The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Building a doctrine of Free Will…

This is actually 2 pages of notes (of 8 total) for a class I’m to teach this Sabbath. (I worship with my church on Saturday)
Topic is “Creation and the Gospel”
My intent is to present a bunch of our favorite UR texts, but present them as “GOOD NEWS”…
That’s pretty easy.
I do not intend to use the word “Universalism” at all.

I’m leading up to asking (how this will develop is uncertain; it can happen is several different ways…) how we reconcile all this positive good news with common Christians views of hell/annihilation. And I am certain that the topic of “free will” shall be raised.
Thus I title this section:

Building towards a doctrine of Free Will…

Prevailing explanations for why there is a “BARRIER” between us and the GOOD NEWS is the notion of “FREE WILL”.
This theory holds that ===>

A) In order for love to be “genuine,” it must be “freely” given…
B) In order for love to be freely given, there must be a valid/live option not to love…
C) God has obligated Himself to “respect” this “freedom” to refuse His love…
D) Thus, one can/must “choose” to be saved; must have the will and desire to be saved…
…and so on…

However, does scripture actually teach this??? ===> Well…

Romans 9:14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 It does NOT, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. 19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? 22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25 As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”

(Echoes of Ephesians 2: 8-9 ??? ===> 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.)

So ===> What does it mean to have “free will”??

At least 3 conditions are necessary:

A) one must be informed (ie know/understand the options AND their validity; know/understand the results of his choices; grasp cause/effect relationships etc.)
B) one must be undetermined, unforced, uncoerced etc. ie not acting under duress (ie compulsion under threat)
C) one must have at least a minimal degree of rationality

or, stated a bit differently:

Three great aspects of freedom are:
– A) the ability to perceive correctly and
– B) the power to act upon those correct perceptions and
– C) enough rationality to make coherent choices

Let us imagine a person who does something with NO motive for doing it AND with a very strong motive for NOT doing it; he displays the kind of irrationality that is itself incompatible with free choice. (paraphrase Talbott)

“If I am ignorant of, or deceived about, the true consequences of my choices, then I am in no position to embrace those consequences freely; and similarly, if I suffer from an illusion that conceals from me the true nature of God, or the true import of union with God, then I am again in no position to reject God freely.
Accordingly, the very conditions that render a less than fully informed decision to reject God intelligible also render it less than fully free; hence, God should be able to remove these conditions- the ignorance, the illusions, the bondage to unhealthy desires- without in any way interfering with human freedom.” (Talbott; p 185)

Jesus promised ====> “you WILL know the truth & the truth WILL set you free.” (John 8:32)

A “free” person does not choose separation from God; the very cause and source of his life… To do so demonstrates not freedom, but bondage! Bondage to illusions; to false perceptions; to “the lie.” (The lie that life is possible apart from God; the lie that God does not love us and desire our best; the lie that only (a) death will “satisfy” God for sin; the lie of our false identity…)

Instead of seeing self-destructive choices as being the decisions of a free mind then, it seems more appropriate to recognise this as evidence of a mind imprisoned by illusion, false perception, and irrationality.

God’s unilateral act of releasing us --setting us free!-- from bondage through Christ’s work of mediation (life/death/resurrection), does not, as some insist, violate our freedom. Instead it does the exact opposite; it establishes our freedom! And when truly free (ie informed, undetermined, and rational) we WILL respond to God!

How ironic that God, by insisting on our freedom – intervening (through Christ) in our history to make certain we ARE free! – is accused of violating our freedom!


If you’ve any comments, suggestions, or spirit driven wisdom, I’d like to hear it!!



As I understand “free will”, if Person P has performed Action A at Time T, and if he could have refrained from performing A at T, then when he did in fact perform A, he was exercising libertarian free will in doing so.

It is clear that the early Christians (those who lived prior to 300 A.D.) believed in the free will of man.

Libertarian free will is quite consistent with belief in the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God.

God doesn’t force anyone to repent and submit to Him, but rather influences non-disciples.

In this life, a parent sometimes exerts a strong influence on his/her teenager. If the teenager persists in a certain activity, the parent grounds him/her. But this influence doesn’t make the teenager cease the activity. In other words, parents’ strong influence does not cause their teenager to behave as desired. But what if the parents have the power to ground their teenager for a day, two days, a week, a month, etc. With time, the teenager is more likely to concur with his/her parents’ wishes. They are not caused to concur, of course. They simply want to avoid the grounding. Theoretically they could continue the activity of which the parents disapprove for an indefinite time. But the longer they are grounded regularly, the more likely the teens are to comply. Parents might also exert a positive influence on their children to induce them to comply. Usually that works better.

