This post was not an attempt to examine the Reformed doctrines of grace in detail, nor to argue for or against them. It was written to share some research that was done examining whether the early church held these ideas. Ultimately this research and these posts form a rebuttal to those Reformed teachers that assert that the early church held to the Reformed doctrines of grace prior to Augustine. In order to narrow the scope of this research, I focused on the quotes used to prove that Justin Martyr was a proto-Calvinist.
There is no problem with Reformed teachers that want to argue for their doctrines using their interpretations of Scripture and/or making a philosophical argument. In making this case, there can reject the teachings in the early church, arguing that the early theologians prior to Augustine were wrong because they incorrectly held that foresight, foreknowledge and freewill are compatible or that synergism is a basis for boasting.
However, it is rather troubling for these teachers to claim, using vague, spurious, and misleading citations, that the early patristic sources affirmed TULIP and determinism. These claims have to ignore the context of the passages as well as clearer statements made by these writers in an attempt to make them out to be something that they are not. As Cottrell said: this is “extremely poor scholarship”. With a little research it should be clear that Justin, rather than being a confused or contradictory theologian, held to a view of soteriology that denied the very ideas these scholars boldly claim that he held.
I hope that this exercise will encourage readers to take the advice of McMahon and consult the primary sources. In doing so, they will find that the quotes taken from writings of the early church do not support the argument that the early church affirmed the Reformed doctrines of grace, but instead rejected them.
Contra Charles Spurgeon, who would write in his sermon Election (link), that Calvinism is the ancient faith,
It is no novelty, then, that I am preaching; no new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines, which are called by nickname Calvinism, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. By this truth I make a pilgrimage into the past, and as I go, I see father after father, confessor after confessor, martyr after martyr, standing up to shake hands with me. Were I a Pelagian, or a believer in the doctrine of free-will, I should have to walk for centuries all alone.
we will find that it is a synergistic understanding of faith and salvation that echoes throughout the centuries.
Hi, Mike. There was a controversy causing pre-Nicene Christians to talk about foreknowledge and predestination. You mentioned it several times in this post. The Romans believed that destiny was controlled by the Fates. We miss that because we are so used to talking about fate without thinking about the Roman Fates. One of our Christmas carols even has the line “if the fates align.” That is an interesting slip in a carol about Christmas time. Anyway, Justin and others responded to the “fat-al necessity” of the Romans. You’ll find that reference to “fatal necessity” in your quote from 1 Apology 43. Thus, even the claim that the early Christians never defined predestination and salvation because of no controversy is not true. (I realize it’s not the same as doctrinal controversies between Christians, but it is nonetheless a provocation to define what the Bible means by predestination that was real and did happen.)
Thanks for sharing this comment. That is a great observation. While it wasn’t a debate between Christians, it is clear that the Stoics and the Christians were arguing about two different perspectives that helped the church clearly define where it stood in relation to fate and free will.