Prevenient Grace: An Online Discussion in Our Outreach Group

, posted by drwayman

In our Facebook Outreach Group, The Society of Evangelical Arminians offers a forum for people to learn about the beliefs of Arminianism and SEA in particular.  You can find that page here:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/81731686472/

Recently we had an inquisitor of the Calvinist persuasion asking about prevenient grace, particularly if prevenient grace (PG) is universal.  This is a conversation with five different people.  They following note the moniker (but not the name) of each person:  C – Calvinist, A – Classical Arminian, W – Wesleyan Arminian (there are 3 different Wesleyans in this discussion and are marked W1, W2, & W3).  Note that there is some editing for clarity and brevity:

C – Is prevenient grace universal?

W1 to C – Arminians believe that God’s prevenient grace is offered to all. How it is done is up for debate among arminians. This article might be helpful: http://evangelicalarminians.org/prevenient-grace-for-all-men/  This view is consistent with Classical Arminianism.  Wesleyans have a slightly different view and is reflected here:  http://evangelicalarminians.org/how-does-grace-work-in-arminian-wesleyan-theology/    

C to W1 – Universalizing it assumes it happens to everyone, the logical conclusion is the same as hypercalvinism, instead of rugged determinism you are left with a comforting safety net absolving us of all the people we did share the gospel with.

W1 to C – We Wesleyans believe that PG is given to all. How God does that is only known to Him. We can leave those who do not hear the preached word to our good and capable God. He always does what is right.

You also concluded, “you are left with a comforting safety net absolving us of all the people we did share the gospel with”

Well, we Wesleyans who believe in a more inclusive view of PG certainly don’t agree with that conclusion. Wesleyans (like Wesley himself) have great missionary efforts. For example the Church of the Nazarene is in 162 world areas and the Free Methodist Church has only 10% of its congregation in the US, even though it originated in the US. Both of these denominations are throughly Wesleyan.

C to W1 – Calvinism is often criticized as having the logical conclusion that evangelism is unnecessarily due to the elect being certain. I am simple stating that logically this comes to the same conclusion, the urgency of the great commission is lessened by the idea that God will not let our free will stop the gospel and with reach to every man. I am not criticizing anyone’s actual ministry, that would not be appropriate, I am saying that inclusivism and hypercalvinism come to the exact same conclusion except that one states they were not meant to and the other states they had a real chance. Either way it absolutely does not fit with the tone of scripture on the urgency of the gospel. It is a nice idea? But if it is not correct then we are comforted when no comfort is deserved.

W1  to C – And of course, we Wesleyans don’t agree with your conclusion. Spend some time studying the different views of PG that Arminians have and I think you will agree that your conclusion is not consistent with the way that Wesleyans view PG.

We serve a God with impeccable character and He can be trusted to do what is right. We are commanded to and also obligated to out of our love for Christ and humanity to share the Gospel with as many as we can and encourage missionary efforts thru prayer and financial support and also to live out our faith in our own communities.

Never underestimate the ability of God to bring humanity to Him. He has ways of doing so that we have no way of knowing.

The question is…”are we sharing the gospel with others?” That’s where the rubber meets the road, whatever moniker you accept for your soteriology.

C to W1 – So Calvinism is condemned by its logical conclusion regardless of its evangelical efforts but inclusivism also having the same conclusion is judged by the efforts of its adherents not its logical conclusion?

W1 to C – Yes, Arminians don’t agree with calvinism’s conclusions, just like you don’t agree with wesleyan conclusions.

Yet, Arminians agree that Calvinism has done much for the missionary and evangelical efforts. And Calvinists agree that Wesleyanism has done much for the missionary and evangelical efforts.

Hence, just like Calvinists would deny the conclusions, so do Wesleyans.

C – Fair enough.

W1 to C – But…note this… Classical Arminians agree with Calvinists that PG is offered thru a gospel presentation. Wesleyans believe that PG is offered thru a gospel presentation but not limited to the gospel presentation.

However, Classical Arminians and Wesleyans believe that PG can be resisted. Calvinists believe that it cannot be resisted.

C to W1 – I don’t have the slightest issue with God working as he chooses outside of a gospel presentation, it is the assumption that this happens universally or even consistently that does not seem to track with scripture. Yes there are cases where people see Christ in dreams but are there not countless more who do not. I suppose it would be hard to measure as no one would write. I did not see the Christ I never heard of in my last dream right as they die. Would you not agree that the larger body of evidence would indicate that the unreached are still… unreached?

