Christians Taught Free Will for their First 300 Years

* In Bob Enyart's Open Theism Debates: As at opentheism.org, Bob quotes the Bible in support of his theology, and when necessary both the Bible and extrabiblical sources to rebut opponents' historical claims. Today's radio program (hear it above) and this written summary fall into that latter category. For the truth about free will can be known from what the Scriptures alone teach. Regarding, however, the typical claim of Calvinists that they faithfully continue the teaching of the early church, please consider:

* Augustinian Sympathizer: As noted by Marston & Forster, Oxford professor of historical theology Alister McGrath, an Augustinian sympathizer, nonetheless admits that:

The pre-Augustinian theological tradition is practically of one voice in asserting the freedom of the human will.
 - Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 1998, p. 20

* Marston & Forster: The expanded (2000) edition of their classic book God's Strategy in Human History shows that early Christian leaders taught free will and rejected heresies that denied genuine free will. Scripture, and not church history, is authoritative on a debate over predestination and free will. However, Marston & Forster's observations, including the valuable information below, that the early Christian leaders taught free will, can help those many believers taught wrongly that the early Christian leaders opposed "libertarian" free will.

* Determinism Was Taught: by pagan Sumerians, Babylonians, Greeks, Gnostics, Neoplatonists, Stoics, etc.

* Free Will Was Taught: by the Christian leaders in Alexandria, Antioch, Athens, Carthage, Jerusalem, Lycia, Nyssa (in Cappadocia), Rome, and Sicca (in Africa).

* Martyrs, Sons of Martyrs: taught free will, including Justin Martyr (d 165), Irenaeus of Gaul (d 200), Athenagoras of Athens (2nd cent), Theophilus of Antioch (2nd cent), Tatian of Syria (late 2nd), Clement of Alexandria (d 215), Bardaisan of Syria (d 222), Tertullian of Carthage (d 225), Origen (d 254), Novatian of Rome (d 258), Methodius of Olympus (martyred 311), Arnobius of Sicca (d 327), Cyril of Jerusalem (d 386), Gregory of Nyssa (d 395), John Chrysostom (d 407), Jerome (d 420). Bob quoted on the air from all but the last five, so here are excerpts from their writings:

* Methodius of Olympus: wrote in The Banquet of the Ten Virgins xvi: "Now those who decide that man is not possessed of freewill, and affirm that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate... are guilty of impiety toward God..."

* Cyril of Jerusalem: an ordinary churchman, in Lecture iv 18: "Know also that thou hast a soul self-governed... made after the image of its Creator... having free power to do what it willeth."

* Gregory of Nyssa: On Virginity (3G8) chapter XII: "Being the image and the likeness... of the Power which rules all things, man kept also in the matter of a freewill, this likeness to Him..."

* John Chrysostom: On Hebrews, Homily 12: "All is in God's power, but so that our freewill is not lost... He does not preced our willing, that our freewill may not suffer."

* Jerome: Letters  CXXIII: "We have been created endowed with freewill... It is true that freedom of the will brings with it freedom of decision."

* Want to Help? If you'd like to help by transcribing the on-air quotes, you could then email those to Bob@kgov.com and we'll add them to this written summary! Thanks for your consideration! 

* True Confessions: St. Augustine admitted that to explain the origin of evil he would sacrifice any teaching (including therefore on God's righteousness and man's freedom), in order to preserve the Greek philosophical concept of utter immutability. Augustine had just repeated one of his favorite themes, that God is “unalterable and in no way changeable,” and then as he's struggling to understand the nature of sin, Augustine wrote on:

"...what was the cause of evil. Whatever that cause might be, I saw that no explanation would do which would force me to believe the immutable God mutable. -Augustine, Confessions Book 7 Sect. III (4)

His meaning? Augustine was prepared to sacrifice any teaching, including on God’s righteousness and Him not being the originator of evil, in order to retain his ultimate commitment, which was to the pagan philosophical claim of utter immutability. Further, the foundation of Calvinism is not, as often claimed, sovereignty, but instead, utter immutability.

