Ben Henshaw, “A Brief Review of ‘Free Will: Pagan and Unbiblical'”

, posted by SEA

A Calvinists site promoted this video on their site a few years ago: “Free Will: Pagan and Unbiblical”.

I forced myself to watch it, which wasn’t easy. Here are my brief, informal comments on the video. There is much more that could be said. I wish I had more time to write a full, formal review of it.


Wow, that was really hard to watch. I am very surprised that Calvinist site was promoting this garbage.

This kid gets his information from some book that tries to say that paganism is the root of free will in Christianity. He quotes Aristotle on free will and then quotes modern day proponents of free will who say things similar. Well, there you have it: our ideas on free will are not from the Bible, but from pagans like Aristotle. Horrible logic.

But what to do with all of the early church fathers? This book could have easily quoted them instead of Aristotle, since they all said similar things. The kid suggests that the early Christians writings on free will were just carry overs from their pagan roots. He really only mentions Justin Martyr (ignoring every other early Christian writer). He says he was an uncircumcised heathen before becoming a Christian, a real pagan. Well, so much for Justin Martyr, I guess. Ridiculous.

So what about Augustine? He was a Gnostic determinist before becoming a Christian and eventually brought determinism into the church. We can’t trust Augustine on his eventual views of free will, after all, he was a cultist before becoming a Christian, right?

Early on the kid says that people hold to free will in the church for two reasons (based on his personal interactions). One reason is that they have just always been taught it by their church and haven’t bothered to look at what the Bible says, because of course, free will is nowhere taught in the Bible. The other is that they just don’t want God in control of their lives, or something like that.

After smearing Justin Martyr as a pagan uncircumcised heathen prior to his conversion and therefore entirely untrustworthy on his view of free will, he then goes through a series of prooftexts for determinism. He just reads them with no comment at all as if they settle the matter. Most of them obviously have nothing to do with determinism, and the others could possibly teach it, but don’t need to.

He then finishes by talking again about why so many Christians reject determinism. He says that while many Arminians are born again, most Christians who reject determinism do so because they are yet unregenerate. They hate the thought of God in control. They cannot see determinism in the Bible because of their unregenerate minds. The usual disgusting and ridiculous tripe.

But of course, he finishes by telling us why it is so important to hold to determinism and presupposes throughout that we have the ability to change our minds about things. We “must” accept it, he says (if we are to be true Christians, or something like that). Well, how can we if God decreed for us to reject it? And when suggesting his personal suspicions about why so many Christians reject determinism, he never mentions the fact (from a Calvinist viewpoint) that the real reason can be nothing more than that God has determined it to be like that.

This video is filled with poor reasoning, wild prooftexting, false correlations, and suggestions that our sinful unregenerated natures are what is behind a desire to believe in free will. It also ignores the early history of the church before Augustine and their unanimous testimony concerning free will based on the fact that one early church father was a heathen before his conversion (Justin Martyr). Other than that, it is just regurgitated arguments from an obscure book that tries to say the idea of free will developed entirely from paganism. How do we know this? Well, it seems because some pagans held to free will. Hard to argue with that I suppose.

The comments to the video were removed and disabled after some commenters, including this author, took the creator of the video to task in the video comment section for his poorly reasoned and error filled presentation. Here is the response I left at the video’s YouTube page before the video ‘s creator removed them:

This video is problematic and inaccurate on multiple levels.

First, the fact that the early church held to free will in the libertarian sense is entirely ignored. All that is given is a suggestion that belief in free will is a pagan carry over into the early church based on one example (Justin Martyr). Justin Martyr’s views are then dismissed simply because he was an “uncircumcised” heathen prior to conversion. So? That doesn’t mean his views on free will were wrong or that they were derived from his pre-conversion convictions. That simply doesn’t follow. Augustine was a Gnostic before becoming a Christian. Should we then dismiss all of his views because he was a cultist prior to his conversion?

It can just as easily be argued that Augustine introduced the seed of determinism into the church based on his prior involvement in a sect that held to a form of determinism. Not only that, but the earliest Christian writers routinely argued against determinism of any sort and upheld free will as a refutation of the same Gnostic sects that Augustine became involved in for 9 years. What is especially interesting is that these Gnostic sects used the same “go to” passages as Calvinists (Romans 9; John 6, etc.). And the early Christians used the same Scriptures and arguments that Arminians use today to refute the Gnostics. But none of this is mentioned by Mr. “Truth”. Indeed, he seems entirely ignorant of such things.

Regarding the early church, even Calvinist Alister McGrath admits: “The pre-Augustinian theological tradition is practically of one voice in asserting the freedom of the human will” (McGrath, Justitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 1998, p. 20). So just dismissing Justin Martyr based on his pre-conversion views won’t cut it. Indeed, that book could have cited numerous early Christian writers on free will without needing to quote at all from Aristotle. The only difference would be that they wouldn’t say God can have no control over them or that mankind is completely autonomous. That is a caricature of the Christian belief in free will.

Second, the prooftexts offered here (without comment) are really grasping. Many of them have nothing at all to do with exhaustive determinism (you would have to massively read that idea into these passages to come away with such an idea). Others could possibly be used to support the idea, but do not require that interpretation. Proof texting in this manner does not make your case. For some Biblical reasons to hold to free will in a libertarian sense, see my article, “The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture.”

For the major problems created when trying to read Scripture against the backdrop of determinism, see Glen Shellrude, “Calvinism and Problematic Readings of New Testament Texts Or, Why I Am Not a Calvinist.”

It is also annoying to see Calvinists continue to say that non-Calvinists hold to free will because we just want to be in control or don’t want God to be in control, or whatever (or worse, suggest, as Mr. Truth does, that many reject determinism because we are just unregenerate- which is a feature of hyper-Calvinism and should be rebuked by traditional Calvinists). That is simply false.

I personally hold to free will because I am convinced the Bible presupposes it and implicitly as well explicitly teaches it (see posts above). It also removes the inevitable Calvinist implication that God is the originating author of all sin and evil in the universe, which is violently against the holiness of God as revealed in Scripture. It also makes the best sense out of numerous Biblical concepts like: making choices (which assumes legitimate options), making and holding commitments (and being expected to do so), punishment for refusing to follow God’s directives and rewards for obedience, sacrifice and self-denial (concepts which make little sense if we have no control at all over our wills or our “self”).

It is also a necessary implication of passages which express God’s love for the world, desire to save all, the provision of atonement made for all through Christ against the reality that not all are saved. Of course, Calvinists deny Scripture teaches such things, but can only do so through painful interpretative gymnastics of the universal passages (my opinion, of course). Much more could be said, but I will wait for Mr. “Truth” to respond before going any further.