This article comes at a unique point in time, before the interview with Dr. Wilson, but in this introduction wishes to point out a few unique mishaps. Mainly, the concept that Dr. Wilson speaks of in terms of the Early Church Fathers directly opposing deterministic predestination of any kind and instead of sourcing this and doing a historical comparison between that, the Gnostic/Stoic view and Calvinist today, we instead get a discourse attacking Augustine, who held to a free will, on many assertions that are shown the be false. The thesis could have been extremely useful and valid had it shown the issues with one of the Reformed views of predestination, mainly double or Supralapsarian, but instead, it deviates to attack Augustine on Baptism.
Later we show what we grant Wilson, as to be as objective as possible. Mainly that Calvinism does hold to a view of decree, sovereignty, and predestination that would not have been held by any early church father and may have even been viewed as heretical Gnosticism.
The main objection is where did Wilson get the idea Augustine reinterpreted John 3:5 to mean baptismal rebirth when church fathers taught that for centuries before Augustine?
"Logical Fallacy abounds. His argument reinterprets Jn3.5 as water baptism instead of rebirth/birth, contesting his accurate explanation of Jn3.6 demonstrating flesh/flesh versus spirit/spirit birth (Gn.litt.10.22). O'Daly perceives his novel inherited reatus as a type of Traducianism, also creating proxy salvation whereby a person without faith receives remission of sins." (167. Wilson)
"In De Baptismo, we find abundant proof of Augustine's persistent traditional free choice theology: Quid sit autem perniciosius, utru omnino non baptizari, an rebaptizari, judicari difficile est - bapt 2.19. Salvation can occur without water baptism, demonstrating Jn 3.5 has not yet evolved into a proof text." (120. Wilson)
In this attempt to show that Augustine held to free choice because according to Wilson, early Augustine (Pre-412AD) denied baptismal salvation for the infant.
Though, in De Baptismo, Chapter 24 we find that this is only somewhat valid because Augustine clearly held to ex opere operato prior to 412 AD. In the very source that Wilson uses above.
"Why, therefore, was it commanded him that he should circumcise every male child in order on the eighth day, Genesis 17:9-14 though it could not yet believe with the heart, that it should be counted unto it for righteousness, because the sacrament in itself was of great avail? And this was made manifest by the message of an angel in the case of Moses' son; for when he was carried by his mother, being yet uncircumcised, it was required, by manifest present peril, that he should be circumcised, Exodus 4:24-26 and when this was done, the danger of death was removed. As therefore in Abraham the justification of faith came first, and circumcision was added afterwards as the seal of faith; so in Cornelius the spiritual sanctification came first in the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the sacrament of regeneration was added afterwards in the laver of baptism. And as in Isaac, who was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, the seal of this righteousness of faith was given first, and afterwards, as he imitated the faith of his father, the righteousness itself followed as he grew up, of which the seal had been given before when he was an infant; so in infants, who are baptized, the sacrament of regeneration is given first, and if they maintain a Christianpiety, conversion also in the heart will follow, of which the mysterious sign had gone before in the outward body. And as in the thief the gracious goodness of the Almighty supplied what had been wanting in the sacrament of baptism, because it had been missing not from pride or contempt, but from want of opportunity; so in infants who die baptized, we must believe that the same grace of the Almighty supplies the want, that, not from perversity of will, but from insufficiency of age, they can neither believe with the heart unto righteousness, nor make confession with the mouth unto salvation"(De. 24, Augustine).