* Those Committed to Augustine: Theologians like D. James Kennedy's Professor of New Testament write things like this: "The cheating man does what he wanted to do, simply because he could not have done otherwise does not mean that he did not freely choose to cheat on his wife..." Huh? Dr. Samuel Lamerson wrote this in debate with Bob Enyart in Post 3A of Battle Royale X: Is the Future Settled or Open? Admittedly, I am not a scholar but a talk show host. But again, I ask, "Huh?" That is duplicitous.

* C.S. Lewis in The Case for Christianity: From chapter 3, page 41 of the 1960 edition titled "Broadcast Talks".

God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can't. If a thing is free to be good it's also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they've got to be free.

Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. ... If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.

* Before Augustine, Theologians Were Free to Ignore Greek Timelessness: Hilary of Poitiers (c. 310 – c. 367 A.D.) was Bishop of Poitiers in France and Augustine called him "the illustrious doctor of the churches". Speaking of Jesus Christ and consistent with our popular article at kgov.com/time, in his De Trinitate Hilary wrote:

It is one thing, that He was God before He was man, another [while on Earth], that He was man and God, and another [still, since His ascension], that after being man and God, He was perfect man and perfect God. Do not then confuse the times and natures in the mystery of the dispensation, for according to the attributes of His different natures, He must speak of Himself in relation to the mystery of His humanity, in one way before His birth, in another while He was yet to die, and in another as eternal. [See also the translation excerpted in R.T. Mullins, 2016, The End of the Timeless God, Oxford University Press, p. 5.] 

* 2012 Oxford Ph.D. Thesis on Augustine: Kenneth Wilson's thesis, Augustine’s Conversion from Traditional Free Choice to ‘Non-free Free Will’: A Comprehensive Methodology, shows that for the first few centuries of the church, Christian teachers taught free will and none taught determinism. Further... 

Augustine was the only Christian bishop in history known to have been heavily influenced as a young man by participating in the three most highly deterministic systems that have ever existed—Gnostic Manichaeism, Neoplatonism, and Stoicism. Augustine's deterministic ideas did not come from the apostle Paul (a Pharisee who believed in free choice). Over fifty earlier Christian authors fought against those fated philosophies by teaching free choice. This new knowledge of how and why Augustine moved back into pagan determinism should greatly concern us. When these facts are combined with the knowledge that both Luther and Calvin mistakenly believed [along with countless reformed pastors today, that] Augustine was merely teaching what all the earliest church fathers taught, Augustinian-Calvinism is exposed as built upon an unstable foundation of pagan sand. Beginning with "God is sovereign" is not a Christian, but a Stoic foundation of philosophical theology.
- Oxford Ph.D. expert on Augustine, Ken Wilson, 2019, PROOF: The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism p. 94

* Yet Classical Theologians Revere Augustine: As one small example, R.C. Sproul's Ligonier Ministries writes approvingly:

Without a doubt, Augustine of Hippo is the most significant extrabiblical theologian of the first millennium. Some even say Western theology is but a "series of footnotes to Augustine..."

* If you'd like to help: We are searching for a quote along the lines of Luther (or some reformed theologian) saying of Augustine (or some deterministic theologian) that were he to quote ten thousand words from that theologian, he would not have occasion to disagree with one of them. If you can find this quote, please email it to Bob@kgov.com. Thanks!

* Pagans believed in fate two thousand years before the Greeks: The Apostle Paul stood on Mars Hill and said to the more philosophically-minded among the men of Athens, "I perceive that in all things you are too superstitious." Regardless, Calvinists and other Settled View proponents typically think of a "classical education", which emphasizes Greek philosophy, as especially valuable. Not surprisingly then, when discussing the early cultures that beleived in the settled future, they typically begin at the same place Wikipedia articles tended to begin. For some reason, even 20 years after the online Encyclopedia's founding, Wikipedia's main article on Fate traced the beginning of religious belief in destiny and fate only back to the ancient Greeks. However, more than a thousand years previously, the Babylonians, and before them, the ancient Sumerians, believed that fate was divinely imposed upon humanity. So Bob Enyart edited three relevant Wikipedia articles in 2019 to include the first two items here:

WP: The idea of a god controlled destiny plays a prominent role in various religions.