Similarly, God may exert a strong influence on people to be reconciled to Him. He influences people to do so even in this life. Those who rebel against God can hold out for a long time, and many hold out until death. I believe that post-mortem, God will continue to influence people to repent and come under His authority. Perhaps some will resist and hold out for a long time. But can they hold out forever, that is, for an infinite amount of time? If so, they would have to be infinite like God. Sooner or later, the influence will get to them. But it will never CAUSE them to submit. They will choose to do it. Theoretically, they could hold out forever, but not practically.

One could compare this to tossing up, within a box, 100 cardboard disks which have glue on one side only. The other side of the disks contain a material which does not allow the glue side of other disks to stick to them. When they land, some of the disks are likely to land on the side with the glue and stick to bottom of the box. But they don’t have to. It is possible that no disk will land on the glued side. It is probable that half will and the others won’t. If one keeps tossing the disks within the box which haven’t stuck to the bottom, it is likely that more of them will land on the glue side and stick. If one continues to toss the remaining ones, it is likely that eventually all disks will be stuck to the bottom. Theoretically, it is possible that one could continue tossing the disks forever, and some would always land on the non-glue side. But practically, all will eventually land on the glue side and stick to the bottom of the box.

Now of course, people are not cardboard disks. Unlike the disks, people have free will. But the principle is the same. There was an influence on the disks, and there will be an influence, God’s influence, on the lost. It is impractical that any will hold out forever, and thus I am convinced that, sooner or later, all will be reconciled to God.

I don’t see how you can reconcile a belief in UR and free-will as they are polar opposites to each other. I don’t care what adjective you give it. I also don’t see where early christians believed in free will either. Theologically free-will or FMA (free moral agency) is where man is able to make decisions free of outside influence and consequence. We know that that situation does not exist in real life. God influences and prompts us towards a few select choices. But if the creature was made subject to vanity (moral depravity), not willingly and no man comes to the Father unless they are drawn (drag) then no man chooses God or righteousness of their own free-will. God drags us.
The main confusion I see with believers and free-will, is that they just don’t understand what free-will is and confuse it with choices God presents us.

Exactly watchman, the problem isn’t men think they have totally free will but that
their will can override the will of God. UR says NOT. ECT says YES.

I disagree. Having faith that God will reconcile all people to himself simply means having faith that 1) God will never give up on us 2) God knows exactly what we need to know / hear or understand to get through to us 3) God will find a way

Sure we acknowledge that people can reject God, and I believe that God would honour that, but I cannot believe that when people understand the true depth of their depravity, the magnificence of God, the consequences of their sin (including how they have hurt others and themselves), the great love that God has for them and for all people and the great torment that exists being apart from God and given the fact that they have literally all of eternity to confront this. Given these factors, I can’t see why universal redemption would be beyond God.

I’m not sure I would agree. We are certainly open to influence. We are confronted with influences all the time, but the final decision on how to act on those influences rests with us.

In fact the opposite is true. Predestination is a very new idea. For almost all of church history, Christians have considered free will to be a fundamental truth. The Orthodox church (who haven’t changed much) still consider predestination to be a heresy. Here are what the early church fathers had to say:

Shepherd of Hermas (early 2nd century) - Irenaeus quotes it as scripture in 180.

Justin Martyr (c. AD 160):


Tatian (c. 160):

Theophilus (c. 180):

Irenaeus (c. 180):

Clement of Alexandria (c. 195):

Tertullian (c. 207):

Origen (c. 225):

Cyprian (c. 250):

Methodius (c. 290):

It sounds like you’re hinting at total depravity here which once again is considered heresy in the Orthodox faith. Christians have always believed (until recently) that God has given each of us the freedom to either choose or reject him.

I strongly recommend this book, which I am currently reading and thoroughly enjoying.

Finally, I see the OP mentions Romans 9 and I think I saw you do that elsewhere as well. Romans 9 really needs to be read in the context of Jeremiah 18 since this was Paul’s intention here. When this is done, it actually affirms free will.

See here

Good post, Ace!

You have clearly established that the early Christians believed in free will.

