The Importance of the Nature of Divine Sovereignty for Our View of Scripture -- By: Stephen J. Wellum

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 04:2 (Summer 2000)
Article: The Importance of the Nature of Divine Sovereignty for Our View of Scripture
Author: Stephen J. Wellum

The Importance of the Nature of Divine Sovereignty
for Our View of Scripture

Stephen J. Wellum

Stephen J. Wellum is Assistant Professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Wellum received his Ph.D. degree in theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and has also taught theology at the Associated Canadian Theological Schools and Northwest Baptist Theological College and Seminary in Canada. He has contributed to several publications and a collection of essays on theology and worldview issues.

When one thinks of the topics that create friction among Christians, the subject of divine sovereignty is probably high on the list. We all have experienced heated discussions over the nature of divine sovereignty, especially as it relates to the issues of divine election and salvation. Many Christian people, even seminary students, have expressed to me time and again that they wish the subject would somehow disappear. But that is hardly likely since the subject of divine sovereignty is so foundational to one’s entire theology and praxis.

In fact, within evangelical theology today, the perennial polemics over divine sovereignty-human freedom are heating up more than ever given the rise of the view entitled “open theism.” At the heart of the “open view” proposal is a reformulation of the doctrine of divine sovereignty that has massive, and in my view, damaging implications for how we think of God and his relation to the world.1 That is why, given the recent trends, it seems unlikely that discussion over the sovereignty- freedom relationship will fade into the background. Instead, the subject, because it is so critical, must be revisited once again with a renewed sense of vigor and determination as we seek to test our proposals, whether new or old, against the standard of God’s Word.

The goal of this essay is to do just that, but not in the typical way of evaluating this issue. Often our discussions of divine sovereignty-human freedom merely collapse into the age-old Calvinist and Arminian debates over divine election, free will, and the nature of human depravity. No doubt these debates are important and they must be handled with care and faithfulness to the biblical text. However, what is sometimes lost in these discussions is the fact that one’s view of divine sovereignty has massive implications for one’s whole theology, not simply for issues of soteriology. Theology, as J. I. Packer reminds us, is a “seamless robe, a circle within which everything links up with everything else through its common grounding in God.”2 In other words, theological doctrines are much more o...

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