In the same writing, Augustine quoted John 3:5 three times here and saw it as baptismal rebirth requirement prooftext:
4.29. With regard to the objection brought against Cyprian, that the catechumens who were seized in martyrdom, and slain for Christ's name's sake, received a crown even without baptism, I do not quite see what it has to do with the matter, unless, indeed, they urged that heretics could much more be admitted with baptism to Christ's kingdom, to which catechumens were admitted without it, since He Himself has said, "Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." John 3:5 Now, in this matter I do not hesitate for a moment to place the Catholic catechumen, who is burning with love for God, before the baptized heretic; nor yet do we thereby do dishonor to the sacrament of baptism which the latter has already received, the former not as yet; nor do we consider that the sacrament of the catechumen is to be preferred to the sacrament of baptism, when we acknowledge that some catechumens are better and more faithful than some baptized persons. For the centurion Cornelius, before baptism, was better than Simon, who had been baptized. For Cornelius, even before his baptism, was filled with the Holy Spirit; Acts 10:44 Simon, even after baptism, was puffed up with an unclean spirit. Cornelius, however, would have been convicted of contempt for so holy a sacrament, if, even after he had received the Holy Ghost, he had refused to be baptized. But when he was baptized, he received in no wise a better sacrament than Simon; but the different merits of the men were made manifest under the equal holiness of the same sacrament — so true is it that the good or ill deserving of the recipient does not increase or diminish the holiness of baptism. But as baptism is wanting to a good catechumen to his receiving the kingdom of heaven, so true conversion is wanting to a bad man though baptized. For He who said, "Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," said also Himself, "unless your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:20 For that the righteousness of the catechumens might not feel secure, it is written, "Unless a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." And again, that the unrighteousness of the baptized might not feel secure because they had received baptism, it is written, "Unless your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." The one were too little without the other; the two make perfect the heir of that inheritance. As, then, we ought not to depreciate a man's righteousness, which begins to exist before he is joined to the Church, as the righteousness of Cornelius began to exist before he was in the body of Christian men, — which righteousness was not thought worthless, or the angel would not have said to him, "Your prayers and your alms have come up as a memorial before God;" nor did it yet suffice for his obtaining the kingdom of heaven, or he would not have been told to send to Peter, Acts 10:4-5 — so neither ought we to depreciate the sacrament of baptism, even though it has been received outside the Church. But since it is of no avail for salvation unless he who has baptism indeed in full perfection be incorporated into the Church, correcting also his own depravity, let us therefore correct the error of the heretics, that we may recognize what in them is not their own but Christ's."
Thus, Wilson is truly only half wrong in his evaluation of Augustine here. He simply gets the dating wrong as clearly, undeniably, Augustine holds to proxy salvation before 412AD. Thus, the part that Wilson gets correct is that Augustine STILL held to a free-will responsibility to complete and follow that Salvation (proxy thereby):
...so in infants, who are baptized, the sacrament of regeneration is given first, and if they maintain a Christianpiety, the conversion also in the heart will follow, of which the mysterious sign had gone before in the outward body (24. De.Aug)
If we go by Wilson's assertion that to hold to John 3:5 means baptismal salvation requirement is a denial of free choice theology, then every father (who has ever quoted John 3:5) before Augustine denied free choice theology. The initial premise that Augustine was imprinted by Gnostic/Pagan views is lost because this foundation shoots itself in the foot.
On page 78 of his book, Wilson says that only in 412 CE is where Augustine claims it impossible for newborns to have faith or believe (they cannot yet understand to make a choice) then God gives new-borns salvation through the parents' faith. This, above, has been shown to be false as he teaches it prior to 412 CE.
In the sentence following: "The critical foundation of infant baptism for salvation in Augustine's novel theology cannot be overstated" is where Wilson throws the initially correct premise of imprint to the wayside by also invoking any church father prior holding to this belief didn't hold to free choice. This is false.
And less egregious but still unwarranted: "Only in North Africa and nearby Rome do we have the early proofs of infant baptism" (282. Wilson)
Gregory Nazianzen in Oration 40 XXIII who is not located in North Africa or Rome speaks of Infant Baptism. Cyprian held to baptism saves infants and forgives them of sins that aren't theirs but Adams in Epistle 58. Further, Origen Book 5 Chapter 9 states this very clearly. Ambrose, bishop of Milan in On Abraham Book 2.84 does the same exact thing. This simply shows that Wilson is wrong on this account. There are more, but we will save the gesture.
One of the premises in this dissertation is that to hold to infant forgiveness, whether by faith given to the infant at baptism or by proxy is Manichaeanism, but that would ensure much more than simply Augustine.
