The Reformed View of Regeneration vs. the Wesleyan Theology of Prevenient Grace.

Recently a Christian from Indonesia who writes to me with questions about the faith from time to time asked me about the Reformed theology of regeneration. Basically it goes like this— you can’t possibly have faith or respond to the Gospel unless God has already regenerated you so that you could do so, and you are not going to be regenerated unless God has chosen you to be so in the first place. Otherwise, you are a no-hoper. It’s all in God’s hands.

Now there are a variety of serious problems with this whole theological approach to salvation not the least of which are: 1) regeneration is associated with what happens at the new birth, at conversion in the NT, not what happens before then. Indeed, I will go so far as to say there is not a single verse in the NT that supports the notion that you must be regenerated before you receive the new birth by grace through faith; 2) this whole approach assumes a non-Biblical theology of grace, namely that grace always and everywhere is irresistible. It acts like a magnet does on iron fillings– ‘resistance is futile’; 3) it also assumes that God has got this whole deal planned and predestined in advance, and if you’re not among the elect, well…. you are out of luck; 4) there is in addition another whole concept that goes along with this called the ‘invisible elect’ amongst the mass of church attenders. The idea is that others cannot know who are among the elect, though elect individuals can have assurance in their hearts of salvation. The peculiar thing about this is that Paul is quite sure he can tell the difference between the saved and lost amongst his audience. Indeed he even talks about some who had Christian faith and then made shipwreck of their saving faith. You can’t make shipwreck of something you never had.

The Reformed view argues that since we cannot omnisciently know who is saved and lost (already in advance), then we must proclaim the Gospel to all, and charitably assume all in our midst are potential believers, unless and until they demonstrate otherwise. But in any case we need to hold on to this notion of a righteous remnant without the body of the congregation.

The problems with this whole notion of an invisible elect linked to the Biblical notion of a righteous remnant are :1) there is no NT concept of an invisible group of elect within the congregation. The election language is either used of Christ, or of ALL those being addressed in a NT document, say 1 Peter or 1 Corinthinans; 2) the righteous remnant are identified by Paul in Rom. 9-11 as all too visible and vulnerable to persecution. Those broken off from the people of God (the non-remnant) are also all too visible, and Paul suggests they may only be temporarily broken off from the body of believers and can be grafted back in, just as those who are currently ‘in’ are warned in Rom. 11 that God can break them off from the remnant in a heartbeat. Some of the lost will later be saved, and vice versa is also possible. You have to follow the story to its end, when Christ returns.

But so much for a ground clearing exercise. Let’s come to grips with the Biblical notion of grace, and more particularly prevenient grace. As a general proposition both Calvin and Wesley agreed that God’s grace and mercy is over all his works. The difference is that what Calvin called common grace was a sort of restraining influence on the non-elect and even a blessing of the non-elect, but it in no way enabled a person to respond to the Gospel. Some have even called this ‘damning grace’ since it was no help in saving the individual in question.

To the contrary Wesley said, it is pre-venient grace, not some non-Biblical theology of regeneration that enables a person to respond in faith to the Gospel call, and this grace is available to all. Let us look at a particular text in this regard— 2 Tim. 1. 9-10. We will consider several verses, first turning to vss. 1.9-10.

In vss. 9-10 Paul says “this grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Jesus…” Notice when this saving grace was first given— before the ages. Indeed, before humanity began, and it was given in, or possibly through Christ (the Greek could be read either way).

The only grace Paul knows anything about is a grace that comes from and has to do with the saving work of Christ, revealed in person in the Incarnation. That’s it. There is no ‘common’ grace in the Bible, if by that one means a sort of B grade grace that has nothing to do with the salvation of the individual or group in question.

Notice the difference between the giving of this grace and its revealing in Christ. All grace is to be found in Jesus and revealed as such in and by Him. Of course there is a reason for this— there is only one Savior. ‘God so loves the entire world, that he sent his Son… not to condemn the world, but so that it might have everlasting life’. In other words, the divine plan all along was broad in scope. It was God’s desire that none be lost.