I see you’ve been something of a stalwart for freewill here. Good for you! :mrgreen:

By far, the greatest evils in this world are those that men do to each other. I cannot see how we can retain faith in a good God if he is primarily responsible for every atrocity that man has ever committed.

Neither can I. But those who do believe it, attempt to justify God by claiming that God does it (or at least “allows” it) for a deeper purpose (though God never reveals what this deeper purpose is).

If God does perform or allow those many atrocities for that reason, the question remains, "Couldn’t an omnipotent Being bring about that deeper purpose without having little girls tortured, raped, and murdered? Sorry to burden you all by referring to such heinous acts, but it is reality, and it does seem to bring home the fact that God is not responsible for such acts. He is total LOVE!

Not free of outside influence and consequence, but in spite of outside influence and consequence. If a thief points a gun at your head, and demands your wallet, that is about as strong an influence as possible. You know the consequence of refusal; he may shoot you dead. Notwithstanding, it is possible for you to choose not to give him your wallet and risk the consequences.

The early Christians were subject to equally strong influences. Deny Christ or be burned at stake or torn apart by wild beasts. Yet even with this strong influence, hundreds of them chose not to deny Christ.

The essence of libertarian free will is that any normal person, having made a choice, could have chosen otherwise. Determinists and compatibilists deny this. They believe that every choice which a person makes was inevitable, given the circumstances at the moment of choice and the mental state of the person who made the choice.

Yes - interesting observations all.

And illustrates a major, if not the major problem with common understandings of free will. Specifically, that free will is an “all-or-nothing” phenomenon. This tends to force folks to the extremes; leading one side to say “there IS no free will” and, on the other side to feel their only option is that free will is not only real, but can also be exercised to cause my own annihilation or ECT.

I sense that too in the links you shared Ace25 (thanks for that) where the author insists Romans 9 affirms free will. (Though I still see v.16 “It does NOT, therefore, depend on human desire or effort,” as troublesome for the complete/comprehensive free will position…)

Thus, when we find opinions this divergent (No free will vs. free will fully effects your salvation/damnation) it seems logical to wonder if there is a way in which both positions have merit. And such is the case here I think. Yes, there is free will, but no, it’s influence does not extend to all domains.

There are then, limits to our free will. Talbott talks eloquently about this. For example, there are domains over which my free will has no impact. I cannot: choose to flap my arms and expect to fly away; choose to come into existence; choose to be a different race, or gender, or height. And neither can I choose my eternal destiny. What I can choose however is how stubbornly I will expend my energy denying and defying the inevitable reality.

This means, as I see it, that the Calvinist, when he denies free will, is in actuality (over) emphasizing it’s limit’s. And similarly the Arminian (over) emphasizes free will’s domain and scope.

Since the class I teach is full of free will believing Arminians, I’m thinking they’d benefit from questioning their confidence in free will’s limitless potential. More than this however, it seems crucial to see that free will is also “limited” to those who are informed, un-coerced, (undetermined) and rational.

So rather than say Romans 9 affirms free will, maybe it’s actually talking about it’s limits. ie it’s choices are limited to vessels of wrath vs mercy – not life vs death, (existence vs non-existence) or heaven vs ECT. So the heading may better read “Romans 9 teaches the limits of free will”.

Thus the question is not free vs not free, but rather Free – but how free? I’ve got the sense that one’s genuine freedom can be roughly measured as the inverse of one’s punishment (seen as discipline; corrective; rehabilitative) since scripture seems clear that God will ratchet up our punishment until it achieves the desires results. (thinking of, say, 1 Cor 5) A truly free person needs no such correction because he has already chosen God.

Or something close to that…


It is easy to find quotes that say anything. The early church writers did just that. They wrote. If they were alive today they would post on the web. They would write to the level of their own knowledge and level of revelation. They didn’t know everything, just like we don’t. We learn and grow in understanding. When I learnt about UR, I saw how it’s affects changed many doctrines that I held sacred before. If I plant my flag with UR then I can’t plant it with Free-will where people can opt out when God saves all, which isn’t possible if UR is right and Trinity, which lessons Christ through which all things are made including URof man. And Yes, God did create evil. He created Satan and placed the tree in the middle of the garden. If God can save all regardless of their crimes then why do you have trouble with this? :sunglasses:

Because in determinism, they aren’t our crimes. God created the desires of our hearts, and by extension, caused the actions of our hearts. We don’t need to be saved from what we’re not responsible for. We need to be saved from the God who causes untold suffering.

