An Interview with Ken Keathley

May 16, 2012

Ken Keathley is Professor of Theology, Senior Vice President for Academic Administration, and Dean of the Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

SBC Today: What do you think are the greatest challenges confronting the SBC?

Ken Keathley: For all the changes the SBC and the nation are experiencing, the greatest challenge is still the same: reaching the lost with the gospel. We are not a denomination in the traditional sense of the word.  The SBC and its entities exist for the sole purpose of enabling Baptist churches to collectively obey the Great Commission.  People without Christ are lost.  They are not simply prospects. They are persons for whom Christ died.

SBC Today: What do you see as the greatest opportunities opening to the SBC?

Ken Keathley: We are quickly losing the cultural comfort of being the largest religious group in the Bible Belt.  The social environment of the nation as a whole is becoming much less friendly to the Gospel and scriptural norms.  However, I believe this is also a time of opportunity.  During the 20th century, cultural dominance in the rural south caused Southern Baptists to be rather careless in a number of crucial areas.  We became shallow theologically and sloppy methodologically.  The distressing direction that America is headed in is now forcing us to walk against the grain.  But that means we have the opportunity to present Christ in a clear and definitive way.  Society as a whole is rejecting our Christian heritage, but I can’t think of a better time to do one-on-one evangelism.

SBC Today:  As you look back over the Conservative Resurgence, what do you think that movement accomplished, and what (if anything) is left to be done?

Ken Keathley: I shudder to think where Southern Baptists would be today if the Conservative Resurgence had not happened.  Recent statements by leaders in the CBF expressing support for same-sex marriage once again demonstrate that the Resurgence was necessary.  During the conflict, the broader evangelical community provided support to Southern Baptist conservatives through their schools, organizations, and media outlets by providing a clear rationale for holding to the infallibility and authority of the Bible.  Remarkably, while Southern Baptists were reaffirming the inerrancy of Scripture, some of those same evangelical institutions appear to have been losing their way.  It’s very concerning.  The task ahead now appears to be that Southern Baptists need to call our evangelical brethren back to the historic understanding of the Word of God

SBC Today: What are your thoughts about the proposed SBC alternate name?

It is probably the best resolution that is reasonably available.  I intend to vote in favor of it.

SBC Today: What are the most significant doctrinal issues that the church will struggle with over the next few decades?

Ken Keathley: As I have noted elsewhere in print, the Baptist Faith and Message does not take a position on three issues: the millennium, Calvinism, and the age of the earth.  I think that was a wise course of action, because there is not a consensus among Southern Baptists on these matters.  Quite honestly, the question of whether one is pre-, post-, or a-millennial and the question of whether one is a young-earth creationist or an old-earth creationist are rather humble matters.  This does not mean that they are not without major implications, but on the hierarchy of theological importance they are modest.

The Calvinism issue could be serious.  Within the SBC, thoughtful Calvinists and thoughtful non-Calvinists have the responsibility of engaging with one another in ways that are charitable and candid.  We also have the responsibility of calling to task those within our respective camps that are taking extreme positions and/or misrepresenting the other side.  I have expressed in print my concerns about Calvinism very clearly.  And, God help me, I enjoy a theological tussle far too much.  But I’m convinced that Calvinists, Molinists, and others can join together to obey the Great Commission (while still continuing to discuss vigorously the important points concerning the doctrine of salvation).

SBC Today: Tell us about your interest in the doctrine of creation and the dialogue with BioLogos.

Ken Keathley: Just look at the number of books and articles currently published, and continuing to be published on the subject of creation, creationism, evolution, intelligent design, as well as the proper way to interpret Genesis 1-3 and other biblical texts concerning creation.  It is overwhelming!  Mark Rooker and I have been asked by Kregel to co-author a book entitled 40 Questions on Creation and Evolution.  One of the most difficult tasks has been to arrive at the proper forty questions.  The interest on the subject has never been greater.