And of course the provision he made for salvation includes an atoning death of Jesus for the sins of the whole world– Jesus did not come into the world to confirm the elect in their election. He came to save sinners ( 1 Tim. 1.15), which of course includes all of us. 1 Tim. 2.3-5 is clear enough— God sent his Son Jesus because ‘he desires all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth’ and to that end Christ gave himself as a ‘ransom for all’, not just some. It is not God who limits who gets the benefits of the atonement, it is us, in our response to Christ.

Back to pre-venient grace. This theology grows out of texts such as we have mentioned and the way it envisions the salvation process is exactly as it is described in the NT. Yes indeed God’s grace, administered by the Spirit must work in a person leading them to respond to the Gospel. No responsible Wesleyan theologian would suggest that its a matter of ‘us all having free will’. No indeed. Without grace no one responds to God for we are all in the thrall of sin and darkness.

The Bible is clear however that prevenient grace is not regeneration, it is pre-venient grace, the grace that enables the response to the Gospel. This can properly be distinguished (though not divided from) converting or saving grace. The person on whom the Spirit works is perfectly capable of stifling, or quenching the work of the Spirit in their lives. Indeed, even Christians can do this, as Paul makes clear in 1 Thess. 5.19. God’s grace, while at moments overwhelming us, and at times strongly so, is nonetheless resistible over time.

God’s grace is not like the Godfather— making you an offer you can’t refuse. No, God’s grace is of course an expression of God’s love, and the fundamental thing one needs to say about love is that it must be freely given and freely received, or it is not love. If it can be predetermined it is something less or other than love. You cannot coerce someone to love you. You cannot predetermine someone to love you. If God did that, it would violate the very nature of his love, which, as I said, is freely given, and freely received. Indeed, it would violate the very nature of God who is said to be Love in 1 John.

Now why would God, an all powerful God, operate in this fashion, rather than in the fashion Augustine or Calvin thought? Obviously, God could have pre-programmed everything, and then could have sat back and watch it all transpire exactly as planned. The very good reason God did not do that is because he wanted to have a PERSONAL relationship with those created in his image, a LOVING relationship with them. He wanted to set up a covenant in which the heart of the matter was voluntary free loving God with one’s whole heart and neighbor as self. Granted, it could not be done by fallen persons without God’s grace enabling such responses, but God’s grace is truly powerful. It can indeed renovate to the human heart, the human will, the human mind.

Jonathan Edwards, in some of the most profound wrestling with the issue of freedom ever penned (in his book the Freedom of the Will), came to the conclusion that absolute predestination was consistent with the notion of human freedom, if and only if by ‘freedom’ one means ‘not feeling compulsed to do something’. The idea is that one acts according to one’s nature, one cannot do otherwise, but since it is ‘natural’ then its not like swimming upstream against the tide. One doesn’t feel compelled to do it.

The problem with this view of freedom is, it too is not a Biblical idea of freedom. Freedom means the power of contrary choice. Freedom means the ability to either positively or negatively respond to the Gospel call. And when Paul gets around to talking about freedom say in Romans 8.1ff. here is what he says ‘the ruling principle of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death’. Now if you have been set free by God’s grace and by his Spirit, you are free indeed (which is of course why there are so many warnings in the NT to born again Christians against sin and apostasy— because they actually have the freedom to do such things).

The point here about pre-venient grace, is that it restores enough freedom to human beings so that they can, if they choose, respond positively to the Gospel. If they do not, it is certainly not God’s or grace’s fault. It is their own fault.

We could spend time going through all the new birth/conversion/ ‘made new creatures texts and show that these are the texts which talk about regeneration which happens coincident with justification by grace through faith, not before it. But that is a story for another day. Here let me be clear— what is at issue here is: 1) the character of God; and 2) the nature of his grace and love. Is it free grace and free love…. or is it something else?

Doubtless God could have set up the human realm differently, but the Bible says he decided to rule by love and grace and his desire was that all be saved. And that desire has not changed from before the foundations of the world until now, and never will. God already gave the grace for our salvation in Christ before all the ages. He was not caught by surprise by sin and the Fall. Here is a story worth shouting from the mountain tops.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jaymeslackey Jaymes Lackey

    Love it and amen!

    Lots of my reformed friends would disagree, but that is ok, let them disagree.