Further, Gnostics, in some form, did not hold to infant baptism and forgiveness. "Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life! A treatise on this matter will not be superfluous; instructing not only such as are just becoming formed (in the faith), but them who, content with having simply believed, without full examination of the grounds of the traditions, carry (in mind), through ignorance, an untried though probable faith. The consequence is, that a viper of the Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism. Which is quite in accordance with nature; for vipers and asps and basilisks themselves generally do affect arid and waterless places. But we, little fishes, after the example of our ΙΧΘΥΣ Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water; so that most monstrous creature, who had no right to teach even sound doctrine, knew full well how to kill the little fishes, by taking them away from the water!" Tertullian On Baptism. [see below on another objection to Wilson's page 56]
The proof text used by Cainite treatise:
Chapter 14. Of Paul's Assertion, that He Had Not Been Sent to Baptize But they roll back an objection from that apostle himself, in that he said, For Christ sent me not to baptize; 1 Corinthians 1:17 as if by this argument baptism were done away! For if so, why did he baptize Gaius, and Crispus, and the house of Stephanas? However, even if Christ had not sent him to baptize, yet He had given other apostles the precept to baptize. But these words were written to the Corinthians in regard of the circumstances of that particular time; seeing that schisms and dissensions were agitated among them, while one attributes everything to Paul, another to Apollos. For which reason the peace-making apostle, for fear he should seem to claim all gifts for himself, says that he had been sent not to baptize, but to preach. For preaching is the prior thing, baptizing the posterior. Therefore the preaching came first: but I think baptizing withal was lawful to him to whom preaching was.
Even further, Tertullian Against Marcion (Gnostic), Chapter 28. This Perverse Doctrine Deprives Baptism of All Its Grace. If Marcion Be Right, the Sacrament Would Confer No Remission of Sins, No Regeneration, No Gift of the Spirit.
And what will happen to him after he is cast away? He will, they say, be thrown into the Creator's fire. Then has no remedial provision been made (by their god) for the purpose of banishing those that sin against him, without resorting to the cruel measure of delivering them over to the Creator? And what will the Creator then do? I suppose He will prepare for them a hell doubly charged with brimstone, as for blasphemers against Himself; except indeed their god in his zeal, as perhaps might happen, should show clemency to his rival's revolted subjects. Oh, what a god is this! everywhere perverse; nowhere rational; in all cases vain; and therefore a nonentity! — in whose state, and condition, and nature, and every appointment, I see no coherence and consistency; no, not even in the very sacrament of his faith! For what end does baptism serve, according to him? If the remission of sins, how will he make it evident that he remits sins, when he affords no evidence that he retains them? Because he would retain them, if he performed the functions of a judge. If deliverance from death, how could he deliver from death, who has not delivered to death? For he must have delivered the sinner to death, if he had from the beginning condemned sin. If the regeneration of man, how can he regenerate, who has never generated? For the repetition of an act is impossible to him, by whom nothing any time has been ever done. If the bestowal of the Holy Ghost, how will he bestow the Spirit, who did not at first impart the life? For the life is in a sense the supplement of the Spirit. He therefore seals man, who had never been unsealed in respect of him; washes man, who had never been defiled so far as he was concerned; and into this sacrament of salvation wholly plunges that flesh which is beyond the pale of salvation! No farmer will irrigate ground that will yield him no fruit in return, except he be as stupid as Marcion's god. Why then impose sanctity upon our most infirm and most unworthy flesh, either as a burden or as a glory? What shall I say, too, of the uselessness of a discipline which sanctifies what is already sanctified? Why burden the infirm, or glorify the unworthy? Why not remunerate with salvation what it burdens or else glorifies? Why keep back from a work its due reward, by not recompensing the flesh with salvation? Why even permit the honour of sanctity in it to die?
Lastly, “This is, says (the Docetic), what the Saviour affirms: Unless a man be born of water and spirit, be will not enter into the kingdom of heaven, because that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” ( Book VIII ) Hippolytus against Docetist Gnostics.
Instead, had Wilson done a historical-theological analysis of Augustine's influences and correctly shown the imprint of pagan philosophy upon them, we would not be here. We're in a strange mix of the initial premise being correct but how Wilson arrives there being completely wrong.