W1 to C  – We don’t know…we don’t know what God is doing. From my limited perspective, there are many people groups who need to know about Jesus. So, I’m gonna support evangelistic and missionary efforts with $$ and prayer and by personally sharing Jesus with people.

Wesleyans believe that God wouldn’t condemn someone to hell who didn’t have a chance to get right with Him. For God to send someone to hell who didn’t have a chance is not congruent with God’s impeccable character. So, yes, we Wesleyans believe that PG is universal.

We also believe that everything that God does is to draw people to Him. Hence, no one is without excuse.

C to W1 – Well I agree 100% with the first paragraph at least, And actually 66% with the last one too.

W2 to C – Wesleyan inclusivism can be summarized in two points. 1) God determines who will be saved through Christ, not us. 2) God is merciful and just towards all, not to just a few. Dale Moody said it like this:. “What kind of God is he who gives man enough knowledge to damn him but not enough to save him? The perception of God in creation has both negative and positive possibilities.”

C to W2 – God determines who will be saved through Christ not us…. that sounds like…nevermind… it can’t be a Calvinistic view because you said it.

W2 to C – Both Arminianism and Calvinism agree that God saves on his own terms, not ours. Romans 1 is a passage that affirms inclusivism. William Lane Craig notes that: “The Bible says that from the created order alone, all persons can know that a Creator God exists and that God has implanted His moral law in the hearts of all persons so that they are held morally accountable to God (Rom. 1.20; 2.14-15). The Bible promises salvation to anyone who responds affirmatively to this self-revelation of God (Rom. 2.7)..” As said earlier, what kind of God only gives enough revelation to damn but not save?

W3 to C – Wait, wait, wait.  Let me get this straight. The argument is: Calvinism is condemned because evangelism is not necessary because the saved are predestinated to be saved, wherein the condemned are reprobated from the beginning.

While Arminianism is condemned because inclusivists hold to investigative judgement wherein Jesus is Lord, God and sole Savior which makes it possible that unreached “God-fearers” who didn’t hear will be judged on the basis of what they knew and how they acted on what little true God knowledge they possessed.

Your argument is a category error because Calvinism leaves the reprobate permanently in death, wherein Arminianism views missionary proclamation as an act of grace, one of the sundry situational and personal ways the Holy Spirit seeks to reconcile the human race unto God the Father via the Son of God.

W1 – And that is a main difference between Arminianism and Calvinism. Arminianism seeks to protect the impeccable character of God. This is the very impetus that caused Arminius to see the errors of Calvinism. He was trying to correct Calvin’s & Beza’s errors (semper reformada) but Beza wouldn’t have it. Even after….Beza had highly commended Arminius as one of his top students.

So Arminius was the perfect poster child. He was raised during the rise of the reformation, taught by Calvin’s successor, commended in his knowledge about Calvinism and yet….saw the errors of Calvinism, departing from many of the core beliefs of Calvinism. Yet…wholly reformed.

You said, “I don’t have the slightest issue with God working as he chooses…” And neither do Arminians.

A – I love reading through these threads. It solidifies my personal stances by challenging what I simply held to blindly. I agree with the classical view, pg accompanies the Gospel. However, we see in at least the example of Paul, a supernatural messenger of the Gospel. I believe there must always be a preacher, whether that is you or I or a supernatural messenger, however I do not see in scripture the extent of this.

C to A – Supernatural messenger or preacher… that seems to track with scripture to me.

W1 to A – I think then the classical arminian has to answer the question, “what about those that never hear the gospel?”

My understanding of the answer is, “People that God knows will respond positively will have a gospel presentation” We certainly see evidence of that with the Ethiopian eunuch & Philip and Cornelius & Peter. I’m certainly content with that answer.

As a Wesleyan, I don’t necessarily agree but I do know that I don’t disagree with that conclusion and think it’s a terrific answer.

Hence, I tend to not be dogmatic about Wesleyan Inclusivism which was defined so well above: 1) God determines who will be saved through Christ, not us. 2) God is merciful and just towards all, not to just a few.

I can accept both the Classical Arminian as well as the Wesleyan Arminian views on those who never hear the gospel.

