By Larry Ray Hafley
Forrest L. Keener is a well known Baptist preacher and author. In his paper, The Baptist Watchman, he wrote an article entitled, “God’s Man Of Salvation” (March 1995, p. 1-3). While this is not intended to be a review of that article, sample statements of his principle point will help us in our study. In the prologue to his essay, Keener reveals that the design of his article is that it be a:
SETTING FORTH THE TRUTH THAT SALVATION IS BROUGHT ABOUT BY A GOD MADE UNION BETWEEN CHRIST AND THE BELIEVER, AND NOT THE HUMAN EXECUTION OF A “BIBLE PLAN.”
Mr. Keener ridicules “hundreds of tracts and written discourses. . .(which have) the title or at least the general theme, `God’s Plan of Salvation.’ He says that such “plans” are flawed because they “require human acts.” Further, he says, “Salvation does not lie in a plan that is to be activated or executed by man.” The reason that Keener gives for there not being a “plan of salvation” is rooted in his theology. He is a Calvinist. He does not believe that a sinner has the ability to respond to a “plan of salvation.” Says he, “It has been rightly stated . . . that man, due to his depravity cannot of his natural accord repent and believe …. This is completely accurate.”
Because of this alleged, inherent depravity, Keener argues that the Lord “never gave a `plan of salvation, . . . nor did Paul, nor did Peter, nor did any other Bible writer.” Thus, he concludes that one must be born again before he is enabled to respond to the overtures, incentives and inducements of God. Said he, “It is only in the New Birth that man’s depraved inability is overcome.” He contends that if a sinner can understand a “plan of salvation,” then it must be “human, not divine.” As proof thereof, note his words, “A `Plan of Salvation’ that can be understood by the natural man, (no matter how many scriptures may be contained within it) is human, not divine.”
The problem, though Keener does not recognize it, is not the degree of man’s depravity. The problem is that the gospel, “(no matter how many scriptures may be contained within it)” is not sufficient, not powerful enough to penetrate the depth of man’s natural state of depravity. This problem is the creation of Keener’s philosophy and theology. Man is so depraved that he is unable to react to the gospel, says Keener. Could God have constructed a gospel to which the sinner could respond? Yes, certainly. He could have done so, but, according to Baptist doctrine, he did not do so. Hence, the fault lies in the weakness of the gospel and not in the depravity of man. (Oh, how one should fear to face God having so impugned the gospel!)
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Lk. 8:11, 12; Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 4:15; Eph. 1:13; 6:17; Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23-25). Baptist doctrine forever undermines that concept. It says that man is depraved and that God did not provide a gospel with sufficient power to save him. Hence, Keener decries the need for “a plan of salvation.”
God’s Drunk Driving Laws
Essentially, the central issues of this discussion are: (1) the nature of man, (2) the nature of God, and (3) the nature of the gospel (See The Gospel Preacher, Benjamin Franklin, Vols. I, II). That Keener recognizes this is shown in the following convoluted statement:
“The great mistake of many has been to conclude that these truths were paradoxical and to make one of two errors. (What are “these truths” to which Keener refers? They are `that man, due to his depravity, cannot of his natural accord repent and believe though he is eternally responsible to do so . . . man is responsible to repent and believe. … On the other hand, that he cannot do so is equally obvious” quoting Keener, defining `these truths’ LRH). One school uses man’s depravity and subsequent inability to his responsibility, to proclaim him to be like an animal, without free moral agency, or volition…. The other error is to use his Bible stated responsibility and free moral agency to deny man’s depravity and to acclaim him a creature of free will who may, at his will, will to repent, believe, re-form…. This is equally wrong.
“Free moral agency does not equal free will or deny human depravity. Human depravity does not equal innocence nor cancel responsibility. Responsibility does not equal ability nor is man rendered `not responsible’ in the eyes of God because he is unable. If you would accuse the consistency of this, consider man’s own law. Is a drunk responsible to drive safely, behave decently, etc.? Certainly! Is he able to do so? Certainly not! What then makes his ability less than his rightful responsibility? His drunkenness. What makes man’s natural ability less than his responsibility? His sinful depravity. Whatever else you do not understand about this, you should soon realize that no human plan or series of religious acts (such as “repent, believe, reform, etc.,” i.e., a plan of salvation LRH) can change it.”
In other words, man is so disabled by his depravity that he is incapable of doing that which he is responsible and accountable to do; namely, repent and believe. Note Keener’s illustration of the drunk who is “responsible to drive safely,” but who is unable to do so. This illustrates the dilemma of man according to Baptist Keener. Man is responsible to repent and believe, but he is unable to do so because of his depraved nature. As we shall shortly see, this Baptist drunk driver turns and runs over Mr. Keener.