I’m still with you Watchman. ""You did NOT (of your own free will) choose me, but I (Jesus) chose you (by the will of God)
BTW, even Jesus said he had no free will in the sense that he said, "I can do nothing of myself…I came to do (only) the WILL of the Father. Only God has true free will as He can do anything he desires and NO ONE else has a will that can or will override His will.

Wasn’t Jesus talking to his disciples there? And did Jesus not also say: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”?

In any case, the church fathers have always considered passages that talk of predestination to be about how God has predestined his church to bear his image and be his bride.

We each have the freedom to either opt to be a part of that church which is destined for glory or to be a part of the world which is destined to face the consequences for rejecting God.

All references to predestination in the Old Testament always refer to God having a plan for the nation of Israel. Not individuals (as if we were puppets completely controlled by God).

“Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”
“No one comes to the Father but through me”
"If I be lifted up, I will draw/drag all men to me.
No one comes to the Father of his “free will” unless the Holy Spirit draws them??

Since the bible says that if left on their own (free will) and **not **enticed by the spirit, NO MAN would come to God,
how is it that man thinks that without the influence of God he has acted on his own free will and chosen God?
Sounds like he’s looking for some congratulations on a fine choice and a pat on the back for choosing wisely when he really had nothing to do with it - it’s all the Holy Spirit coaxing.

And it sounds to me that if we try to believe that God is responsible for all our evil doings, then we are off the hook.

God revealed to John that one could take the water of life without price if he willed!

whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:17 AV)

A lot of free will choice seems necessary according to the following passage:

  • And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15 AV)*

The apostle Paul clearly believed in free will, that God will give eternal life to those who persevere in righteousness, and it is implied that this is through personal choice.

*For He will render to everyone according to his works.

To those who by perseverance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality,
He will give eternal life, but for those who are self-seeking and are not persuaded by the truth,
but are persuaded by unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.

Affliction and anguish for every person who does evil, but glory and honour and well-being for
every one who does good… for God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:6-10)*

I never said God was responsible for our evil doings. That was my point. Our “free will” causes us to choose evil. Just like the 2nd Law of thermodynamics. UNLESS acted upon by an outside force, everything in the universe heads toward maximum entropy.
Unless acted upon by the Holy Spirit of God, all humans will “freely” head toward sin.

This is the point where confusion reigns with some. We were made by God flawed. No choice.
We naturally gravitate towards our carnal natures.
The grace of God (the divine influence of the holy spirit) leads us through trials and tribulation where we learn to overcome in obedience, but as we are led we have choices placed in front of us. We can choose yeah or nay, but that in itself does not mean theological free will or FMA, because we were led to theses choices and didn’t get there on our own. If we choose wrong, we go around the mountain again at no choice of our own until we learn the lesson God needs us to learn. :sunglasses:

Hi Watchman

I just wanted to pick up on something you said earlier:

As a Universalist with a strongly Arminian bent, I am quite content with the notion that we are indeed always free to ‘opt out’ of salvation, but because God is infinitely wiser, more loving and more resourceful than we, He will in the end be able to bring about the circumstances under which we ‘opt in’ of our own free will. The philosopher Eric Reitan has argued this position very persuasively.

Personally I am committed to the idea of ‘free will’ because I believe it is essential if our lives are to have any true meaning and if God is to be good, which I am quite convinced He is. If our actions are predetermined by God then God is the author of sin, and hence not God in any meaningful sense.

Which is not to say I believe in absolute or libertarian freedom. There is no such thing. None of us can ever escape our genetic inheritance or upbringing. I think we would do well to bear this in mind when we rush to condemn criminals. There but for the grace of God go any of us.

All the best


Hear, hear, Johnny. Well said. Thank you!

I would only add that while none of us is truly free in this life, those who follow the Son are progressively being SET free. Free will is a matter of maturity, sanity and rationality. The irrational are not free as they are slaves to their impulses; the insane are not free as they are the slaves of their delusions and the immature are not free as they are the pawns of any who are clever enough to deceive them. Only the fully mature, the fully sane, the fully rational, and the fully informed can be free. Only the Son can bring us such freedom. “He whom the Son shall set free shall be free indeed.” The implication is that they do not START OUT free, but are freed by the One who came to set the captives free, give sight to the blind, and set at liberty those who are bruised.

God is not about taking away our freedom, but of preparing us to receive, with the TRUTH, and in knowing the TRUTH, the only true freedom there is.