C to W1 – So do you have any support in scripture for the idea that there must be a safety net… what if there isn’t? What if the unreached are just unreached? What if those who die without hearing the gospel have no chance?

W1 to C – I lean on the belief that God is merciful and just to all. I believe that is found throughout scripture.

C to W1 – You often defer to the character of God to make this case, is there a scripture that shows that the character of God is fair in this way? The Old Testament sees God being very selective and the New Testament… well I am not aware of any direct support for the love/fair/universal idea of mercy in this sense. It is always paired with judgment… please feel free to correct.

W1 to C – The impeccable character of God is the hermeneutic by which Arminians view scripture. That is where Arminius departed from Calvinism.

A to W1 – I certainly do not disagree with you on that. In fact I believe you are trying to work through two very clear doctrines in scripture with that answer, that we must have the Gospel preached and that Christ died for all. In fact, I believe that if we are going to work out classical arminianism we have to have an approach that is similar to what you have stated. Otherwise, who does God pick to supernatuarly reveal the Gospel to? would those believers be someone he has destined and determined to be saved? If reformation arminians (like me) assert PG goes only with the Gospel, and we also want to affirm the Gospel ministry by supernatural messengers (which is scriptural but I confess I am probably in the minority with my other Ref Arms on that) then I would also need to tie this into God’s foreknowledge (individual election playing a factor here, again, ref arm doctrine). I believe, in fact, if you read the standard confession of 1660, the general baptist confession of faith, they laid out something that sounds remarkably similar to what you are saying. However, and I need to say this, in a plain reading of scripture I cant see this doctrine clearly stated, only inferred.

W1 to A – Yes, since we wesleyans have a broader view of PG, we see things like where one was born, what family one was born into, the people that interact with the person, the heritage of the person, etc as PG. PG isn’t necessarily an amount but enough to bring the person to a response to God. He doesn’t give the same amount of PG to everyone but enough to make the person responsible for their sin. They are confronted with their sinfulness/depravity and then must keep resisting God or stop resisting God.

C to W1 – That idea that the character of God is the hermeneutic of scripture is one that can be abused greatly (universalist love it) and impeccable is vague. So what then is the scriptures used toy establish the character of God? The account of the flood? The swallowing of Israel? Making Ezekiel cook with 💩 or just the ones that seem nice. What scriptures would you use to establish what this impeccable character means and how it is distinguished enough not to be subjective to our perceptions of what we would like God to be?

A to W1 – See, where I would disagree with you here is that (and you may not be saying it this way W1, so forgive me and correct me) we are all already responsible for our sin, before PG. That we are not damned because we refused to respond to the Gospel, but we are damned because we are all, already, reprobate. I am happy leaving the man on the island to go to hell (in a doctrinal sense, not in reality, of course we evangelize and have a heart for him and reach him) becaue of his sin that he is already in. He is already suppressing the truth in unrighteousness every day because of the inward witness of God and His creation. We all already know God, but we suppress it and are already accountable to that suppression. This is where I would disagree first. I also dont think I would hold to all the other actions that go along with what you have stated as pg. Now, I say that carefully. Paul said that God has determined the time and place of every man’s birth so that they might grasp after God, so I grant you that and do not think that your position is indefensible. However, I would simply lean on the emphasis of the Spirit of God doing the work of God through the Word of God all through the word, specifically after Christ and say that PG is a direct result of the Gospel preached.

W1 to C -Most Arminians, that I interact with, don’t prooftext but rather look at the plenary understanding of scripture. A mistake I think you are making is that when God is just (the flood), that His character is somehow different from when He says that He wants all to be saved. That’s the same God. His character is entirely impeccable. He is perfect, there is nothing imperfect about Him. He is the same God in the OT as He is in the NT as He is today.

W1 to A – Definitely, we are responsible for our sin. There is no doubt about that. Total depravity tells us that people don’t even know that they need a Savior. They don’t know that they need to turn from their sin. Hence, PG, which makes an awareness (maybe a better word than responsible) of our depravity and enables our response-ability. Is that a bit better? I think that fits both Classical and Wesleyan.

C to W1 – I don’t think I said that and I am not prooftexting, I am asking you a clear question about your Armenian views and how the character of God is established through scripture. And I brought up examples but I am asking you directly from what scriptures is this established… it’s a little too important to say all of them. Your answer was vague please clarify.

