Willing to Believe (Part 1)

Posted: March 19, 2010 by Greg Burkheimer in Original Sin, Radical Depravity, Theology
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In preparation for my upcoming Humanity and Sin class, I have started reading a book called “Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will” by R.C. Sproul. The book is an attempt to cover the free-will controversy from its beginning in the fifth century to the present. The book will look at the questions of what is the role of the will in believing the gospel and why has there been so much controversy over free-will in church history?

I personally can’t wait until we get into this in class! There is so much riding on this issue. How you answer the question about Original sin and free-will ultimately will shape so much of your theology. The book begins with a quote from J.I Packer and O.R. Johnston, “Here was the crucial issue: whether God is the author, not merely of justification, but also of faith”.

Pelagius and Augustine

“We, who have been instructed through the grace of Christ and born again to a better manhood…ought to be better than those who were before the law, and better also than those who were under the law.” (Pelagius)

Pelagius and Augustine were engaged in a fierce debate in the early church over original sin and the effects thereof. Pelagius did not like that man was portrayed in a weak manor, unable to fulfill the commandments of God. Pelagius believed that God did not command anything impossible and that man had the ability to do good if he wanted to. He called the church to a passionate pursuit of holiness and even perfection. Among some of Pelagius teachings were that Adam was made mortal and that he would have died weather he sinned or not. Adams sin affected him alone and not the human race. Infants at birth are in the same state Adam was before he sinned. The law can get you to heaven as well as the gospel. Man can be without sin and keep God’s commandments easily if he wants to.

“It was by the evil use of his free-will that man destroyed both it and himself.” (Augustine)

Augustine saw things differently. He wanted to answer the question, what was necessary for fallen man to recover to good and to God? How does a creature that is evil recover from this condition and become good? For Augustine the answer was the grace of God. Pelagius saw man as essentially good in nature while Augustine described man as a “mass of sin”. We see a difference then right from the beginning between Pelagius and Augustine. For Augustine, the entirety of mankind was under condemnation. The book talks about a number of consequences that Augustine saw as related to the fall of Adam. The loss of freedom (Something disastrous happened to the human will and man entered into bondage to evil). The obstruction of knowledge (Man’s mental capacities were weakened). The loss of God’s grace (Man is given over to his sin). The loss of paradise (Banishment from Eden). The presence of concupiscence (a bent or inclination of the will towards the lusts of the flesh). Physical death (Prior to the fall man had the ability to die and the ability not to die. After the fall man no longer has the ability not to die.) Hereditary guilt (Sin was not just an action but a condition transferred to all of the offspring of Adam that inhabits our nature).


There is much more said about Pelagius and Augustine in the first few chapters of this book. This is just a summary. As I said before I can’t wait to get to this in class! There are so many questions that come out of this debate. It seems to me that a discussion about free-will has to begin with a discussion about original sin and it’s affects on humanity. To what extend did Adams sin affect humanity? Who is correct, Pelagius who states that human nature is good or Augustine who describes humanity as a “mass of sin”? Or, does the truth lie somewhere in between?

Willing to Believe The Controversy over Free Will by R.C. Sproul


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