    Glad you had at least one 1 John reference in there. 1 John seems pretty important for Wesley.

    Blessings at SBL!

  • Jaltman

    Haven’t read this yet, but it does remind me of a peeve of mine. I was a Pilgrim on a Walk to Emmaus on which all of the Spiritual Directors were Baptists. It was EXTREMELY ANNOYING for me to listen to a Baptist preacher give a talk on Prevenient Grace when it was clear he didn’t understand the concept or believe in it.

  • DavidSulcer

    Vintage BW3! I love how you use modern phrases and references to make these points stick! I wish for the sake of immediate clarity we would replace the word “prevenient” with the word “preceding” or “preparatory” or “preliminary.” All of which have a more mental grasp of a modern reader when trying to understand theology.

  • Anonymous

    “Damning grace”: what an ironic expression…

  • http://growinggrace-full.blogspot.com/ Chris Donato

    Re: previenent grace. If we take baptism out of the equation, it seems to me we’re starting off on the wrong foot anyway.

    And Calvin was closer to the church’s historic position (presumptive regeneration through [not b/c of] baptism) in this regard than Wesley.

    At any rate, ‘m not sure how those that downplay the efficacy of the sacraments and maintain a kind of gnostic ecclesiology can really talk about salvation robustly.

  • bdeckert

    To me, these verses kill Calvinism.
    John 3:16-17
    Romans 10:13-15
    Galatians 3:22
    1 Peter 1:23
    2 Peter 3:9
    1 John 2:1-2
    Revelation 3:20(a)

  • Jon Vinter

    What a horrible caricature of reformed soteriology… you merely showed how able you are to set up the straw man and tear him down!

  • Gary Bebop

    I believe our understanding is that we are “elected” in Christ (he is the elected one); God says “yes” to us through Christ’s faithful response on our behalf (Gal. 2:20), so that unless we refuse God’s grace in Christ, we are being saved through Christ…which gives real hope for sinners like me…

  • Anonymous

    Hi Chris: As Acts makes clear, water baptism doesn’t save anyone, or else it would have saved Simon Magus in Acts 8, but it didn’t. And if Paul believed water baptism saved anyone he could never have said, as he does in 1 Cor. 1— ‘I thank God I didn’t baptize more of you!!!’ Only Spirit baptism changes the person, and that should not be equated with the water— since it can come before, with or after the water.

  • Jorge Afanador

    So where does the bible teach that “prevenient grace” is “the grace that enables the response to the Gospel”? I didn’t catch those verses. And what does this mean, exactly? Does it mean that the Holy Spirit renders a person morally neutral so as to make a totally *free* decision to choose or reject Christ?

  • http://micahcobb.com/blog Micah Cobb

    Dr. Witherington: I am not Reformed, but I have found myself attracted to much of the philosophy of ministry that comes from Reformed preachers and scholars (John Piper, Mark Dever, Lloyd-Jones, etc.). I think I am attracted to the stress on the teaching the Word of God being at the core of Christian ministry. This stress was lacking in many of the ministries I attended/worked for.

    I’m wondering if you find the Reformed philosophy of ministry too influenced by their view of regeneration. How does the different views of grace affect the way one does ministry?

    (As a side note: what book(s) would you recommend a minister read for a better grasp of how to do ministry? Not just practical advice for ministry, but a theological foundation for ministry.)

  • http://rossroyden.com Ross Royden

    Hi Ben,

    But even on your view of pre-venient grace, it still means that God chooses some and not others: those to whom He extends pre-venient grace to make it possible for them to make a choice. And once you allow God the right to decide who gets to make a choice, then you are vulnerable to exactly the same criticisms that you make against those of us who believe in predestination!

    Thank you for your blog. It is always interesting and stimulating!

    Ross

  • Anonymous

    Hi Ross. Wrong. God extends prevenient grace to everyone.

  • Bob Moore

    Hi Ben. Although I agree with your take on salvation and election I can’t say that this post did anything to really challenge the Calvinistic view of God.