The BioLogos Foundation is making a concerted effort to convince evangelicals that theistic evolution (or evolutionary creationism, as they call it) is a viable option for Bible-believing Christians.  They are making formidable arguments and they are not going away.  Darrel Falk, the current president of BioLogos, asked several Southern Baptist theologians, philosophers, and biblical scholars to express our concerns is a series entitled “Southern Baptist Voices.”  The series is now running on the forum of the BioLogos website, along with their responses.  Most of the members at BioLogos are scientists–geneticists, biologists, etc.  We did not attempt to challenge them scientifically, that’s a task for others to do.  Instead, we focused on the serious theological and biblical problems with evolutionary creationism.  So far it’s generated a great deal of discussion–hopefully, helpful discussion.

SBC Today: SEBTS has been criticized at times because of a perceived close relationship with Acts 29 and Mark Driscoll. What would you say to defend SEBTS against this criticism?

Ken Keathley: The criticism is simply bizarre.  We had Mark Driscoll on our campus for a conference over three years ago.  At that time we pointed out where we disagreed with him (his affirmation of social drinking, for example).  Mark has an extraordinary ministry in Seattle, which most would recognize as a difficult field.  Despite his shortcomings we believed he had something worthwhile to say to our students.

SBC Today: What are some exciting things happening at SEBTS?

Ken Keathley: During his tenure as president, Paige Patterson established Southeastern as a Great Commission school.  Under the leadership of Danny Akin, that emphasis continues and has been taken to the next level.  The number of young men and women who are answering the call to missions and church planting is extraordinary.  By God’s grace we have had over 2,900 students this academic year (2011-12).  We are thankful that God has led them to us and we take stewardship of their training very seriously.

SBC Today:  How do you balance ministry and family responsibilities?

Ken Keathley: Maintaining a proper balance is always a challenge. But a minister must make a priority of his family for the sake of his spiritual health and the long term health of his ministry.  I’m blessed with Penny, my wonderful wife.  I fell in love and married my best friend.  And now that we are empty-nesters we have rediscovered dating!

SBC Today:  What do you do for fun? Anything else you would like to tell us about?

Ken Keathley: Penny and I had no idea that grandkids would be so much fun!  A second grandson is due in June!

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Chris Roberts

Great interview.

Ron Hale

Dr. Keathley,
I have greatly enjoyed your chapter entitled: The Work of God: Salvation … in the book entitled … A Theology For The Church. I especially found interesting your work on decretal theology. One sentence caused me to stop dead in my tracks …”Thus decretal theology is actually a philosophy masquerading as theology.” I’ve been chewing on that for months. Blessings!



    “”Thus decretal theology is actually a philosophy masquerading as theology.” I’ve been chewing on that for months. Blessings!”

    It was decreed before the foundation of the world that you would. :)

Randy Everist

Dr. Keathley is a very gracious man, and more humble than this one. Always like reading his stuff. :)

Bob Cleveland

And not one word about the failure of the SBC (its churches, its pastors, its people, etc) to make disciples of ten million or so of the people God drew to us when we lifted Jesus up, people who are not coming to church. As if that’s not a problem at all.

The mind boggles.

    Randy Everist

    That is, of course, an unwarranted inference. Unless you’re criticizing the questions being asked, in which case it is nonsensical. It doesn’t follow that because Dr. Keathley didn’t mention discipleship, it is therefore unimportant. Moreover, a careful reading will show that he was addressing the SBC in an organizational sense (that is, as distinct from, and not identical to, its constituent members); thus, the focus is not on all of the things that could be said to be wrong with Christianity or Baptist churches as a whole, but rather the SBC as an organization. Whether he should have focused on that is really not an issue here. What he did focus on, granting his premise that the SBC was founded for the purpose of the Great Commission. Moreover, it’s unlikely that Dr. Keathley has a myopic view of the Great Commission, whereby he thinks such revolves only around evangelism. Rather, this is our starting point. In short, he didn’t answer a question the way you wanted it to be answered, and you jumped on an unwarranted and uncharitable speech, insinuating either thoughtlessness or apathy with respect to discipleship. You had not one word of evangelism; should I suppose you think evangelistic efforts should not be undertaken, or that you do not recognize there are lost people?

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