Monday, August 12, 2013

On Free Will

I recently listened to Pastor Walter Chantry's sermon 'The Obedience of Christ' from the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America General Assembly 2013 dated April 25, 2013.

Pastor Chantry begins by reading Matthew 5:16-20 and states that these verses show us Jesus' purpose and the significance of the law and the prophets.  He notes that there has a been a reformed movement of the New Calvinists in the evangelical world who have decided to ignore certain laws or even all of God's laws.  But as we read further into Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, we see that the way is narrow and not broad, and that believers should beware of false prophets in sheep's clothing, (Matt. 7:13-15).  Or, we should beware of the New Calvinists falsely wearing Calvin's robe.

The Academy of Saumur in western France was founded in 1593 and existed until 1683 when King Louis XVI ended the toleration of Protestantism in France.  During its short existence, the Academy was influenced by the humanistic philosophy of Ramus and was the home of Amyraldism.  Moses Amyraut, a French Protestant theologian, became a leading faculty member at the Academy in 1633.  However, his Calvinistic beliefs were being criticized, so in response to the secular objection to the doctrine of predestination, he modified his beliefs while still maintaining his association with Calvinism.  He developed Amyraldism or the doctrine that God's design is to save all men through Christ's sacrifice.  However, His sacrifice is not effectual to salvation unless man accepts it when God offers the free gift of grace.  Therefore, man's will is the key, and the purposes of God's will cannot be fulfilled unless man exercises his will.  This perversion of God's word leads to the untenable position that man has a natural ability to receive the free gift of God, but a moral inability to receive it.

In the 1730's, the First Great Awakening swept through the American colonies with the preaching of men like Jonathan Edwards.  Subsequently, Edwards was dismissed from his church in Northampton, Massachusetts, and called to direct an Indian mission.  While he was there he wrote a treatise on 'The Freedom of the Will' and argued that "man has a natural ability, but a moral inability".  This exact phrase was used by Moses Amyraut in his writings.

Pastor Chantry speculates that Edwards was reading the theological work from the Academy of Saumur including the works of Moses Amyraut.  Jonathan Edwards died in 1758, and the Second Great Awakening swept through the United States in the 1790's.  The students of Edwards, including his sons, moved openly toward Amyraldism and claimed that they got it from Edwards (if anyone has access to Yale's archives, Pastor Chantry encourages you to study Edwards' connection to Amyraut).  They promoted the teaching that God intended to save all men, that Christ died for "you", but you must believe to receive it, and that you have have a free will capable of receiving the free gift.  This teaching led to the moral influence theory of the atonement which says that God has a wonderful plan for your life if only "you" will accept it.  Does this sound familiar?  I recently saw this on the website of a local church...

Modern day Amyraldians claim to be the true Calvinist.  I had never heard of Amyraldism before hearing pastor Chantry's sermon, but I have seen the bifurcation of the human will discussed by modern day theologians such as R.C. Sproul in his book Essential Truths of the Christian Faith.  Quoting Edwards is usually a safe bet, but with this background information, I'll be more discerning when the topic is free will.

The bottom line is that all Christians should beware of false teachers.  For those of us in the reformed camp, we should watch for those who claim that they are Calvinist, when they are not.

"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction," (2 Peter 2:1).