Elsewhere is recorded the dissent F.H. Kerfoot noted concerning James Boyce’s “regeneration precedes faith” doctrine almost universally proclaimed now by Southern Baptist Calvinists as biblical to the core. Whether it’s the young, restless, and reformed community or traditional Founders Ministries Calvinists, they routinely and almost invariably proclaim what R.C. Sproul famously calls the “cardinal point of Reformed theology”; namely, “When speaking of the order of salvation (ordo salutis), Reformed theology always and everywhere insists that regeneration precedes faith.”1 In itself, this particular doctrine oozing from the neo-Calvinism resurgence within the broader evangelical community accounts for a large part of contention between Calvinists and non-Calvinists in Southern Baptist life.
Another element of theological dissent noted in his 1899 edited edition of Boyce’s Abstract of Theology is Kerfoot’s reservation with Boyce’s Federal Theology. In the section rehearsing the fall of Adam and the effects of its fall on all humanity, Kerfoot entered an extended footnote. Below is Kerfoot’s full note indicating his theological dissent from the man who chose Kerfoot to replace him as professor of theology at Southern seminary:
The reviser has always felt constrained to differ with the author as to the supposed federal headship of Adam for the following reasons:
1) It is admitted at the outset that the theory of “natural headship” alone would have sufficed to account for all the effects of Adam’s sin” (cf. p. 221).
2) The claim that because “Christ was federal head, therefore Adam must have been federal head also,” will hardly stand testing. Christ and Adam were alike in some things and in some relations, but very different in others. Adam could do his work as natural head; Christ could not do his work in that way. There is apparently no more reason for saying that Adam must have been federal head because Christ was federal head, than for saying Christ must have been natural head because Adam was natural head.
3) Some of the author’s claims as to “the principle of representation among men” may well be questioned. But if everything that is claimed on this point be granted, it still would not prove that in this particular case the relation in which Adam acted for the race was that of representative, or federal head.
4) It is strange, if this doctrine is true, that only two passages in all the word of God be cited as giving any sort of proof of it ( Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45 -49). The Scriptures abound in statements as to the federal headship of Christ, they say absolutely nothing as to a federal headship of Adam, unless it may be inferred from these two passages.
5) These passages do not seem at all to justify such an inference. (1) In the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians the apostle is discussing the resurrection of the body from the grave. It seems to be a straining of language to interpret these verses as setting forth any teaching concerning federal headship. (2) The passage in the fifth chapter of Romans only narrates the fact that “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all sinned”; and the further fact that, over against this ruin that came by Adam, Christ wrought a glorious work of redemption. There is not a word in the whole passage as to the method by which Adam did his work, nor a word as to the method by which Christ did his. We know from other passages of Scripture that Christ did his work as federal head. We have no such teaching concerning Adam. None such is claimed. Every allusion to Adam in connection with the fall the rather favors the idea that he did his work of ruin as the natural head of the race. This has mystery enough connected with it, without bringing in the fiction of a federal relationship in sinning.
Dr. J. A. Broadus says concerning this passage in Romans: “This passage teaches that in some way all sinned in Adam. But as to how they sinned in Adam, whether representatively or otherwise, the passage does not say, and I do not believe that any one knows. The idea that the sinning was done representatively, or by representation merely, is only a theory of the theologians which cannot be substantiated by Scripture.” The reviser once said to Dr. Broadus that he could not see that the passage even teaches necessarily that “all sinned in Adam.” It simply says that “all sinned.” It does not say where, when, or how they sinned. It does, however, very clearly trace all sin back to Adam. “By one man sin entered the world.” But it is an inference only that this sinning was done in Adam. We need to distinguish sharply between the certain teaching of the Scriptures and the inferences of both the theologians and the exegetes (page 226 and page 227).
What Timothy George dubbed “slightly revised” and a “tentative softening of Boyce’s Calvinism”2 the reader can judge as to whether a) reversing Boyce’s strict Calvinistic ordo salutis making regeneration conditioned upon conversion which was conditioned upon repentance and faith, and now b) a clear rejection of Boyce’s Federal Headship of Adam, can be sufficiently described as either slight or tentative.
For my part, it looks very much like Kerfoot pulled some Calvinistic teeth to me. I have another installment of Kerfoot’s annotations dealing with limited atonement.
1R.C. Sproul, Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 195
2Review and Expositor 82, no. 1 (1985): pages 32 and 35 respectively