A to C – Our God is love and holy. I believe that His holiness is the central aspect of Him, not His love. I believe that is made clear in scripture and makes the cross necessary FOR a loving God. His love must be a holy love. His justice a holy justice. but an improper emphasis past that on one aspect of God or another will leave our theology lopsided. We have to trust His revelation and see Him as holy where we see his Holiness, loving where we see His love, etc.

W1 to C – You asked, “I am asking you a clear question about your Armenian views and how the character of God is established through scripture.” I believe that His impeccable character is established thru a plenary reading of God’s Word.

A to W1 – You and I are a hairsbredth apart (to borrow from Wesley). I would agree but simply add that the only way for a person to see that depravity is in a clear proclomation of the Gospel.

C to A – Generalities breed errors. What you are saying sounds correct but if this is the lynchpin of Armenians I am asking for the direct support of the lynchpin

W1 to A – Yes, I think that is the hairsbreadth difference

A to C – C, just to ask you very frankly, what do you see about God’s character that makes it the lynchpin of Arminianism (just a heads up, Armenian is actually a nationality). How do you believe we see it?

C to W1 – Yes and whereas that is true your statements require a definition more specific than impeccable for the way you have applied them? I asked for some support of the character of God supporting the universal pg and you said the whole Bible. Which we both have read and Um….where? I don’t see it?

W1 to A – I also had another thought….For Wesley, there was no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness. In other words, faith always includes a social dimension. One cannot be a solitary Christian. As we grow in faith through our participation in the church community, we are also nourished and equipped for mission and service to the world.

Hence, Wesleyans see that opportunities to provide for the needy, send missionaries, etc as a form of PG

C to A – No the character of God is the lynchpin… Armenianism sought to preserve the charactor of God? As deo described it anyway?

A to C – Gotchya, thank you for clarifying. In my view the 2 main factors of Arminianism is the holiness of God and the centrality of Christ. God can not decree to save only some, who are wretched sinners and totally depraved, without “soiling” Himself. He can not touch that which is unclean. This is an aspect of His holiness. This leads to the second main factor, the centrality of Christ. It is only by God foreknowing those who believe and endure to the end by His grace, that He elects. It is only by being “in Christ” that we are regenerate and can endure. So the holiness of God can not touch a sinner and elect him by a simple decree, but must approach us through a mediator, Christ. Calvinism removes the holiness of God in saying that God decrees to save sinners at His leisure, and removes the centrality of Christ by saying that God does not need us to be “in Christ” to satisfy His holiness.

A to W1 – I think we see something different in Abraham though, right? And Noah? I would say that holiness consists of conformity to Christ, regardless of who we are surrounded with. But I could be misunderstanding Wesley here.

W1 to A – I don’t think Wesley would disagree with “holiness consists of conformity to Christ.” I know I certainly don’t.

Wesley talks about heart religion, “a right state of soul, a mind and spirit renewed after the image of Him that created it…”:
 
C to W1 – as have stated several times impeccable is vague and cannot be used as hermeneutic… it must be defined to be used and your definition includes a definition of fairness and when I asked for a little support and even used a picture of a student no less, you simply did not answer the question. If this is what it all hangs on… if this is the indictment that Armenius had against calvanism then it should be the most supported price, not the least. It can’t just be: “I don’t think God would…” and that’s enough?

W1 to C – ok…how do you define impeccable?Here’s what I said, above in my definition of impeccable, “He is perfect, there is nothing imperfect about Him. He is the same God in the OT as He is in the NT as He is today.”

You can also use the dictionary definition of impeccable, “in accordance with the highest standards of propriety; faultless.”

A to W1 – Love reading Wesley, I don’t believe he and I differ according to what you shared. I think what I thought you meant was that holiness could only be seen in a social setting. However, I believe he intimates that true holiness will always produce social holiness. Im not a Wesley scholar, so I could be missing it.

W1 to A – The way you see it is the way that I see what he means.  the point I was trying to make is that Wesleyans see acts of giving to the poor, supporting missionaries, etc as examples of PG.