    First, let me say that I greatly resist Calvinist theology but, that being said, I still struggle with this understanding of Calvinistic thought:

    1) God is Sovereign. There is nothing that happens that He did not know of in advance. He cannot be surprised.
    2) Because He is sovereign God knew, from the very beginning of creation, who would be saved and who would be damned before they were even born
    3) Thus, in essence, God created some to be saved and others to be damned and without hope.
    4) Finally, if God created us in advance to be saved or damned then that means we have no choice but to fall under God’s prescription for our lives.

    Stated in this way Christianity seems, to me, to be a bitter pill to swallow, one that I resent, despite being a member of the “elect”. I long for a strong theology and understanding of salvation that destroys this nightmarish view of God. Having been grounded in the Arminian theology I am aware of the basics of its theology but, unfortunately, it still doesn’t dispel this dark view of God entirely in MY mind. I desperately cling in faith to the view of a God who allows TRUE choice in the matter and not in some mechanistic monster whose love extends to only His chosen few.

  • Paul

    Can you exegete the Bible veres(s) which show that ‘freedom’ means ‘the power to bring about different futures given identical pasts?’ Your response to Edwards was to simply *announce* that the Bible means by ‘freedom’ (does the Bible really wax eloquently about the metaphysics of freedom?), *libertarian* freedom? I also don’t think your definition is right, and quite apart from Calvinist views of God’s decree. For example, one thing you’d need to do is to show how we can do other than God knows. So you’d need to defend Molinist, Ockhamist, Boethian, etc views of how to reconcile the matter. Does the Bible present, say, Ockahmism as the proper resolution? I find that hard to believe. Among other things, it’d have to weigh in on hard facts vs. soft facts. And it doesn’t. Same with other views. Does the Bible talk about a quasi-Platonic realm of possible people that have ungrounded (of perhaps it answers the grounding objection?) truths about them regarding what they would do in various circumstances? On top of this, compatibilism has advanced quite forcefully past Edwards. Take Fischer’s semi-compatibilism, for example. On top of this, appeals to Frankfurt counterexamples seem to undercut libertarian assumption of moral responsibility and ought-implies-can (the latter is also fraught with issues of deontic logic, which deontic logicians have pointed out are most likely expressions of a priori assumptions rather than obvious topic-neutral inferences). We’d also want to know whether God *has to* give us prevenient grace. If so, how is it gracious? If not, he could have left us in a totally depraved state. In this state we’d still have moral obligations, but could not do anything good (per Art 3 and 4 of the Articles of Remonstrance), thus ought implies can would be falsified and so would your definition of freedom. There’s just a ton of issues, issues I’ve only *touched* on, which you seem to take for granted.

  • http://growinggrace-full.blogspot.com/ Chris Donato

    Ben, thanks for your graciousness.

    I’m still Protestant, so I don’t mean to totally equate baptism with salvation. However, I am equating so-called prevenient grace with baptism. Baptism clears the way, so to speak, in the same way that you’re conceiving of the grace that comes before.

    For the non-Reformed, one simply has to be born to be a recipient of this grace. But closer to the historic position of the church is that one needs to be baptized in order to enable that one to seek God. There’s a good handful of texts (if we’re into proofing) that suggest as much. In short, Rom 6:1ff. keeps me from going with you on the notion that only “Spirit baptism changes the person.”

    I know, of course, that the Reformed would not agree with me totally on this (Anglo-Lutheran is where I’m coming from). But they’re closer to it than the Wesleyans.

  • J Bowman

    To say that God foreknows some event x isn’t to say that God causally determines event x. One can only infer that the event will occur, not that it must occur.

  • Bob Moore

    Maybe, but if God IS Sovereign then nothing happens that is not according to His will. To say otherwise would be to say that He ISN’T sovereign.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Bob: The issue is not whether God is sovereign the issue is how he exercises his sovereignty of course. And clearly he does not sin, nor do evil, but plenty of that happens. So we have to talk about God’s permissive will, what he allows. And frankly much of what he allows is a violation of his direct will. That’s why it is called sin. God delegates power and authority to lesser creatures like us, and it is in our hands whether we will exercise that willing and power well, or sinfully. God is not the author of either sin or evil.

