A Tribute to F. Leroy Forlines

In my own life, there is more to knowing Leroy Forlines than mere reading and studying theology. To me and my family, Leroy Forlines was a friend, mentor, and exemplar. In fact, as I grew up on the campus of Welch College (then Free Will Baptist Bible College), I had no idea of the magnitude of knowing Mr. Forlines. I vividly remember Mr. Forlines seeing me in the halls of the administration building and saying, “How’s Ben Glynn been?” I also remember him calling our house during the week to talk to my dad, but engaging in conversation with me who would answer the home telephone. In fact, I did not just know him, he knew me. He knew who I was and took an interest in me.

You see, there was much more to the man behind the books who was and is Leroy Forlines. He was more than just a theologian. He was more than just a professor. He was more than a Christian preacher. He was, in his own words, a total person created in the image and likeness of Creator God. He was a person who inextricably related the Christian faith to everyday life, because for Mr. Forlines, theology is for life. He modeled what it means to live a life devoted to the discipline of theology while never losing sight of theology’s end goal: knowing God. Once again, he did not model this by what he wrote, but modeled it by how he lived. In his own words, he was deeply concerned and involved in his search for truth, and studied it with a passion, because truth is for life.[1]

For this tribute, I want to look at just how influential Mr. Forlines was through the breadth of his publications. Mr. Forlines was, most definitely, a person of great knowledge and depth, and this was made manifest in his writings. So, let’s begin.

The Quest For Truth: Theology for Postmodern Times

Without a doubt, this work is the hallmark of Mr. Forlines’s compositions, in my opinion. The Quest For Truth, which was initially published as Biblical Systematics in 1975, is just that, a systematic theology from Forlines’s lectures taught at Free Will Baptist Bible College – an institution where he taught for over 50 years in the biblical studies department.

Quest is the hallmark of publications, in my opinion, because it identifies the key components of Forlines’s distinctive beliefs about things like anthropology, soteriology, Christology, and, yes, even eschatology. You see, Forlines’s goal in theology was more along the lines of seeking truth as a total person made in God’s image.

Total Personality – Forlines’s Anthropology

Forlines’s understanding of the human person is second to none because he understands human beings as creatures, created in the image of God by being rational beings who can think with their minds, feel with their hearts, and act with their wills – otherwise known as the total personality. He notes in Quest that he had a good grasp on this even while writing his 1975 edition of Systematics:

“So far as rational tests are concerned, a system that proposes to explain the whole of reality must prove to be satisfactory to our total personality as thinking, feeling, acting beings. Logic cannot divorce itself from life and become an accurate judge of a system.”[2]

Forlines aims to present a person as one who embodies the rationality of our Creator through the way we interact in our lives. This is the way we approach all of life – including theology and truth. “We should think and feel our way through a study of theology.”[3]

Influence and Response – Forlines’s Soteriology

Mr. Forlines was more than influential in his soteriology – he paved the way for those of us who came after him. While he attributes a lot of his thoughts and ideas to L.C. Johnson (Welch’s first president) and Jacob Arminius himself, Forlines had a distinctive character to his theology of salvation.

In Quest, there were many mentions of Forlines’s idea of influence and response rather than cause and effect in salvation. In all fairness, I believe the total personality approach to theology and the influence and response model of salvation are Forlines’s best attempts at refuting Calvinism’s divine determinism and unconditional election. The reason for this is because, in Forlines’s words, “God will not violate His own plan. The nature of the case does not demand that God work in a cause and effect relationship with human beings.”[4]

The influence and response model accentuates man’s ability to think, feel, and act as a total person created in the image and likeness of Creator God.

“There is no such thing as a person doing or not doing something without having made a decision. This is true regardless of how strong the influence may be upon him or her.”[5]

Impeccability – Forlines’s Christology

I would be amiss if I did not mention Forlines’s views on the impeccability of Jesus Christ, the God-man. On one hand, these are views with which I would wholeheartedly agree. On the other hand, Forlines’s way of communication do not compromise Christ’s deity and person, regardless of your view of Christ’s human nature.

