By Kathryn Wright
Leighton Flowers is a former Calvinist Baptist minister and currently the Director of Evangelism and Apologetics for Texas Baptists. In The Potter’s Promise, he describes how he gave up on his belief in Calvinism. It took him three years of study to change his view.
The start of the journey occurred when he discovered that some writers he respected, like A. W. Tozer and C. S. Lewis, did not accept the five points of Calvinism (p. 4). He came to reject the idea that God would create people for the “sole purpose of pouring out His everlasting wrath” on them in order to manifest His glory (p. 6). Flowers discovered that Romans 9 did not teach election of people to the lake of fire. After that, all his arguments in favor of Calvinism fell away. He adopted what he calls a “traditional” soteriology. Predestination means that God has predetermined that those who freely believe will be eternally saved. All believers have a responsibility to “humble themselves and trust Christ in faith.”
In chapter one, Flowers argues that the character of God argues against Calvinism. God is love. He loves His enemies. How could such a One create His enemies with no chance of being saved from an eternal hell? Romans 9 speaks of God’s choosing Jacob over Esau in order for Jacob to be the one to carry God’s blessing (p. 25).
Chapter two takes up the idea of election. The NT does speak of God choosing, but these elections are never for people to go to heaven or hell. God chose the nation of Israel through whom would come the Law, and they were to give it to the world. When it comes to salvation from hell, election is not unconditional. It refers to those who respond freely to God’s invitation (p. 32).
God’s sovereignty is a major emphasis of chapter three. Flowers says it is not to be understood in the idea of God’s determining everything that will happen, but in accomplishing His purposes in the free choices of every person. He also says that if Calvinism is true, God must have created evil. This was the position of Calvin himself (p. 43).
The fourth chapter has an interesting discussion on what it means when God hardens a person’s heart. Flowers says that the Jews were self-hardened. They refused to believe and thus God also hardened them in order to bring eternal salvation to the Gentiles (Romans 11, p. 48). The judicial hardening of God is directed towards those who are already rebellious and is always to accomplish a greater redemptive purpose. While it is great that Flowers rejects the Calvinistic view that God chooses people for hell or the kingdom, he assumes that the result of the hardening of the heart is in reference to eternal salvation. He does not consider that this hardening is describing a communal aspect that deals with other issues.
Flowers correctly points out that Christ elected the Twelve to be apostles and take the gospel to the world. He did not elect them to eternal life (p. 75). In addition, God elected Israel as a community (p. 80). Flowers says that the election in Ephesians 1 refers to the sanctification and glorification that all who believe in Jesus will receive because they have believed. He implies that progressive sanctification is guaranteed for every believer (pp. 78-79). Flowers also sees in Ephesians 1 the universal aspect of God’s election of the church as well (p. 81). He rightly states that God elects nations and individuals to fulfill a purpose (p. 106).
When it comes to the foreknowledge of God, Flowers takes the position that this refers to believers in the OT whom God loved in the past. These believers will be conformed to the image of Christ because of His sacrifice on their behalf (pp. 90-91).
The biggest disappointment of this book, in this reviewer’s opinion, is that Flowers does not clearly define what he means by “traditional soteriology.” He rejects the Calvinistic doctrine, but it is
difficult to determine what he believes is required of the unbeliever. Sometimes he only mentions the need for faith (pp. 47, 65, 81). In other places he says faith and repentance are necessary (pp.
64, 76, 105, 163), and in this regard the prodigal son’s repentance is a picture of receiving eternal salvation. He sometimes says that the unbeliever needs to admit his sinfulness (p. 65) and implies
that one needs to humbly ask for salvation.
Flowers does not appear to believe in rewards, so it is not surprising that he takes the position that passages which deal with rewards are speaking of eternal salvation (p. 88). Since he appears to believe in the perseverance of the saints in good works, he does not address the issue of assurance in this life.
Even though Flowers does not present a Free Grace gospel of eternal life and assurance, there is value in this book. It shows how a man steeped in a tradition can change his position. He correctly points out how Calvinists have misinterpreted passages about election and predestination. Many readers of the JOTGES will agree with many of his conclusions on these passages. Since Flowers
once belonged to their camp, some Calvinists might be persuaded by his arguments in these areas more readily than they would from a proponent of Free Grace. For these reasons, I recommend the book.
Kathryn Wright is the GES Missions coordinator and does far more work than that title suggests.