C to W1 – Yes I agree but faultless is not useful, who gets to define what is a fault. His very charactor defines what is good. But you still have not answered the question and it really seems like the most important one. You are making the case that Gods charactor cannot support giving grace to some but not grace to others, or that he would never allow them to have just enough revelation to be damned but not enough to be saved. Please support the view that this is in conflict with the charactor of God or show me where this could be established. You said this was the major difference but grace in scripture is specific to a time and place in the Old Testament… it is an event. In the New Testament it goes with preaching. Not a word about those who do not hear and a plain reading of romans one says that they have enough to be condemned… and it does not say they were then given enough to be saved. I would like an answer. The only thing I am questioning here is your lack of specificity and lack of an answer.  Teach, how do you get there from scripture?

A to W1 – That is actually a very good point. Most Ref Arms would be in support of social acts or outreaches in order to get the Gospel to people. I myself have always said that personal holiness can be a witness. The question I would need to answer is, to what extent do I see that? I certainly don’t believe a witness without words can ever win a sould, because they do need to hear about Christ. However, how would social action and personal holiness have an affect on a sinner? Does it simply win me a hearing, or is God at work drawing someone already to a place where they can hear the Gospel? I don’t think I can say that God is not at work in our personal moral integrity or acts of kindness, but I am not prepared to say that they should be an emphasis. I believe I am much safer keeping the definition of prevenient or enabling grace limited to the Gospel because of the biblical emphasis on needing to hear. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, and how will they hear without a preacher…” I need to chew on that.

W1 to A – sorry, I keep thinking of other things… Wesleyans often say, “you can’t hear the Gospel if your belly is empty” Hence, PG is tilling the ground in someone’s life as well.

That why the Engel Scale fits so well with Wesleyanism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engel_Scale
However, the Grey Matrix improved on it a bit and is probably better for Wesleyans: http://thegraymatrix.org/?page_id=19

 

W1 to A – I think I anticipated your question as we crossed. However, I will answer, “how would social action and personal holiness have an affect on a sinner?” By social action, we can be used of the Holy Spirit as way of helping prepare the person for the gospel. Social action, then, in that context would be PG.

A to W1 – I am thinking of Christ when He said, “They will know you by your love for one another.” Well how? The depraved man will not see God, but foolishness, in a loving community of Christians. There must be something there. However, I keep coming back to the necessity of the Gospel. I also think the above quote on “empty bellies” would be more of a proverb, carrying generalized truth and nothing dogmatic. I would not agree with it personally because of Peter’s statement, “SIlver and gold have I none, but such as I do have…” The Gospel is always our “such as we do have”. I wouldnt want to limit the Gospel to always needing to be preceeded to a loving example or social action becasue that would eliminate the possibility of spontaneous evangelism. And Paul did not work to bless people before he entered into a city and began to proclaim the Gospel. I belive I would say, well, what Wesley said. True holiness will lead to loving examples, acts of kindness, and visible integrity, but those things are simply evidences of the grace at work in us, and not “necessary” (though helpful) tools to fulfill the great commission.

W1 to C – You ask, “who gets to define what is a fault.” God does.

You mention Romans 1 and how it doesn’t say that they were given enough to be saved. However, it does say, “Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

You see Wesleyans interpret that as universal PG. No one can say to God, “You gotta let me in to heaven because I didn’t get a chance to know you.”

C to W1 – of course God does but that does not help us establish it… I get the Wesleyan view of romans 1. But not to harp but you still did not answer the question and you have made it clear that it is the most important question

W1 to C – For God to not offer everyone a chance to get to know Him, in the Wesleyan view, does not correspond with a God who wants all to be saved. Hence, the protection to God’s impeccability. Seems like a clear connection to me.

I don’t how to explain it any clearer.

W3 to C – To be clear, I’m Wesleyan, and Wesleyan-Arminians tend to look at world as if everything and anything can be a means of grace, and that all people are wading in a river of grace. If a person acts on what little grace they have received, then they wade deeper into the river, prepared to act on even more grace. If a person rejects or resists the grace they have received, then they, not God move themselves further away from God into shallower waters. Even so, God gives us grace because we cannot do the things of God unless God first empowers us. Thus the saying, “No not I, But within me.”

 

1/15/18 – FB SEA Outreach Group

 

We would like you to join our Outreach Group.  Go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/81731686472/ and answer these three questions in the affirmative:

  1. I understand that is an outreach group and that joining does not constitute membership in SEA.
  2. I understand that is group is not for debate but to find out about SEA and Arminianism
  3. I understand that SEA considers Calvinists to be brothers/sisters in Christ