Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach Book Review

By Robert Trebizo


May 5, 2018

Kenneth Keathley systematically treads into a misted jungle of the dialogue as a scrupulous cartographer might painstakingly trace out the ever-forking pattern of a river delta. In Christian theological circles, there is hardly a less prolific discussion-generator as is the topic of salvation – with Calvinism and Arminianism as the primary options available. He categorizes, lists, and evaluates the theological issues networked across this dialogue to subdue an often caricatured and lively debate. Since it is often very easy – even for experts – to wander around a scenery of multi-faceted discourse without giving each feature its due diligence, Salvation and Sovereignty [1] is helpful from the start by simply parsing out discussion points. The book’s exposition of the landscape is then a potent primer and an invaluable tool for any interested in investigating the conversation.

Since Keathley so methodically navigates the map, whatever prior theological bents the reader may have will still be served well and the reader will gain a reliable go-to reference for the topics at stake. With that being said, he, like the book’s audience, holds to a particular persuasion in the matter. After all, the title indicates this is a Molinist approach. Thus, Keathley has two main arguments:

1) Molinism as the most viable explanatory model integrating divine sovereignty and human freedom, while

2) the ROSES – as opposed to the TULIP[2] – paradigm is the most suitable to describe the doctrines of salvation.

Briefly, it is pertinent to note – as Keathely does – that Molinism in and of itself does not entail ROSES. Keathley adheres to and uses Molinism to help elucidate the doctrines of salvation consistently.

Keathley divides the book into two parts spread over 7 chapters. Chapter 1 is dedicated to presenting the biblical case for Molinism, and 2 for adjudicating the question of whether God desires all to be saved. The last 5 chapters go through each letter of ROSES, the acronym for the doctrines of salvation, one by one. There is a lot of information he teases out, so if you are seasoned in this dialogue and I seem to have missed a point, then I probably have. Keathley, in Salvation and Sovereignty, likely has not. It is also not necessarily a goal here to summarize the book, but rather to speak to the author’s methodology and general structure of his argument.

Part 1

“Chapter 0”

Technically, there is an eighth chapter, the introduction, though the intro here is more of exposition rather than argumentation, which is saved for the 7 aforementioned chapters. Now, its oversight should not be thought to mean it is a skippable chapter. He brings up 4 primary items to consider from the outset. The first is a comparison of TULIP (of which Keathley adheres to T, U, and P) with ROSES. He briefly expounds some differences, similarities and misconceptions. For example, he points out that newer[3] and older Calvinists have had misgivings about TULIP (e.g. ‘total depravity’ is not even in the English translations of the Canons of Dort).

Given the 2 primary arguments of the book, there are six important “twin truths” Keathley pins into the conversation and explains why Molinism is a considerable model. This is not underhanded or self-serving; these pairs are guaranteed to find themselves in any view concerning salvation and sovereignty [4]:

  1. God is both good and great
  2. Human freedom is both derived and genuinely ours.
  3. God’s grace is both monergistic and resistible.
  4. God’s election is both unconditional and according to foreknowledge.
  5. The saved are both preserved and will persevere.
  6. Christ’s atonement is both unlimited in its provision and limited in its application.

Chapter 1

This chapter is devoted to a crash course on Molinism, featuring middle knowledge and counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. Granted, to the uninitiated, these terms maybe daunting, but they code for some fairly straightforward and even relatable (e.g. subjunctive conditionals) logical concepts. A dictionary might not be required as a companion, however. Keathley nails down these terms – and does so gently throughout the book with these and with others.

Having a robust philosophical framework is not Molinism’s only “master”. Using a philosophical framework to back a theological concept has sensible precedent. For example, the Trinity is implicit in the scriptures, but we humans need a few more tools in our exegetical toolbelts to faithfully account for both the Trinity’s transcendence as well as its reality. Yet, of course, none bats an eye at the philosophy involved in explaining the doctrine of the Trinity non-heretically. If we were consistent, it ought to be far less non-controversial to apply a similar methodology to a doctrinal non-essential that rounds the bases of almost all points in the Christian faith. The opposite is also true. If logical or theological errors arise in some view, then they need to be addressed and dealt with appropriately. Appealing to ‘mystery’ should not, conversely, be the code-word for “please do not dive into the logical/theological contradiction of the model I am presenting”. [5] That is as bad in exegesis as it is disingenuous.

Part 2

Chapter 2

The last chapter just before the “big reveal” of ROSES has Keathley mapping out the answers to the question: Does God desire the salvation of all? For some, it may be curious that there could be more than one answer, let alone four. Yet, there are, and the question’s simplicity betrays the fact that it does get answered with significant difference from among the varying models of salvation. Keathley’s general methodology in dealing with these situations involves charting out the various options within a view, then methodically digging through each option before letting the dust settle on the best conclusion to address the data. For example, God is willing that none should perish, but it is the case that many are going to perish. And if His will is always done, then it seems to follow that perhaps it is His will that some should perish. But, that immediately rubs against the fact that God is loving. So how can these coexist? …In steps the four different options of answering: “Does God desire the salvation of all?”… Two views presume God has one will and two presume He has dual wills. Therefore, to begin talking about how God might save some sufficiently free humans it stands to reason that we ought to determine if God wants to save humans.