In this short excerpt on page 178 of Quest, Forlines outlines the basic idea that even a human nature “in union with a divine nature cannot sin.”[6] In other words, Forlines claims that guilt would’ve been intrinsic in the God-man, Jesus Christ, which is impossible.

Progressive Covenantalism – Forlines’s Eschatology

In Quest, there is not much written on the specific subject of eschatology, yet Forlines wrote on this subject in a few other places.[7] Forlines’s view of eschatology was mainly rooted in the covenant progression throughout the biblical story. In the festschrift dedicated to Forlines, Matthew McAffee writes, “True biblical eschatology must first look backward before looking forward, and the means for doing so is covenant.”[8]

Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation

Classical Arminianism is a work standing all on its own because of its distinctive and theological ideas. In this work, Forlines really does not set out to disprove Calvinism, but instead aims to give credible evidences for the validity of Classical Arminianism – a sect of Arminianism based on the teachings of Jacobus Arminius himself.

Much of the content in Classical Arminianism is similar to that of Quest because of the nature of the topics discussed. Though Classical Arminianism is dedicated solely to soteriology, there is much of its content contained within Quest, but without as much elaboration from Forlines himself. Classical Arminianism, then, is the fleshing out of Forlines’s views of election, predestination, atonement, justification, and so on.

Biblical Ethics

A tribute to Leroy Forlines without mentioning Biblical Ethics would be no tribute worth considering. Biblical Ethics, once again, is a prized possession in the hands of the Free Will Baptist denomination. In fact, Biblical Ethics was one of Forlines’s earliest works of publication.

In this work, Forlines aims for what he calls principled ethics, which is the idea that Christians should take principles from the Bible and apply them to different situations which would then form ethical opinions.[9] Also, Forlines argues in this work the reality that life as we know it needs both objectivity and relativity. Forlines says we need relativity for change and progression, but objectivity for unifying factors.[10]

Conclusion

All in all, Forlines was a theologian of theologians. Forlines was more than just a good thinker, he was a believer in Jesus Christ who based all he knew on who he knew.

A Personal Story

I’ll never forget in my early years of childhood answering the phone one night and Mr. Forlines asking to speak to my dad. As I stated earlier, I knew Mr. Forlines fairly well for a child. So, I decided to ask him to do my favorite imitation he ever did – a dog fighting with a cat. I’ll never forget barking myself over the phone and hearing him do the same – having fun with me as a child – and my dad picking up the phone and saying, “It’s me Mr. Forlines!”

You see, Leroy Forlines was a total person created in the image and likeness of God who just so happened to grace the Free Will Baptist denomination with his presence and publications. Free Will Baptists will never be able to repay the debt we owe to him. He paved the way for our theology. He quite literally wrote the books. But he was known by his students. He was not abstract, he embodied the total personality in his dealings with others.

Thank you, Lord, for blessing us with Mr. Forlines.

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” -John 8:32


[1] F. Leroy Forlines. The Quest For Truth: Theology for Postmodern Times (Nashville: Randall House, 2001), 3.

[2] Quote taken from Biblical Systematics, p. 9.

[3] Forlines, Quest, xvi.

[4] Ibid., 313.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 178.

[7] Forlines often wrote for Contact Magazine, which has since become One Magazine, the publication of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, along with many essays for The Commission for Theological Integrity.

[8] Matthew McAffee, “Forlinesean Eschatology: A Progressive Covenantal Approach” in The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F. Leroy Forlines, edited by Matthew Steven Bracey and W. Jackson Watts (Nashville: Randall House, 2016), 162.

[9] F. Leroy Forlines. Biblical Ethics (Nashville: Randall House, 1973), 125.

[10] Ibid., 146.

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