The drunk man is the depraved man. The traffic laws to which the drunk is held accountable represent the laws of God. Now, how did this drunk (depraved) man get in his condition of drunkenness (depravity)? A physical drunk gets that way by deliberate choice, but the illustration fails at this point and swerves into Mr. Keener, wrecking his argument’s vehicle completely. The depraved man, who rep-resents the drunk in the illustration, does not choose to deprave or intoxicate himself. Through no fault of his own, he is born that way (drunk, or, as in the illustration, depraved). Still, God holds him responsible. Keener would have a more correct parallel if he attempted to apply the traffic laws to those who are born drunk. If all men were born drunk, would there be such traffic laws as now exist regarding the responsibility of the drunk driver? No, and yet this is how he portrays and displays the rule of God. God gave the traffic laws. He holds all men responsible to obey them. Then, God fixed it so that all men would be born totally, hereditarily drunk, unable to obey those laws. Born totally drunk, they disobey God’s traffic laws. God’s traffic ticket is eternity in hell for all those who were born totally unable to obey the laws they were still required to obey! Who can believe it?!
Further, and worse yet, one cannot choose to become sober on his own. It takes a direct “drying-out” operation of the Spirit (called the “New Birth”) to bring the drunk to sobriety. Without this miraculous working of God, the one born drunk must remain drunk all of his life. He cannot choose a clinic in which to be treated, for it is a natural state into which he has been born. He cannot be appealed to and summoned to a treatment center, “(no matter how many scriptures may be contained within it).” If God does not see fit to choose this totally, hereditarily drunk man and per-form a miraculous, immediate work upon his heart, he will live and die a drunk. At death, God will cast him into the eternal “drunk tank” of hell because he was born drunk andunable to obey God’s traffic laws. Again, who can believe it?!
How sober was Mr. Keener when he made such an illustration that so evilly and despicably reflects on the nature and character of God?
Is man a passive, inactive recipient of salvation? Keener says he is. If so, why did Jesus say, “Come unto me, . . . and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28)? Jesus did not say, “Ye cannot come to me.” He said, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (Jn. 5:40). Jesus did not say, “What I say to you cannot save you, for you are impervious to my words.” He said, “These things I say that ye might be saved” (Jn. 5:34). “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (Jn. 6:63). That one should “continue in my (Jesus’) word,” and that he should “know the truth” in order to be made free from sin, does not sound like Keener’s premise that man is a passive recipient of redemption (Jn. 8:31, 32).
“Preach Jesus Christ”
Under the heading above, Keener concludes: “Preachers, do not preach a plan, preach Christ! Witnesses, do not talk plan, witness of Christ! Teachers, do not teach plans, speak of Christ! … Salvation is not in a Plan, it is in a man, `The Man, Christ Jesus.”‘
Apparently devoid of the total taint of Calvinism, brethren (C. Leonard Allen, Bill Love, and others) have made similar appeals. They have condemned the preaching of Benjamin Franklin, T.W. Brents, J.W. McGarvey, N.B. Hardeman, and Foy E. Wallace, Jr. as giving a disproportion-ate emphasis to the “plan of salvation” while neglecting the preaching of “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Though their conclusions may not completely echo those of Calvin and Keener, and though they may be a little off key, they are nonetheless humming their tune; they are singing their song. It is a dangerous business, for our actions soon imitate our music (cf. Prov. 4:23).
Keener assumes what some of our brethren have presumed; namely, that one may preach the gospel plan of salvation without preaching Christ. Before proceeding, if one endeavors to “preach Christ,” but preaches error concerning him, how would we correct the preacher? Would we have to resort to “the plan,” the word of God, to correct the preacher’s errors regarding “the man, Christ Jesus”? If we correct a preacher by using “the plan” to guide him in his efforts to preach “the man,” would we be “preaching Christ” when we did so? Those who believe that we are preaching “baptism” or the “church,” rather than “preaching Christ,” might find it easier to smile and dismiss that question than to answer it. But, then, there is this. How does a man go about “preaching Christ”? Does he use the word of God, the plan, to do it? If so, is he preaching the plan and not the man? Tell us, all ye that “preach Christ” and do not “preach a plan,” do you use the word of God, the plan, when you “preach Christ”? If so, are you preaching the man when you use his plan to preach his person? Again, it is easier to shrug and wave a hand in dismay than it is to answer those questions.
