A Brief Critique of Prevenient Grace & Response To CerebralFaith

prevenient 1When we are explaining the gospel message, there are a few considerations that we want to outline. The one that is relevant to our discussion is the question of human depravity. We want individuals to understand the state of humanity. We want them to understand their own sin and their own depravity so that they can see the mercy of Christ. When contemplating human sin, we will testify that the Bible teaches that we are so evil that we cannot turn to God in their own resources (1 Corinthians 2:14). We have all fallen short and need God’s grace (Romans 3:23). From there, we conclude that one must first be born again and enabled to turn to God in righteousness. However, some object that there is another possibility. People such as Mr. Evan Minton of the CerebralFaith blog will suggest that God is gently wooing all men, providing some grace so that they can turn to him in repentance. This is known as prevenient grace. In this article, I would like to provide a brief critique of prevenient grace & response to CerebralFaith.

prevenient 2In defense of the doctrine of prevenient grace, Evan used two arguments. The first was inductive. He suggested that the Bible teaches four basic truths. From all of these truths, it follows logically that prevenient grace must exist. The second argument that he used was exegetical. He argued that one can discern the doctrine of prevenient grace by reading the biblical text. Third, he provided some answers to a few arguments that people will often use for irresistible grace (the doctrine that God chooses only some and irresistibly draws them to himself).

prevenient 3

Four Points And A Non-Sequitur

Evan argued that if all four of these points succeed, the doctrine of prevenient grace prevails. These four points are [1] Men are totally depraved and cannot repent without the aid of grace; [2] God wants all people to be saved; [3] Jesus died on the cross for all people; [4] Not all people will be saved. Some will end up in Hell for eternity. (Note: for our purposes, [1] and [4] are non-controversial and so no rebuttal will be provided). If you take all of these are premises in a logical argument, the alleged conclusion that follows is, to use Evan’s words, “God’s grace is resistible.”

prevenient 4The glaring flaw in this argument is that the conclusion does not even follow from the premises. Even if I grant both [2] and [3], we could still maintain that prevenient grace does not exist. There would need to be an additional step in the argument that Evan has not yet revealed.

As I begin to illustrate this point, let me use Evan’s argument. He writes, “How could God want a person saved and not send him grace, knowing that he couldn’t turn to Him without such grace? That would be like a man wanting a woman to marry him but doesn’t even propose.” But if that man knew infallibly that his beloved would say no, then one could hardly blame him for withholding the proposal. Similarly, God knows who would decline his offer. Why should he be compelled to reach out to someone that he knows will not answer?

Second, it may be the case that God has more than one set of desires. Perhaps he wants all people to be saved, but he has a greater desire in mind. This would resemble human psyche quite a bit as well. Just as a man might want to lose weight and get in shape, he also wants to spend more time with his family, and there are just not enough hours in the day. People often have conflicting desires. It is logically possible for God to want everybody to be saved, but have a greater desire that his justice and his wrath are put on display for the sake of his glorification. For these two reasons, Evan’s entire first argument is logically invalid. The conclusion does not follow from the premises. But we shall consider the premises briefly.

1 – Total Depravity
I promised that I would not provide a rebuttal of total depravity, and I shall not. We both believe in this doctrine. As a demonstration of this, I shall use Evan’s own words to represent my position. He writes, “It seems clear that humans are inherently sinful creatures. We have an inclination to do evil, we have no goodness in us in our natural state (Romans 7:18), we are hostile to God, unwilling and unable to submit to His laws (Romans 8:7-8), and we cannot come to Christ unless the Father draws us (John 6:44, John 6:65).” Well said!

The question that confronts Mr. Minton is in what sense these classifications even apply to mankind. Does it even make sense to say that mankind is totally depraved and unable to turn to God? If God has provided this prevenient grace to mankind so as to fundamentally alter our state of mind and enable us to choose him, then in what sense are we hostile to God, unable to submit to his laws? These categories just cannot be sensibly attributed to us. Interestingly, I pointed this out in my article Do We Have The Free Will To Choose Salvation? Evan responded to this very article, but did not interact with that point. That’s odd, isn’t it?

2 – God Wants All People To Be Saved
3 – Jesus Died For All

Evan decided that he was going to conjoin points [2] and [3] because he thinks that they presuppose one another. He thinks that if is [2] is true, then [3] is true and vice versa. I think that is a bit simplistic and they should have been separated to be argued for independently. As I pointed out, it may be that God wants everybody to be saved, but knows that they would not respond to salvation. In this scenario, Christ might not die for the sins of all people, but only for the sins of those who he knew in advance would accept his plan of salvation. Second, it may be that Christ died for all people in a different sense than he died for his elect. Perhaps he died in a victus christi sense for those who are not his people, and he died in a substitutionary sense for those who are not his people. These are just speculations, but they are possible and demonstrate that these points should have been separated because they do not presuppose one another.

