if he denies the grace of God by exercising his freedom to that end. This view represents soft-libertarianism in the truest sense. These two propositions make for an understanding of divine sovereignty and creaturely freedom wherein God alone is glorified in salvation, and man alone is responsible in condemnation. The case is made even more apparent if one accepts that God’s grace is so great that he chose to create a world in which those who freely receive this gift would be saved.
Soft-Libertarianism and the Baptist Faith and Message
The Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) contains two articles that come to bear directly on the matter under discussion. Article 3 (which explains the Southern Baptist view of the doctrine of man) asserts, “Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image.” Naturally, this is uncontroversial. However, it is vital for understanding the will of man. That man is created in the image of God is consistent with soft-libertarianism in that the latter would require that freedom is a gift from God and a similarity that individuals share with Him. The article goes on to explain,
In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.
Again, no conflict exists. It certainly counts in favor of soft-libertarianism that the BFM states that Adam had the attribute of freedom. By this we may assume some form of libertarianism since man was not yet affected by sin. Naturally, though, the point of dispute among Southern Baptists is the phrase, “…his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.” Happily, believers who advocate a soft-libertarian position find no difficulty with this. We agree that man is influenced by his sinful environment and nature. The caveat, which is not ruled out by the article, is that this results in a hindered will, but not a will of only determined desires. Therefore, Traditionalists can gladly affirm Article 3.
The same is true for Article 5 which speaks to “God’s Purpose of Grace.” Article 5 begins with the claim, “Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners.” Naturally, Calvinists and Traditionalists are in disagreement regarding how, when and for whom these events become a reality. The statement, however, in no way excludes a libertarian perspective. Indeed, the following phrase avers, “It is consistent with the free agency of man…” Even if some ambiguity surrounds what is meant by “free” in this passage, when interpreted according to its use in Article 3, libertarianism emerges. Either way, a libertarian position is no doubt consistent with the article. Lastly, since Traditionalist soft libertarians affirm God’s sovereignty and the concept of the eternal security of the believer, the rest of the article appropriately articulates a view that we celebrate.