  • DavidSulcer

    I love BW3′s simple but powerful answers! Since when does sovereignty mean God’s will is done without opposition. Too often the Reformed view of sovereignty presents God as on some power trip who cannot be opposed. In real life we call that a tyrant or bully. I tend to respect those who have greater power but can out think, out work, out maneuver their opponents, even using their opponents opposition to their own advantage without having to be in control of the other person’s every move.

  • Bob Moore

    Thanks for that bit of info, Ben. The issue I cannot seem to get my Calvinist friends to acknowledge is that IF there is no role for mankind to play in salvation, IF he is as powerless as they say, then there is no corresponding reason for living a Godly life and there is, therefore, no consequence for refusing to live a Christian life.

  • david

    Bem how does a scripture like John 6: 44 fits into the notion of pre-venient grace? The whole notion of a person havign to be “called” to Christ, rather than already being born with the capcity to come to Christ as a result of pre-venient grace. In any case if all persons are equally imbued with this pre-venient grace from birth, then the muslim or hindu should be comng to Christ on the same scale as persons who live in countries where christianity is the major religion.

  • Paula

    Micah, I would encourage you to read the works of Greg Boyd from Minnesota. His work is genius as he is able to “rightly divide the word of truth” concerning these key issues. It has changed my life. Try “Is God To Blame” first in your reading and let us know what you think…

  • Paula

    The first century church did not struggle with these issues. They understood that we were born into a world at war and that they would need their Savior’s power to take it back. The Reformed way of thinking originated with Augustine; until we realize that we at war with principalities and powers of darkness, we will lay back and buy into the deception that “God is simply in control, so there is nothing that can be done…..”

  • Mike Taylor

    Doc,
    Thanks for this – I agree strongly on almost all you’ve said – it is the Lord Himself who gives us the power to chooseb but He doesn’t mandate the choice. I have one question that came up in Sunday School a couple of weeks ago. For those who have not heard the gospel, what is their fate? There were some who thought they were lost and without any hope. I beleive, of course, that salvation is through Jesus alone but for those who have not heard the gospel, they are responsible for the revelation God has given them – if it is only the revelation Paul talks of in the beginnig of Romans. I have heard, as I’m sure you have as well, of those who the Lord had been calling before anyone had ever spoken to them. They had already believed and welcomed the full gospel when they heard it. I just find it contrary to God’s nature (my understanding of it) to condemn those who respond to His call but never hear the gospel of the Apostles.

  • Anonymous

    David calling and even anointing has to do with ministry or mission, not necessarily with the individual person’s salvation. For example, Judas Iscariot was called by Jesus and even commissioned in the 2 by 2 sending out of disciples. This tells us nothing about their salvation. Or Cyrus the Persian King is called ‘God’s anointed’ in Isaiah, but it tells us nothing about his salvation.

  • Jimmme5880

    Hi Bob,
    I’ve enjoy researching and listening to others’ views on this topic. Quite interesting.

    The question about sovereignty I have is that it seems we can define it any way we want. For example, your first point, if someone is sovereign why assume that means complete foreknowledge? In our sphere I see sov’ty meaning king and power and control, but why would I include complete knowledge? (I believe in God’s complete knowledge, but not as a part of sov’ty.)

    Your pt 2–why does knowledge presuppose control or predestination? Couldn’t a sov’n God know what’s going to happen without causing it?

    In some ways I think Calvinism has a lessor God because He meticulously determines everything, whereas God who frees the wills of people allows people to make their own decisions, and yet God still makes everything work out as He wants it to. What a great concept of God who can take a billion independent decisions and yet make everything work out as He, ultimately, wishes.

    Why insist that a sov’n God cannot do as He wishes? Why limit God? Even if this meant to willingly allow the freed will of His creation to act independently of His desires? Isn’t God sov’n–doesn’t he have the prerogative to hold back on his power if He wishes?

    A worldly example might the Caesars–they were completely sov’n, yet they allowed governing by local officials. That didn’t diminish their sov’ty.

    I don’t know why people accept the definition of sov’ty by others who load it with their own notions.

    So, pt 3 and 4 wouldn’t follow.