For a short example, there was but one other Church Father before Augustine who taught any form of deterministic election. This was Marius Victorinus who had a massive influence on Augustine and was a pagan philosopher until a very late age when he found salvation in Christianity. This would have been more interesting and compelling conjunction but rather, Wilson fails to deviate from his failing premise of infant baptism.
Questions and Non-Egregious Corrections and Granting Points
We grant that (1) TULIP surely wasn't and wouldn't have been a view held by any Early Church Father. (2) Deterministic Predestination is not the scope of the Early Church Fathers, they argue against such fatalism's (3) the Early Church Father's emphasize freedom of the will and grace of God (4) Predestination and Election both have different uses in the Early Church works than it does in the Reformed framework. (5) We grant that Calvin drew from some of Augustine's work which leads to the logical (though heretical) formulation of Supralapsarian theology which at its root is gnostic.
Wilson assigns a quote from Sexus under gnostic categories but rather it is a Stoic text. Does he view them as interchangeable?
How do people misinterpret Epicentus' free will in Disc. 1.6.40?
Wilson states there are no unequivocal OT scripture or ancient Hebrew concepts indicating free will vs determinism. You say there’s no unequivocal OT scripture indicating free will vs determinism. You proceed to quote some scholars but few Judaic sources. While you’re correct that rabbinic studies do not analyze philosophical notions very often, but for example, ““Verily, this human being is unique, that he has his own mind to choose between good and evil.” This is interaction with the translation of Maimonides, Shemoneh Perakim, 8:10. See also Rashi ad loc. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah 5: 1. Midrash Rabba, Genesis 21:5; In other words, we can make moral choices within G‑d’s story. G‑d’s plans, after all, can unfold in innumerable ways. But it is the Creator, not us, who decides what that story is. As Rabbi Chanina, an ancient sage of the Mishnah, taught, “All is in the hands of heaven, except for the awe of heaven.”
At one point Wilson quotes a Rabbi Reuben Ben Atztrobali, He cites this from Avot D’Rabbi Natan but we're believing and assuming Wilson mistakingly is citing The Making of a Sage?
Just for clarification, he may have meant: Reuven ben Itzrubali (if people are going to scrutinize the citations) this should be clarified because the above because the source is proverbial at best, not sourcing sages that may have said these things. At least this source.
Wilson says that Cyprian does not mention Adam's sin, the inheritance of it or otherwise. Cyprian in the Epistle 58 says otherwise, "how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins— that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another."
On page 56 of Wilson's mainline book we read: About 405 CE, Augustine admitted that he did not know why infant baptism was practiced. (Wilson, 56) Here, I am happy to concede that Augustine is referencing Baptism, but to say that he doesn't know it? That's a claim I must contend. Explanation follows, therefore, defeating the previous claim that Wilson says Augustine had no explanation for baptism.
On Baptism against the Donatists was written in 400. Magnitude, from which the quote was originated, was written in 388, not 405CE. Thus, using an out of reference quotation two years into Augustine's faith.
Wilson states that (by quoting Denis Minns) that Irenaeus would insist as vigorously as Augustine that nothing could be achieved without grace.
Yet, that is NOT what we find in the writings of Irenaeus in Book IV Chapter 37:
This expression [of our Lord], How often would I have gathered your children together, and you would not, Matthew 23:37 set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free [agent] from the beginning, possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests (ad utendum sententia) of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will [towards us] is present with Him continually. And therefore does He give good counsel to all. And in man, as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice (for angels are rational beings), so that those who had yielded obedience might justly possess what is good, given indeed by God, but preserved by themselves.
It seems that instead of using Iranaeus correctly, to support Wilson's thesis, he misrepresents him and uses someone who would be sided with free will, against free will. Ironic.
We address these concerns, while there are many more, not to distinguish anything against Dr. Wilson's character, but simply the Scholarship objectively in the name of academic honesty, truth, and the Church. We firmly believe that Wilson is a believer, a wise man, and a genuine Scholar.
RC Kunst, The Moody Bible Institute. The University of Oxford.