Chapter 3

R – RADICAL DEPRAVITY. This chapter categorizes and analyzes the ramifications of the soft and hard varieties of both determinism and libertarianism. He tests these varieties for their logical consistency as well as theological coherence. What helps to elucidate the difference even further is how these conceptualizations of human freedom stand up to the varied phases of humanity’s history. He shrewdly uses four stages of human experience [6] to test out deterministic and libertarian models of the human will: pre-fall Adam, fallen humanity, current believers, and future, glorified, believers. Keathley calls upon Calvin, Edwards, Hobbes, and modern theologians such as R.C. Sproul (Jr. and Sr.), Shedd, and Piper [7]. Keathley employs a commendably intellectually honest methodology by – as much as possible – having Reformed voices speak on Reformed soteriological views themselves. And it should make sense that the Reformed view is critiqued more than other non-Molinist perspectives in the book since he is suggesting that TULIP, a characteristically Reformed acronym, be overhauled.

Chapter 4

O – OVERWHELMING GRACE. Keathley describes the ambulatory model. To summarize: ‘salvation is all of grace and damnation all of sin’ [8]. Less succinctly: salvation is all of grace by the sole work of God, truly offered and available, though resistible; damnation is all of sin and is the result of the continued rebellion of the unbeliever. Both Keathley and most Calvinists would probably agree in the fact that it is solely by an act of God’s grace that individuals are saved. The difference lies, however, in what exactly that grace looks like. For the Calvinist, it looks like the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit applied to a completely spiritually dead human being, granting the ability for the effectual call to do its work. For Keathley, that grace looks like God genuinely offering salvation as a possibility at all. The majority of this section analyzes the Calvinist response to non-Calvinist faith as a work, faith as a gift, regeneration-precedes-faith, and the effectual call.

Chapter 5

S – SOVEREIGN ELECTION. This chapter focuses on the two ways Calvinism attempts to adjudicate sovereignty and permission. We also see attention given to the doctrines of predestination and election. Keathley pits supra- v. infralapsarianism and sees what logical conclusions they entail. As both seem to miss the mark upon review, he proposes a way to affirm both without compromise. And, as one might guess, it requires enlisting the services of Molinism to help tie up the loose ends of both the supra and infra views with a consistent proposal that does not punt a logical contradiction through the goal post of “mystery”. Additionally, Keathley’s proposal offers a sevenfold advantage over these other systems, which he outlines.

Chapter 6

E – ETERNAL LIFE. What is meant by an ‘assurance of salvation’? And what does this have to do with the warnings of apostasy? In other words: how do we know we are saved and is there anything else that we need to do to “secure” that salvation? In some sense – at least with respect to many Evangelical circles – this may seem like a non-issue. The maxim: “One saved; always saved,” comes to mind. Even so, there is a small spectrum of predominant views therein and it is as valuable is it is imperative to know not just what we believe, but why we believe it on this matter. This is particularly the case as it mirrors common doubts to hold: am I really saved? How am I sure I am saved?

Chapter 7

S (Again) – SINGULAR REDEMPTION. The final chapter seems to close on perhaps one of the more straightforward positions in the paradigm: limited atonement. primary issue here is that there are verses that seem to indicate the universality of the atonement and there are verses that indicate its, well, limitedness. And again, we run into a term that many Calvinists find lacking [9]. Keathley proposes a smoother way of handling the seeming contradiction between the universality and limitedness. As he argues for singular redemption (a modified version of the limited atonement view), he continues his method of simply doing the dirty work of treading down the entire path of what gets fully entailed by the predominant views. Then, if there are any loose ends, unbiblical ramifications, or otherwise flawed outcomes, he attempts to remedy those and propose solutions. Here, of course, that solution is the concept of a singular redemption.

Closing Thoughts

In all, the book describes a deeply loving and providential God. But, this loving and providence is not at the expense of truth, justice, sovereignty, or genuine goodwill towards all human beings. Keathley coolly walks through each perspective and attempts to gracefully note issues and conflict. This approach is charitable, which is – unfortunately – an extreme scarcity in such conversations. And, his thoroughness and brevity are a great resource for those investigating such an expansive and far-reaching bundle of doctrines, even if just as a primer or concept map. Regardless of background and persuasion, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, offers valuable insight to help clarify, expound, and focus conversation in discussions that are likely to need it.


[1] Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2010).

[2] The ROSES acronym was coined by Timothy George.

[3] Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty, 3. For example, J.I. Packer and R.C. Sproul.

[4] Ibid., 9.

[5] Keathley also notes this at the end of “Chapter 0” on page 12.

[6] Ibid., 79-92.

[7] This is just a sampling; there are more.

[8] Keathley, 101.

[9] Ibid., 191. Or, shall we say, limited…? Criticisms by Calvinists on the term “limited atonement” include J.I. Packer.


About the Author

By Robert Trebizo

Robert Trebizo earned an M.A. in Science in Religion at Biola University in La Mirada, CA and a B.A. in Mathematics at the University of California, Riverside. He currently lives with his wife Janelle in Southern California and attends Journey Community Church, where he teaches and preaches as an elder. He has also written articles for Come Reason Apologetics and co-lead missions trips to Utah and Berkeley, CA.