The Prescience Papers: The 300-Year-Old Open Theism Debate We All Forgot About

The Prescience Papers is my name for an early 18th-century debate (1725–1735) that involved seven(?) English ministers and revolved around the (in)compatibility of God’s foreknowledge with human liberty.

This bibliography has the power to reshape the debate about divine foreknowledge, as we see the diversity of both Calvinist and Arminian views that were held by fellow ministers. As the works are perused, the debate becomes eerily similar to debates that swirled around North America in the 1990s:

  • One group proposes that God cannot foreknow the decisions of a libertarian free will;
  • Another responds that this is a misconception, as God clearly foreknows all things, and foreknowledge does not imply causation or decree;
  • A third group replies that foreknowledge does mean causation, that God in fact has decreed all things, including sin, but is not therefore accountable for sin, which he hates.

Here follows the bibliography of the debate, with titles clipped for readability. I’ve linked a few books to my own Kindle editions, with hopefully more to come. I am indebted to Tom and Christine Lukashow who have done a lot of the hard work of discovering these books.

  1. Samuel Fancourt, The Greatness of the Divine Love Exemplified and Displayed, in a Sermon on 1 John 4:9 (1725)
  2. Samuel Fancourt, The Greatness of the Divine Love Vindicated in Three Letters (1727)
  3. Samuel Fancourt, Appendix on Original Sin (1729)
  4. (Anonymous), The Divine Prescience of Free Contingent Events, Vindicated and Proved (1729)
  5. Samuel Fancourt, An Essay Concerning Liberty, Grace, and Prescience (1729)
  6. John Norman, God’s Foreknowledge of Contingent Events Vindicated (1729)
  7. Samuel Fancourt, What Will Be Must Be, or Future Contingencies No Contingencies (3/10/1730)
  8. John Norman. An Appendix to a Letter to the Rev. Mr. Fancourt in Vindication Of God’s Foreknowledge of Contingent Events (1730)
  9. Anthony Bliss, A Letter in Vindication of God’s Prescience of Contingencies (1730)
  10. Samuel Fancourt, Apology, or Letter to a Friend Setting Forth the Occasion, &c., of the Present Controversy, 2nd ed. (7/27/1730)
  11. David Millar, All Future Free Actions: Future Contingencies (1731)
  12. David Millar, The Principles of the Reformed Churches (1731)
  13. Samuel Fancourt, Greatness of the Divine Love Further Vindicated (1732)
  14. David Millar, The Omniscience of God, Stated and Vindicated (1732)
  15. Samuel Fancourt, Appendix to a Letter to the Rev. Mr. Norman (1732)
  16. (Anonymous), Free Agency of Accountable Creatures (6/6/1733)
  17. Joseph Burroughes, The Certain Futurity of Free Actions No Contradiction; or, God’s Foreknowledge of All Events Not Inconsistent with Human Liberty (6/30/1733)
  18. David Millar, The Prescience of God Well Agreeing with the Liberty of Created Agents (1734/1735)

Amazingly, this is not even all of the pamphlets and books that circulated during this period on the compatibility of human free will with divine foreknowledge. Here are three others worth looking into; the second and third, like Fancourt, defend a position corresponding to modern open theism.

  1. J. Greenup, A Vindication of Human Liberty (1731)
  2. John Jackson, Some Reflections on Prescience: in which the Nature of the Divinity is Enquired Into (1731)
  3. (Anonymous), An Essay on the Freedom of Will in God and in Creatures, and on Subjects Connected Therewith (1733)
  4. (Anonymous), An Essay on the Divine Prescience and Man’s Free-Agency (1741)

Edit: Of the 22 books listed above, we’ve now published six seven as Kindle editions. Be on the lookout for more!