John 3:16
In an effort to argue for [2/3], Evan pointed to John 3:16, wherein it is said that “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that those who believe in him shall never perish but have eternal life.” Evan asks, “Who is part of the world?” He lists, “Hitler, ISIS, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc etc” and says “They are part of the world,” and hastily concludes that Christ must have died for them. He writes, “I think every single person I’ve interacted with today was a part of this world.” My dog is part of the world too. This chair that I am sitting on is part of the world. Sin is part of the world. Evan’s simplistic argument is quite easily reduced to absurdity, unless you think that Simba (the dog) is going to be redeemed.

John 3:16 is not saying that Christ died for every individual molecule nor every individual person. That is to compartmentalize this verse. It is to read it with western and modern eyes. The atonement is about much more than individual salvation. It is about the redemption of the world. This entire world will be made new and restored to its’ original state. We are part of that narrative. But we are not the entire narrative. God loved his world. Out of his love for the world, he sent his only begotten Son. For whom did he send his Son? The text says that he sent the Son for “…everyone who believes.”

2 Peter 3:9: “God is not willing that any should perish, but for all to come to repentance.”
In his book Chosen But Free, Dr. Norm Geisler cited this verse at least 200 times. It served almost as an exclamation point, despite that he did not engage with any meaningful exegesis of the text or counterpoints that anybody raise. Evan at least briefly (though not compellingly) answered a few of the common responses.

First, I hark back to the point that I made earlier in this article. God may want all individuals to be saved despite that he wants something else more. Second, as Dr. James White pointed out in his book (responding to Dr Geisler) The Potter’s Freedom the context of this passage makes Evan’s interpretation implausible. St. Peter writes, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.” The question that he is answering is, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” (v. 4).

Why has the Lord tarried? The answer is that he is taking all of the time that he needs for all people to come into repentance. Are all people going to repent? Of course not. So to whom is it referring? It probably means all people that God knows will repent. He is waiting for all of his elect to repent, and then he will return. This usage of the passage is a perfect demonstration of why one needs to read the entire context rather than half of a verse.

All People
Also, Evan used a few other verses. I will not cite them because they all basically made the point. They all say that Christ died for “all people.” Calvinists contend that “All people” often means “All people groups.” Evan replied to this by saying that it was ad hoc. For something to be ad hoc, it would need to be contrived specifically to avoid a conclusion. But far from being ad hoc, the interpretation is derived specifically from the text.

The New Testament narrative needs to be considered because it often fades into the background during this discussion. People groups were much more significant to the New Testament writers than they are to us. The fact that the gospel was being spread to all people was monumental. The Jews were God’s chosen people, and Gentiles were not allowed in. So the New Testament writers emphasized over and over again that the gospel was spreading to all people. When this phrase is put in its’ proper context, it reads much more naturally than the interpretation that Arminians force onto it.

Consider 1 Corinthians 9:18-23. Paul writes (v. 22), “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” Yet in earlier verses, it is clear that he is talking about breaking the divide between Jews and Gentiles. We see the same thing in Titus 2:11, which reads, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” Almost every time the New Testament says “All people” it means “all people groups.” This is even true of the counter-example that Evan used. In Romans 3:23, it says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In the context, Paul is explaining that the Jews are just as guilty as the Gentiles. But, the context of the passage makes it applicable to every individual (just keep reading).

So, to bring all of this together, we have seen that Evan’s argument was marked logically invalid, as the conclusion did not follow from the premises. Further, we have not seen any good reason to believe [2] or [3].

The Bible

This section will be significantly shorter than the last one, because I covered most of the proof-texts that he used in the last section. He used several passages that appealed to words such as “all people” and “the world.” But there were at least two that are independent of this and are worth addressing.

Acts 7:51 – “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.”
Since irresistible grace is the doctrine that God’s grace cannot be resisted, then this verse should be very troubling for the Calvinist, right? After all, it says “You are always resisting the Holy Spirit.” There are two things worth considering. First, this is not a salvation text. Stephen is not saying that God is trying to save these men, and they are resisting his salvation. He is saying that they slew the Messiah, just as their ancestors did. The context is important.

Second, other relevant texts that speak about God’s grace in salvation will take precedent because they directly touch on this issue. Passages such as Romans 9 will take precedent on the basis that one is to interpret clear passages in light of unclear passages. Since this is a historical narrative, wherein much of the dialogue is cut out, it is less clear than Paul’s didactic letters.

Joshua 24:14 – “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.”
Calvinists do not deny that people have a choice. Everybody has a choice. If I put a plate of cookies and a plate of liver and onions in front of Evan, he would have a choice. He would be able to choose the liver and onions. But he never would. He would choose the cookies every single time. Liver and onions repulse him.

Similarly, for the one who has an unregenerate heart, God repulses them. They have a choice. They can make an honest, libertarian choice. But they will never choose God because they hate him. So this verse might be a compelling prooftext for libertarian freedom, but it is not a compelling prooftext for prevenient grace. (If you are wondering what I am talking about, read my article What Is Reformed Molinism?)

Conclusion

What Evan presented was a fairly standard treatment of the doctrine of prevenient grace. He did go slightly beyond what most Arminians do as he tried to interact with some of the counterpoints. But by and large, his arguments were not very compelling. The thinking Christian would be unjustified to read Evan’s treatment and come away believing in the doctrine of prevenient grace.

Comments

comments

Comments

comments

Sidebar