Tag Archives: Free will and determinism

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!