Published on September 5, 2019 by Benjamin J. Montoya

Baker Books, 2018 | 240 pages

A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance

By Benjamin Montoya



When we say words like “freewill,” what do we mean? Well, as the answer to many questions goes, it depends on with whom you speak. In this book, then, R. C. Sproul surveys the responses of key theologians throughout Church History. He also demonstrates how our position on this matter affects the rest of our theology. Theology is like a web; a position on one important issue will affect the rest if we think it through. Thus, what we think about the will really matters.


In This Book, You Will Learn:

  • Why our position on the will is significant
  • The spectrum of beliefs on the will and how that works itself out in the rest of our theology
  • How the various positions in this book relate to one another
  • How this matter has affected life and ministry


The Larger Contribution of This Book:

R. C. Sproul is a masterful theologian because in addition to know what the Bible teaches, he can put it together well, and he possess a remarkable and rare grasp on the primary sources of Church History/Historical Theology. That is, repeatedly he will insightfully quote from the authors themselves—even referencing the original languages as is relevant—and carefully explain what they meant in context so as to make their meaning clear and avoid potential misunderstandings. In this book, Sproul shows how our understanding of the will affects our theology by looking carefully at all the key players in this debate. This book will draw our attention to careful theological reflection lest we make some of the same theological mistakes others have.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1  We Are Capable of Obedience: Pelagius
Chapter 2  We Are Incapable of Obedience: Augustine
Chapter 3  We Are Capable of Cooperating: Semi-Pelagians
Chapter 4  We Are in Bondage to Sin: Martin Luther
Chapter 5  We Are Voluntary Slaves: John Calvin
Chapter 6  We Are Free to Believe: James Arminius
Chapter 7  We Are Inclined to Sin: Jonathan Edwards
Chapter 8  We Are Not Depraved by Nature: Charles Grandison Finney
Chapter 9  We Are Able to Believe: Lewis Sperry Chafer


Chapter 1: We Are Capable of Obedience: Pelagius

The term “Pelagianism” comes from the name of a British monk named Pelagius. His position on the will is that we are capable of obedience. He thought that man possessed the power of obeying God. The underlying premise behind all of Pelagius’s thinking was that “God never commands what is impossible for man to perform.” This premise works its way throughout the teaching of Pelagius.

His teaching can be summarized in eighteen points:

1. God’s highest attributes are his righteousness and justice.
2. Everything God creates is good.
3. As created, nature cannot be changed essentially.
4. Human nature is indestructibly good.
5. Evil is an act that we can avoid.
6. Sin comes via Satanic snares and sensuous lust.
7. There can be sinless men.
8. Adam was created with free will and natural holiness.
9. Adam sinned through free will.
10. Adam’s progeny did not inherit from him natural death.
11. Neither Adam’s sin nor his guilt was transmitted.
12. All men are created as Adam was before the fall.
13. The habit of sinning weakens the will.
14. The grace of God facilitates goodness but is not necessary to achieve it.
15. The grace of creation yields perfect men.
16. The grace of God’s law illumines and instructs.
17. Christ works chiefly by his example.
18. Grace is given according to justice and merit.

The driving force behind each of these premises is that man is capable of obedience. Notice in point five that evil is something that we can avoid. That is, when God created us good, even though Adam sinned, and the Apostle Paul explains that we are affected by it (Rom 3:1–20), Pelagius claims that we each get a new chance as Adam did. Sometimes people want to blame Adam and Eve for their sin, but Pelagius’s view does not allow them to do so. Many people, however, have had problems with this view.

Augustine, a theologian from North Africa, took issue with the position of Pelagius. Furthermore, a church council in Carthage in 418 A. D. condemned the views of Pelagius. They condemned the following teaching of Pelagius, “that . . . original sin [is not] inherited from Adam.” That is, they condemned the driving force behind the teaching of Pelagius. Augustine, however, would take the opposite view, as chapter 2 will explain.


Chapter 2: We Are Incapable of Obedience: Augustine

As we survey the various positions on the will of man, it may be helpful to think of them in terms of a spectrum with positions falling on different points on it. On the left side is Pelagius. But, all the way on the right side is Augustine. He believed that we are incapable of obedience. He believed that when Adam sinned, he corrupted the entire human race—such that we cannot obey God. Augustine wrote, “Through Adam’s sin his whole posterity were corrupted, and were born under the penalty of death, which he had incurred.” Thus, when we are born, we are not like Adam who has the choice to obey. Rather, we can only and always disobey. From this view, Augustine developed eight consequences.

First, man had the ability to fall from his original state from the beginning. Second, man lost his freedom to obey or disobey after the fall. Third, man’s knowledge was obstructed; man’s intellectual abilities were much greater after the initial creation than after the Fall (Gen 3). Fourth, man lost a measure of God’s grace that he had in creation. God gives man over to his sin. Fifth, man lost the God-given paradise of the garden of Eden. Sixth, the presence of concupiscence, or sexual lust, appeared; that is, man would now have a predilection for the sensuous. Seventh, man after the Fall would die physically; before the Fall, man could or could not die. Eighth, man now has hereditary guilt. We are affected by Adam’s original sin. This view of the consequences of the Fall works itself out on Augustine’s view of the will.

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Baker Books, 2018 | 240 pages

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