Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Prevenient Grace is Irresistable

This is from several months ago, but this will continue to be an ongoing debate. Pastor Gary L. W. Johnson over at the Teampyro blog finishes his three part post entitled Arminianism: Semi-Pelagianism? I am not here to argue that Arminianism equals semi-pelagianism either directly or practically. I think Greg Welty argued well and reasonably that it doesn't.

I am here to argue, in the spirit of the Arminian/non-Calvinist objection that irresistable grace isn't a biblical concept, that they too believe in a irresistable grace. That is, prevenient grace is irresistable. Let's start by looking at article 4 of the Remonstrance and there understanding of grace.
Article 4.
That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to the extent that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But with respect to the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, since it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Spirit (Acts 7, and elsewhere in many places).

Now let's turn to one of the theologians in question. In part two of Peter Lumpkins’ interview with Arminian Roger Olson, Olson states:
Arminianism is that God comes to us first, through the gospel which can be efficacious in our lives—through a sermon, a song, a witness, or reading the Bible. But that God the Holy Spirit reaches into our lives first, through prevenient grace, and partially regenerates us, then we have to actualize that with our free will decision which God’s grace makes possible.

This shows my point that prevenient grace is irresistible in its “partial regeneration” because if this “partial regeneration” could be rejected it would be then be semi-pelagianism. Prior in the interview Olson says:

The difference is this: in classical Arminianism--in real Arminianism--if someone gets saved, it’s because God came to them first; the initiative is God’s. God calls them and God enables them. That’s called prevenient grace.

But you don’t hear that in pulpits a lot. What you hear in pulpits and pews is what scholars call semi-Pelagianism; although they don’t know it’s called that.I definitely agree with what Olson said is heard from many pulpits today. If there is no grace acting upon man and man left in his natural, sinful state can make a “decision” without any grace at all we are back to a form of Pelagianism.

Therefore, prevenient grace is irresistible. Proving my point further is one last quote from Olson:
Without God’s prevenient grace, we would not be free, so we don’t believe in Free Will, we believe in the Freed Will. Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism believe that humans have inherent free will apart from any supernatural grace. So, there is a very important difference there.

This basically summarizes my point. Men’s wills are irresistibly freed or otherwise we are back to a form of Pelagianism. So then the irresistibility isn't really the crux of the argument then is it? I will try and address that another time, but for now this will do.



orthodox said...

I don't find this article or the one linked to as especially enlightening.

Pelagius denied any effect of Adam on man, leaving man in the same state as Adam.

Semi-Pelagianism limited prevenient grace to being merely the gospel message which man was free to respond to apart from any interior working of grace.

This idea of partial regeneration, as far as I see, has departed from classical Arminianism as laid out in the Remonstrance. Classicly, this prevenient grace would not be considered as some kind of partial regeneration.

In traditional thought, the prevenient grace would be an infusion of divine energy that enables the recipient to make a decision for God.

The ability to resist this grace cannot be semi-pelagianism, because semi-pelagianism denies the existance of internal prevenient grace.

What we "hear in the pulpits" that we can make a decision without any grace is not pelagian, it is semi-pelagian. At least I haven't heard any pulpits preaching that man is a neutral moral agent which is required for pelagianism. Actually though, I haven't heard any pulpits actually deny that any internal grace is necessary for conversion. I suspect this is Calvinists reading into those pulpits something that is not there, which would make the semi-pelagian label to be false also.

If denial of irresistable freeing of the will amounts to Pelagianism, then Augustine was a Pelagian, which is of course historically untenable.

Commenting on Romans 9:16, St. Augustine states that "If any man is of the age to use his reason, he cannot believe, hope, love, unless he will to do so, nor obtain the prize of the high calling of God unless he voluntarily run for it."


"God no doubt wishes all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the Truth; but yet not so as to take away from them free will"

and: "The first man had not that grace by which he should never will to be evil, but assuredly he had that in which if he willed to abide he would never be evil, and without which, moreover, he could not by free will be good, but which, nevertheless, by free will he could forsake. God therefore, did not will even him to be without his grace, which he left in his free will: because free will is sufficient for evil but is too little for good, unless it is aided by omnipotent good. And if that man had not forsaken that assistance of his free will, he would always have been good; but he forsook it, and he was forsaken."

To summarise, if we are to use these terms accurately, to be either pelagian or semi-pelagian one has to deny any internal prevenient activity of the Spirit whatsoever.

The ability to resist the grace, whether prevenient or not has nothing to do with pelagianism or semi-pelagianism. If it does, then Augustine was a semi-pelagian.

johnMark said...

I'm assuming your quote source for the above Augustine quotes is here. Forgive me if I am wrong. I didn't see any references.

I'm not sure how those Augustine quotes prove your point one way or the other. You even quoted the point of the necessity of grace, "God therefore, did not will even him to be without his grace, which he left in his free will: because free will is sufficient for evil but is too little for good, unless it is aided by omnipotent good."

My assertion that prevenient grace is irresistible is speaking to those who complain about the Calvinistic position of irresistible grace. So it's not so much the ability to resist grace as it is the absence of grace and man's natural ability to "choose God".

I don't know what's so hard to understand.


orthodox said...

"You even quoted the point of the necessity of grace"

Naturally. To deny the necessity of interior grace would be semi-pelagian.

"My assertion that prevenient grace is irresistible is speaking to those who complain about the Calvinistic position of irresistible grace."

Here's the problem. You quoted some "Arminian" scholar who says that prevenient grace is some kind of irresistable semi-regeneration.

But this is not the classical understanding. Rather prevenient grace is like something God provides as a resource to enable us. It doesn't force a partial regeneration. Rather it is a catalyst around us to allow us to choose.

To use a flawed analogy, grace is like oxygen. It is necessary to have it around us to have life, but nobody is forcing us to breath it in.

Or another flawed analogy. You need gas in the tank to get moving, but it doesn't force you to turn the engine on.

Tim said...

So are we able to choose to use that catalyst apart from any interior working?

orthodox said...

Non-sequitur. The catalyst IS the interior working.

Tim said...

Hmm...I may have misunderstood. Are you saying that prevenient grace is applied to everyone, bringing us to a state that enables us to make a choice for God? Or that prevenient grace is not applied to anyone unless and until they choose to accept its application?

If you meant the latter, then it seems you have to be talking about two different choices. The first we're able to make before application of prevenient grace--where we choose to accept that application. (In your analogies, we're able to expand our lungs or turn the ignition without oxygen or gas, but it won't do anything.) The second is the "choice for God" where we repent and believe? (Our lungs respirate and our engine starts.)

If you meant the former, how is that different from a semi-regeneration?