Friday, April 25, 2008

Baptists and Free Will

It is simply a falsehood to state that all Baptists have always believed that man has a free will that can either accept or reject the gospel.

The Philadelphia Confession (Baptist) of 1742 has this to say on the topic of man's "free will."

Man, by his fall unto a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself or to prepare himself thereunto.

When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and by His grace alone, enables him freely to will, and do that which is spiritually good; yet so that, by reason of his remaining corruptions, he doth not perfectly nor only will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.

The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone in the state of glory only.

Similarly, the Sandy Creek Association (one of the very first and most important Southern Baptist groups) included this statement in their confession:

That Adam fell from his original state of purity, and that his sin is imputed to his posterity; that human nature is corrupt, and that man, of his own free will and ability, is impotent to regain the state in which he was primarily placed.

(Just so that we're on the same page here, "impotent" means powerless, without strength. The Sandy Creekers believed that fallen man's will was powerless in the realm of salvation.)


Rev. said...

Just some thoughts...

I'm glad that you are examining some of the early Baptist confessions of faith. Excellent!

It is always good to discuss what we mean by 'free will,' that is, we should always provide a helpful definition of what it is (and/or isn't). As a "Calvinist," I fully affirm "free will," but I completely oppose the notion of "absolute individual autonomy."

What's the difference, you ask? Because of my free will, I make thousands of choices every day. Which socks to wear, what to eat for lunch, etc., etc. I'm not forced to make those choices, but make them based upon my desires. My desires and my choices, however, are not outside the realm of God's purpose and plan for my life. His will is always more free than mine. I may decide to take a trip, but it will only happen "if the Lord wills" (see James 4:13-17).

Absolute individual autonomy is the notion that God won't or can't interfere with my choices, etc., because we have "free will." This goes against the grain of Scripture. Consider the life of Nebuchadnezzar, for example (Daniel 4). You don't see autonomy there.

We must ask a question related to these issues. What is the desire of those who are under the bondage of sin? Do they desire Christ? Will they willingly come to God? Do they have a neutral disposition to spiritual truth, or are they actually hostile? You'll only get the answers by looking at the Scriptures. Check out such passages as John 3 (in its entirety), 1 Corinthians 1-2, 2 Corinthians 4, and Romans 8.

It's easy to get caught up in theological terms and church buzzwords, but we must always go back to the Book. :)

Gordan Runyan said...


Thanks for the helpful clarification. We do believe that man's will is "free" to do as it pleases. It is bound only by what it loves, and fallen man loves sin and hates righteousness. It's that love and hate that makes the will useless in "getting saved."

Anonymous said...

I have no free will... My wife normally tells me what to do.

Anonymous said...

rev - Well stated. Mind if I borrow that? Plagiarism has always worked well for me! Seriously, that is a clarification of "free will" that needs to be made in these type of discussions.

Rev. said...

Certainly! Unless the comments on this blog are copyrighted by Rhett, then you'll have to worry about being sued. I heard... ;)

Anonymous said...

As long as you don't use anything here to conduct a witch hunt or Inquisition against a member of the Mafia, I have no problem with it! ;) LOL!

Strong Tower said...

Doulos, some of us have been known to start fires...

Anonymous said...

We didn't start the fire!
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning!
We didn't start the fire!
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it!

Oops.. My bad. I just couldn't help myself!