3 thoughts on “The Prescience Papers: The 300-Year-Old Open Theism Debate We All Forgot About

  1. wstaylor711

    Excellent article and resources. I book four kindle books listed on this page. I have one paper by Fancourt already. I first learned about an evangelical counter to Augustine’s “eternal now” in 1973 while attending the Youth With A Mission (YWAM) School of Evangelism (S.O.E.). It was in the Lecture series, “Sharing Your Faith” by Gordon Olson that I first learned of Lorenzo Dow McCabe’s full bodied ‘high view of Scripture’ counter to Augustine’s “eternal now”. Tenure in missions with YWAM 73-76′. Olson lectured in the major YWAM SOE’s in America and Europe in the early sixties uptill the early eighties. That organization has been sending out missionaries around the world with the new vision non-stop.

    It was a surprise to learn of Richard Rice’s “The Foreknowledge of God and Man’s Free-will” in 1984 and then ten years later “The Openness of God.” We were delighted that Evangelicalism had caught up to us and was similarly inspired. However in 2013 the nominals of “The Openness of God” (1994) colluded with process theologian Dr. Thomas Oord to host the first conference in 2013 as Oord had Templeton money. In the roughly 30 years since that collaboration “Open Theism” has found a new locus of camaraderie in “The Center of Open and Relational Theology” chaired by it’s first president, Dr. Thomas Jay Oord. It is a process organized consortium of the nominals of “The Openness of God” and other evangelicals. This collusion has by careful planning and strategic advertising gotten stronger with new participants now at hazard because they think, in the main that “Open Theism” is an evangelical movement. However early adopters soon began to realize the nature of the shift and started blogging about it.

    For instance WordPress blogger Tom Belt ( blog) has the following to say: “On the one hand, for example, some are uncomfortable with the attempt to blur the lines between Process and open theism, a blurring which in Nazarene scholar Tom Oord’s recent opinion is expected to increase over time making the distinction between the two increasingly difficult to maintain. I can appreciate ‘soft’ lines too. And yet worldviews inevitably have some definite, defining shape to their content. Greg Boyd comes to mind as someone who is concerned to clarify those same lines, arguing that Process theism is “hostile to the Christian faith.” I don’t pretend there are any easy answers to the ‘boundaries’ question, but where open theism is concerned it’s a question Dwayne and I no longer wish to engage. We’re finished playing tug of war over ‘defining’ open theism. What is it anyhow? A ‘movement’? A conversation with fixed boundaries that polices itself to identify violators who don’t advocate the party line on precise issues? An open conversation that’s more motivated by where it’s going theologically than where it’s been? It’s looking more and more as if nobody knows or is qualified to render a verdict on questions like these.” “Whatever sense we affirm God’s being ‘affected’ by us aesthetically, for now it’ll be in terms analogous to examples we’ve rehearsed here many times and which we derive in large part from Boyd’s Trinity & Process. That’s where we are. If an Open Theism general council or a TC Moore led Gestapo manage to produce a position on divine passibilism that can’t abide us, then we’ll bid you all a final good-bye and wish you well. In the meantime, anyone interested in what we’re up to here is invited to listen in, contribute, debate and share respectfully without having ever to wonder or ask whether this or that ‘qualifies’ as open theism. We are no longer advocating our view on God’s well-being as compatible or incompatible with anything called open theism. That’s simply no longer our concern.”

    That is quite a departure from Tom’s early adoption position of organizer of the 2013 Open Theism Conference.

    Though my own reasons for sound the alarm about Open Theism do not match Tom’s exactly I do think its high time that Evangelicals realize they’ve lost control of the juggernaut and it has become a “process thing.” The important movement away from Augustin’e “eternal now” that was started over 200 years ago by “high view of Scripture” academics (e.g., L. D. McCabe, professor of Philosophy and Mathematics at Ohio Wesleyan for 30 years. Needs to separate from the process controlled Center of Open and Relational Theology and find a suitable moniker that is save for Evangelicals.


    1. A.A. Post author

      Your comments are interesting and encouraging. Thank you. I am a latecomer and was not aware of these developments toward process. I think open theism has some merit but I am much less interested in authors who are trying to build a coherent philosophy of the universe, typically along naturalistic lines. I am trying to read some Oord right now and it is obvious that he is quite different from Olson, McCabe, etc. If I get a chance I would like to review one or two of his books.

      Liked by 1 person

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