    Blessings,
    Jim

  • Bill

    I once believe that the Scripture taught prevenient grace until I had a theologian explain to me that you could not find that position taught anywhere in the N.T. As I thought of it on the philosophical side, I came to see that if God brought everyone a certain measure of grace so that they were restored to some extent to respond to God’s Word in the Gospel message, then in a fallen state why would the outcome be any better than when man (i.e. Adam: the male and female) was in a state with no propensity to sin? I think that the odds against man given this prevenient grace would not ever respond but continue in what he/she loves, sin. I believe scripture teaches that Salvation is unilateral.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1674888457 A Jacob W. Reinhardt

    This is SO true. There is a substantial part of the conservative, evangelical Baptist movement that rejects Calvinism, but does not have the strong position and committment to prevenient grace that their position should require.

  • Tim

    Resistance is futile.

  • Timothy Murphy
  • Bill

    That was funny I’d have to admit. Do you know I fought with a theologian/Pastor tooth and nail, even calling those who held to a reformed view of election heretics. But I have to say I’m far more gracious and tolerant as a reformed Christian than when I was a Wesleyan arminian, not that that in and of itself makes the reformed view right. Oh, and all of us resist the grace of God until God gives us a heart of flesh that is able to respond and believe; God doesn’t give a partial heart of flesh and then we have to work on the other stony part to make it more fully a heart of flesh.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Bill:

    Salvation could never be unilateral since it is we who have to exercise the gift of faith. God does not believe on our behalf! Salvation involves a divine human encounter and a personal relationship. It is not a matter of God shifting grocery items down a check out line. BW3

  • Lauriejed

    A rather narrow definition of sovereignty, don’t you think? Can a sovereign choose to allow those over whom he is sovereign make a free choice?

  • Danny Dawson

    I’ve been curious before on the notion of freedom also… if this definition of ‘freedom’ is accepted (dependent on contrary choice), will we have freedom in heaven? Does God have freedom? If evil is destroyed, will there be any contrary choice available?

  • Timothy Murphy

    Hey Bill,

    I actually made that picture quite a while ago – all in light-hearted humour, of course.

    I don’t know how well versed you are in Arminianism (which I obviously adhere to), but Arminians also believe in the total depravity of man. See for example, http://evangelicalarminians.org/Outline.FACTS-of-Arminianism-vs-the-TULIP-of-Calvinism

    With kind regards,
    Tim

  • Anonymous

    Paul, God’s knowing of something is not equal to God’s doing something. God can know of all possibilities as well as actualities. His knowing doesn’t make it happen. On top of that, God knows of things others are doing which he quite specifically prohibits. In such a case, at best you have to talk about God’s permissive will, or allowing of such things. When Paul talks about freedom in Christ he refers to the liberation from the bondage of sin, such that sinning is inevitable. He then goes on to exhort his converts to avoid sins and overcome temptations, something they would not be able to do without the power of contrary choice. Since freedom in Christ is a restoration of pre-Fallen freedom, there is good reason to realize that freedom in the Bible does indeed have to do with the power of contrary choice, even the power to defy God’s will as Adam did. Edwards definition of freedom neither matches the definition of the creation order, nor the one of the order of redemption. The problem with Edwards is: 1) his flawed notion of freedom is based on his 2) flawed notions about God’s election and how God exercises his sovereignty. I put it to you directly. Love cannot be compelled, coerced, fated, or predestined. If some such action is predestined, then it is not love as defined in the Bible. God is free to love freely, and in Christ, and by grace, so are we.

  • Bill

    Hi Dr. BW3:

    It feels really unnerving to respond to a theologian. I don’t feel like it’s my place; but here goes nothing. I do agree that we are certainly responsible to believe and that we must believe and we must continue to hold on tight till the very last. But I also understand scripture as saying that we couldn’t exercise any kind of saving faith had not God first given us the gift. I believe Eph. 2; 8ff says that Salvation is all a gift not just the faith. I know you can read into that passage the notion of prevenient grace. My emphasis is that when God gives a gift, and we respond to it, it could never be received unless the heart is prepared, or the eyes are opened to even know that there is any thing to receive. I don’t believe when the gift is offered, and I do believe it is offered objectively to all, that everyone is able in and of the selves to respond freely. For all are under the power of sin and can’t and won’t respond until God makes them alive to respond. So that’s what I mean by unilateral; it is God who has to make a person spiritually alive to even be able to respond. Yes we must respond and in one sense it certainly is our response, and yea, it is a divine human encounter. But the basis of my choosing is in God’s choosing me. Bill

