What is a Free Will Baptist? The name “free will” was used in England as early as 1660 to refer to General Baptists, who referred to themselves as “freewillers.” The name was a derogatory commentary on our belief that if God could save anyone, then anyone could be saved—that all men had a “free will” to accept or reject Christ.
Our identity has its roots in our experiences. Neither Benjamin Randall’s movement in the North or Paul Palmer’s movement in the South rushed to formulate a Free Will Baptist theology. The reason for this reluctance was that our beginnings in America were revivalistic in nature. (1) As a result, most early preachers had little formal training and were intimidated by the theologically trained Calvinistic preachers. However, Free Will Baptists did manage to define themselves. We find that identity in both our doctrine and our distinctives.
Free Will Baptist doctrine is defined by three ideas: free will, free grace, and free salvation. (2) Our central doctrine is the belief that each person has been created in the image of God and, as a result, has the ability to think, feel, and act. Free will means everyone has the ability to reject or accept Christ. However, free will does not mean absolute freedom; it means freedom within the framework of possibilities. In other words, you can choose to accept or reject Christ, but you cannot choose to be a god, or a rock, or a fish.
Free grace means salvation is totally dependent on the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. Everyone is a candidate for salvation. If grace is free, it stands to reason that salvation is also free. God is just, therefore, grace is offered freely to everyone. Thus, predestination and election are not about me, but about Jesus. In other words, before time began, God predetermined that everyone who places his or her faith in Jesus will be saved. God elected that salvation would be through grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone—free will, free grace, free salvation.