  • BE's Addition: The ancient Sumerians spoke of divine predetermination of the individual's destiny[8]
  • BE's Addition: In Babylonian religion, the god Nabu, as the god of writing, inscribed the fates[9] assigned to men by the gods of the Assyro-Babylonian pantheon which included the Anunnaki who would decree the fates of humanity[10]
  • WP: Followers of Ancient Greek religion regarded not only the Moirai but also the gods, particularly Zeus, as responsible for deciding and carrying out destiny, respectively.

Thus whereas reformed theologians and others may be comfortable tracing pagan "providence" back only to Latin and Greek origins, the historical reality brings it back to the even more wildly superstitious and absurd Babylonians. Her intellectual offspring had hoped for a more illustrous mother.

* "Libertarian" Free Will is Doubly Redundant: At his debate at opentheism.org with Dr. Samuel Lamerson (D. James Kennedy's Professor of New Testament) Bob Enyart pointed out that the Calvinist phrase libertarian free will is doubly redundant. The "will" is the ability to decide, and so it must be free. (See the debate for more.) Therefore, technically, "free will" is itself redundant. There is nothing inherently wrong with redundancy, as the phrase "free-will offering" tells us (referring to offerings given even though not specifically prescribed in the Mosaic Law). Redundancy harms people when it inherently undermines the truth, such as phrases like assault weapon, compassionate conservative, radical leftist, special interest, and hate crime. Because the term free will is already redundant, the Calvinist phrase "libertarian free will" is doubly redundant, especially harmful to the understanding, to make it easier for Calvinists, like Enyart's eminently qualified debate opponent Dr. Lamerson, to claim falsely that "they believe in free will". This is not unlike a Mormon pretending that his church believes in "the same God" that Christians always have believed in or a Jehovah's Witness misrepresenting their doctrine to appear innocuously Christian. Countless Calvinists evidently have justified their misrepresentation by keeping at the ready their double redundancy in case they are challenged. I pressed Lamerson until he was cornered to say, "The cheating man does what he wanted to do, simply because he could not have done otherwise does not mean that he did not freely choose to cheat on his wife..." One of Lamerson's tactical manuevers then to defend this absurdity if challenged, like all "informed" Calvinists, is to claim that the man cheated by his own "free will" but not via "libertarian free will", by which the Calvinist means the ability to actually do otherwise, which John Calvin denies is possible, as do all those who follow him closely.

Today's Resource: Learn the powerful biblical hermeneutics called N.O.A.H. and J.O.N.A.H. by reading Bob's debate with the Professor of New Testament from D. James Kennedy's ministry! It's called Battle Royale X: Is the Future Settled or Open? or 2) read it for free online at TOL or 3) you can listen to a computer read BR X via an MP3 CD!

Email from a Canadian Reader

Thanks for suggesting the [TOL Battle Royale X] Open Theism debate between D. James Kennedy's professor and your Denver Bible Church. I just want to let you know that I can't believe what I'm reading. I'm totally shocked, stunned and mesmerized. This debate is FANTASTIC... Your open theism side is literally 'crushing' the Calvinist side. And with it, I'm sorry to say, you're crushing most of what I've always believed. This is sooooooo good and sooooooo smart. There's not even a typo in it and I love the gentle attitude as well. Not proud or arrogant. It's all unreal! I don't think I've ever been so impressed by anything in my life. I'm really learning a lot. Please thank your pastor Bob and your church for me. I love it. You guys are the best!

In Him,
Barry from Ontario, Canada

See more at kgov.com/open-theism.