2 Chronicles 13, The Man and the Plan
In 2 Chronicles 13, we shall see, first, that surrender to God and his person includes surrender to his word and his plan or pattern. Second, we shall see that failure to submit to one or more “right things” or “right doctrines” is equivalent to forsaking God and his person. They cannot be separated.
(1) When Jereboam rebelled against God’s anointed, appointed king, he rebelled against God himself “Jereboam . . . rebelled against his lord . . . (hence, he, and the children of Israel were fighting) against the Lord God” (vv. 6, 12). To fight against the “plan” of earthly kingship was to fight “against the Lord God,” against his person. When Abijah accused Jereboam of rebellion against the Davidic kingship, was he speaking of “commitment to a human line of kings” and forgetting the “commitment to a person,” the Divine, eternal King, God? No, and because of v. 12, it would be unfair to so charge him in verse 6.
Further, Abijah charged that Jereboam and his apostate allies were “withstand(ing) the kingdom of the Lord” (v. 8). Had Abijah forgotten the fact that their rebellion was also against the person of the Lord himself? Was he refer-ring to “commitment to the body or plan of a human kingdom” and forgetting “commitment to a person”? No, for he said, you are fighting “against the Lord God” (v. 12). To fight against one is to fight against the other.
The case of Paul is parallel to the point above. Paul “persecuted the church of God” (Acts 8:3; 1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13). When he did so, he persecuted Jesus, the person (Acts 9:4, 5). However, when Paul said that he had persecuted the church, had he forgotten that he was guilty of persecuting the person of Christ? Was Paul guilty of making the church “a substitute for Christ”?
Likewise, when the children of Israel “murmured against Moses,” they “murmured against the Lord” (Exod. 16:2, 7, 8; Num. 14:2, 27, 35). Moses was chosen and appointed by the Lord. When one rebelled against God’s plan for Moses, he was also rebelling against the very person of God. A griping, grumbling Israelite could not have pleaded innocence and said, “You misunderstood me; I am not murmuring against the Lord. I just do not like Moses,” for to resist God’s plan of work through Moses was to resist God him-self. To reject the ordinances of God, the plan of God in the word of God, is to reject God himself. To be “removed” from the person of God is to be disobedient to the plan orpattern of God (Cf. Gal. 1:6; 3:1; 5:7; 1 Cor. 11:1, 2).
(2) So, today, when we fight against premillennialism and charge that its advocates are fighting against the church, the kingdom of God, we are not making the church “a substitute for Christ” as some have charged that we do. Neither are we making premillennialism the sole symbol for soundness. As Paul did with the specific doctrine of “circumcision” and showed that its rebuke would lead some to be “sound in the faith,” so we may sharply rebuke some, “specially they of premillennialism,” “that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:9-13).
But back to 2 Chronicles in this regard. Abijah listed a number of Jereboam’s corruptions of the work, worship, and organization of the Lord’s people (vv. 9-11). He contrasted what they did with what he and his people did. He spoke of certain right things which he did and contrasted them with what Jereboam was doing. He contrasted human religion with divine religion. Was Abijah guilty of basing his primary confidence before God upon the doctrines which his kingdom did not teach; the way in which his kingdom was not organized? Was he not trusting in the person of God? Was he guilty of neglecting God’s person, and putting too much emphasis upon God’s plan or pattern? No, he was not, and neither are we making the church “a substitute for Christ” when we compare his church with the Baptist Church.
When Abijah documented Jereboam’s doctrinal errors and his apostasy from the Lord’s “plan” or pattern, and declared, in effect, that Jereboam was “unsound,” was Abijah basing soundness upon these items and forgetting about morality, benevolence, the attitude of one’s inner man, and the Sabbath? Had Abijah forgotten about love and loyalty to the person of God when he condemned Jereboam’s corruptions of the plan of God? No, Abijah was simply citing the most visible aspects of Jereboam’s apostasy. When Abijah sighted in on them and turned his guns of truth against them, he was not saying that these specific items constituted the sole criteria for soundness. Likewise, when we study with a member of a conservative Christian Church and focus our study on the music question, we are not neglecting the person of Christ, nor are we saying that “to play or not to play” is the single most important factor in faithfulness and soundness before God.
Salvation is in the person of Christ “unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:8, 9). One is not saved by “the man” until he obeys “the plan” (Matt. 7:21; Lk. 6:46; Rom. 6:17, 18). Consequently, those who parrot Keener’s cry for “the man and not the plan,” for “the person and not the pattern,” should not be surprised if we occasionally pluck their feathers, too. While “birds of a feather” do not always “flock together,” gobbling like a turkey at Thanksgiving is not a safe thing for any bird to do.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: No. 24, p. 16-18
December 21, 1995