Book Review: The Apologetics of Leroy Forlines

Free Will Baptists owe a debt of gratitude to F. Leroy Forlines, for it is from his mind and mouth that our doctrine has been so clearly conveyed to the world. Along with Robert Picirilli, J. Matthew Pinson, and others, Forlines soars as the leading theologian for what he has coined as Classical Arminianism.

Forlines is no stranger to theological scholarship, in fact, he is the foremost theologian of Free Will Baptists. While others mentioned above are well-know and accomplished scholars, it was Forlines who has historically (that is, the last five decades or so) been the chief communicator of such truth.

This book, The Apologetics of Leroy Forlines, is festschrift-like, similar to Randall House’s publication, The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F. Leroy Forlines.[1] However, it is not necessarily essays for Forlines’ honor, but a chapter of tribute from J. Matthew Pinson, arguably Forlines’ most accomplished student and mentee, and chapters reprinted from Forlines’s systematic theological work, The Quest For Truth. Therefore, this post is written for the purpose of review of this new publication, and what follows will be an honest review of positive and negatives from the book itself.

Forlines on Empiricism

In all fairness, I do not think (no would I confer that Pinson would posit as much) Forlines claims to be an apologist. However, the discipline of theology often necessitates a philosophical/apologetic type of thought process in order to systematize theological ideas and doctrine. Thus, in his own way, Forlines is an apologist of sorts because of his theology of knowledge and ethics, but also because of his epistemological approach to theology which is made manifest in his work, The Quest For Truth.

In the first chapter written by Pinson, it is made inherently obvious that Forlines does not aim for apologetic writing, but instead is in search of truth – a view of which I believe should be prioritized in the field of apologetics. In other words, Forlines’s approach to apologetics deals much with epistemology and, honestly, the critique of empirical practices to arrive at truth. Pinson notes that Forlines claims empiricism only arrives at so-called truth by what Forlines names, “sense data.”[2]

Of course, Forlines – like Francis Schaeffer – claims that every human being has an upper story and a lower story of knowledge[3]. The lower story deals with particulars – things like mathematics, science, etc. The upper story deals with universals – knowledge of God, morality, and the meaning and purpose of life. Forlines describes empiricism as a worldview that only uses lower story knowledge and never transfers to the upper story, and, thus, argues that a worldview with no upper story knowledge will never achieve knowledge of God because knowledge of God only comes through divine revelation accessed through upper story knowledge.

Forlines on General Revelation

All believers, especially those in Free Will Baptists circles, would do well to read Mr. Forlines’s commentary on Romans. His dealings with Romans 1 and General Revelation are second to none. Pinson describes Forlines’ approach to such a topic in this way:

Forlines prefers the term general revelation to the term natural revelation because all revelation from God is supernatural…So, while God has clearly revealed Himself in all of creation so that He is immediately known by every human being, this revelation is primarily an immediate knowledge of God, not one that is developed by the use of reason…General revelation makes people responsible for their moral actions before God, because they know implicitly what is right and wrong.

Forlines conveys the idea, specifically in his commentary on Romans, that human beings do not obtain such knowledge of God after an experience with Him, but instead have innate knowledge of Him (to an extent) because they are image bearers.

Forlines on Testing Worldviews

Yet, the most powerful apologetic of Leroy Forlines is not in his theological approach to revelation, but is, in my opinion, in his assertion that every worldview must be tested to see whether or not it corresponds with reality. Forlines states in The Quest for Truth, “..we dare not accept a worldview that our reason tells us fails the test of rational consistency.”[4] In a more understandable conclusion, Forlines understands that all endeavors in search of truth are not embarked upon without some presuppositions.

Forlines does not aim to show God’s existence through his apologetic approach – this would be synonymous with an evidential approach to apologetics. Instead, Forlines shows “that belief in God is reasonable.”[5] Forlines approaches this line of thinking through what he calls “Christian Rationalism” – the idea that because humanity has innate knowledge of God through general revelation, then we can form rational thoughts about God without any research.

Review and Conclusion

All in all, this book is a wonderful tribute to a brilliant mind in the Free Will Baptist tradition. However, more than a tribute, it is a testament to Forlines’s commitment truth and its discovery in every individual’s life. His quest comes from a genuine search for objective truth, not to simply have knowledge of such things. And, in order to know truth one must know the God of truth.

You can pick up a copy of this book here.

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

[2] Forlines uses the term “sense data” to describe the incorrect approach of empiricism which states that knowledge can only be obtained through observation and experience.

[3] J. Matthew Pinson and F. Leroy Forlines. The Apologetics of Leroy Forlines (Gallatin, TN.: Welch College Press, 2019), 4.

[4] F. Leroy Forlines. The Quest For Truth: Theology for Postmodern Times (Nashville: Randall House, 2001), 95.

[5] Pinson and Forlines, The Apologetics of Leroy Forlines, 28.

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