The Promise of Arminian Theology: A Review

promiseby Emily Vickery

Growing up in the Free Will Baptist denomination, there were a few names I heard spoken often and with much respect. These were the names of our theologians, those who sought to explain and defend the tenets of our Reformed Arminian doctrines. One of these names was Mr. F. Leroy Forlines. In The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F. Leroy Forlines (hereafter The Promise), published by Randall House Academic, the fifteen authors, well-acquainted with and influenced by Mr. Forlines’s personal and professional work, seek to “celebrate his life, work, and legacy.”[1] .

Forlines, who celebrated his ninetieth birthday just a few days ago, has had a writing and teaching career that spans decades. He has written on many topics, several of which are discussed in this volume. His Biblical Systematics, and his later more developed systematic theology, A Quest for Truth, are perhaps his most notable works, but he has also written on ethics and human personality at length in various books, pamphlets, and unpublished writings. The Promise was written as a festschrift, or celebratory writing, to commemorate his lifetime of study.

In order to cover the variety of topics about which Forlines has written, The Promise is divided into four parts. These sections are bookended by an introduction and conclusion written by the editors of the work. Part one, a prolegomena, looks at theological method and several significant assumptions in Forlines’s writing. Part two focuses on Forlines’s work in articulating a Reformed Arminian perspective on salvific doctrines. Part three widens its scope to look at ethics, culture, and the church. The book closes with part four, composed of three personal tributes, which each describe Forlines as a father, colleague, and mentor.

Forlines is exceptionally gifted at pairing deep theological truths with practical application. The Promise honors this ability by including a section at the end of each chapter discussing implications of the doctrines previously discussed. This was one of my favorite parts of the book and one of the aspects I would encourage everyone to ponder as they work their way through the chapters. The beauty of Forlines’s work is that he has continuously sought ways to apply his theology to his cultural context. In this way, his work is still relevant, beneficial, and needed in today’s cultural landscape.

Two of the chapters were especially poignant, standing out as favorites in the book. The first was Dr. Kevin Hester’s “Election and the Influence and Response Model of Personality,” which presents a detailed summary of Forlines’s understanding of the Reformed Arminian doctrine of election. [2] This is a very difficult topic and may be neglected at times due to its complexity. Hester meticulously examines Forlines’s view and defends Forlines’s methodology. Hester also highlights other Reformed Arminian sources on the topic and calls for more study to be done in this particular area. I found the chapter informative and encouraging. We do not have to shy away from more difficult passages of Scripture or doctrines of the faith, as Forlines and Hester show. Instead we can interpret passages and doctrines with integrity, armed with sound biblical exegesis and a commitment to understanding the entirey of Scripture.

The second chapter I found most interesting was Dr. Matthew McAffee’s “Forlinsean Eschatology: A Progressive Covenantal Approach.”[3] This chapter covered another topic that many avoid because of the various interpretations present in evangelical circles. McAffee does a remarkable job of presenting Forlines’s view, while admitting his own differing conclusion on some aspects of eschatology. This chapter discusses the extent of eschatology as a study of much more than a timeline of Christ’s return. It encouraged me as the reader to remember God’s promises rather than worry about the events of the future, as I am often wont to do when considering end times events. It also showed that even those who may disagree with Forlines on certain points should still harbor much respect for him and his Biblical approach.

While The Promise is a great resource for all those trying to understand more about the Arminian tradition, it is not light reading. The truths discussed in these pages are deep matters that cannot be skimmed over if the reader wants to understand them fully. This is not a book to speed-read, but one to work through slowly and deliberately. It is worth the time it takes to do so.

This is not to say that The Promise is difficult to comprehend. It speaks of the complex issues as succinctly as possible without oversimplifying those issues. This is also true to the writing style of the honoree himself, who makes theological premises understandable to the common man while reverencing the complexity and seriousness of the doctrines. There is a delicate balance between giving simple, timeless truths while also honoring a rich scholastic history in the church, something both Forlines and the book’s contributors do quite well. The writers also provide extensive bibliographic information with helpful resources for further study on their topics, which could not otherwise be fully expounded upon in the book.

As someone who has struggled to understand how Free Will Baptists came to have the doctrinal views that they do, I found The Promise an exceptionally encouraging, insightful read. It gave me a love for the work of Forlines and an appreciation for his lifetime of study in various important subjects. The Promise challenges its readers not simply to think on theological matters deeply, but also to be transformed by our conclusions as well.

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About the Author: Emily Vickery lives in Ashland City, Tennessee, with her husband, Zach, and their dog, Leroy. She is the receptionist for Welch College and is currently working on a master’s degree in Professional Counseling. She enjoys reading, watching college football, and drinking good coffee.

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[1] Matthew Steven Bracey, introduction to The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F. Leroy Forlines, ed. Matthew Steven Bracey and W. Jackson Watts (Nashville: Randall House, 2016), 2.

[2] Kevin L. Hester, “Election and the Influence and Response Model of Personality,” in The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F. Leroy Forlines, ed. Matthew Steven Bracey and W. Jackson Watts (Nashville: Randall House, 2016), 55-80.

[3] Matthew McAffee, “Forlinsean Eschatology: A Progressive Covenantal Approach,” in The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F. Leroy Forlines, ed. Matthew Steven Bracey and W. Jackson Watts (Nashville: Randall House, 2016), 141-172.

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