  • Jaltman

    Bill, you are describing prevenient grace.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Bill:

    What sort of God would we have if God lovingly offers everyone salvation desiring all to be saved (John 3.16) but refuses to enable all to receive it? This is like holding candy in front of a small child and then jerking it away at the last moment. This doesn’t comport with the character of God as revealed in the Bible. God pours out his prevenient grace on all persons, and all are able to respond. The fact that not all do is not because God did not enable them to do so.

  • DW

    To ask what “the determining factor” is that sways a person to respond is to beg the question in favor of determinism. According to libertarian free will, agents are the effectual causes of their own decision. A grace-enabled person chooses to believe or to resist the Holy Spirit. There is no other factor to blame.

    Some Calvinists deny that this is coherent. However, denying libertarian free will is suicide for their position, since it would mean that even God could not freely choose whom to elect; his decision would have to be based upon some prior determining factor.

  • Bill

    Jaltman, It may be interpreted that way but I’m describing regeneration. Regeneration in reformed thinking (hopefully I got this right) happens simultaneously with faith even though it is prior to faith.

  • Anonymous

    The problem of course with the theory of non-simultaneous simultaneity when it comes to regeneration and faith is of course that all the evidence we have suggests that the new birth happens through faith, which means that logically faith had it exist before regeneration happened. And here is another problem. The NT knows nothing of a distinction between regeneration and the new birth. They are the same thing in the NT.

  • Bill

    Hi Dr. BenW3: but the N.T. knows nothing of prevenient grace either, right? One has to assume it to explain the response of a person. And if faith is a gift given by God and no works can merit it, and faith is given based on the mercy of God, then for someone to exercise that faith they would have to be spiritually alive. Prevenient Grace falls to the ground because on that day those who did respond can expect some kind of congratulations for responding as opposed to those who didn’t.

    Thanks Dr. for all your responses it is causing me to think harder thru this mystery of the new birth.

  • Bill

    Hello again Dr., I think the analogy is a powerful one if prevenient grace is assumed, otherwise the small child is dead and won’t respond to the candy. I believe when we read “God so loved the world” that “world” is the totality of this system in opposition to God with man at the helm. So when God sends His Son, that shows how great his love is. So in an objective sense He is presenting His unique Loving Son so that the world wouldn’t have to be condemned because it is condemned already without Christ. But the world hates God already, how is God sending His Son going to change that hatred. I don’t believe it is thru any partially restored rebellious mankind. I think scripture seems to be clear: He has mercy on whom He has mercy and compassion on whom He has compassion. Since we are God’s debtors, then He doesn’t owe us anything but the justice we deserve for our constant rebellion to His rightful rule over us.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Bill: Sadly you have ignored that OT statements about ‘he has mercy on whom he has mercy’ has nothing to do with election to salvation. It has to do with God’s general benevolence. Human beings are not literally dead in trespasses without any moral judgment left. This is simply untrue, and would leave out of account the many stories in both the OT and NT that talk about righteous persons who are not among the elect. A good example would be Melchizedek who is a type of Christ, but is neither Christ nor a Christian nor an angel. Nor can we talk about even Jews like Joseph being born again Christians. They simply are not, as the Spirit had not been given yet in that way. The problem with your theology is you have misunderstood the differences between what the Bible says about election for a purpose and what it says about salvation. These are two different categories.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, as this post suggests the NT has plenty to say about prevenient grace. What in the world do you think Jesus was talking about when he said to a non-Christian scribe, you are not far from the Kingdom of God.

  • Jaltman

    Bill, the NT also knows nothing of limited atonement.

  • Tim

    Bill wrote:

    “…those who did respond can expect some kind of congratulations for responding as opposed to those who didn’t.”

    Really? Name some.

  • RobertH

    I think “middle knowledge” can help here. I think God ordered events because of how He knew people would freely choose to do things.


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