What is Prevenient Grace?

One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “God uses the Law to convict people of their sin and lead them to know they are sinners and trapped in their sins. The Holy Spirit uses the Law to instill fear of the coming Judgment and the need for a Savior. The Holy Sprit calls sinners through the Gospel and reveals that Christ is the Savior. Only willful resistance thwarts conversion.

However, Calvinists believe that due to the extent of the fallen nature of man, all of Gods efforts will be met with unyielding resistance, unless God makes conversion irresistible:

One Calvinist explains: “Calvinism stands on the doctrine of Total Depravity. Everything flows from that. If that is true, the other points of TULIP all follow.”

Actually, that’s not true. That’s the way that Calvinists like to sell it, but that’s not the logical starting point for Calvinism. With Calvinism, it all begins with a decree, based upon the alleged desire for God to use man and angels in order to “display various divine attributes,” and Total Depravity would simply be part of that decree, in order to arrive at a fully scripted, predetermined end. Arminianism, instead, says that God created man and angels for the same exact reason why any parent desires to have a child after their own kind, which is not to manipulate them for self-glory, and not out of a deficit of self-glory, but out of a surplus of divine love, needing only to be expressed and freely given.  

One Calvinist states: “If Arminian’s truly believed in ‘Total Depravity’, the rest of their system falls apart.

Actually, that’s not true either. The Calvinist simply supposes that God is powerless to overcome man’s depravity, except by means of an irresistible grace. Arminians, however, assume that God has more power and ability than what Calvinists otherwise suppose. 

​Question: Is God capable of creating and utilizing such “prevenient grace”?

Answer: If God is omnipotent enough, then Calvinists will have conceded the logical potentiality for Arminianism.

​Question: What if God was powerful enough, so that if He wished to do so, He could enable an unregenerate person to receive Him, without simply making him preemptively regenerate? What if God was so powerful that He didn’t need to use an irresistible grace? What if God was able, and capable, of enabling a lost person to voluntarily receive Him? Could He do that? Is He powerful enough? Or, is man so depraved, that he exhausts the power of God? The preceding “Prevenient Grace of God” is primarily an operation of the Holy Spirit, through the dynamite power of the Gospel, dispensing faith, convicting of sin, warning of coming judgment, knocking with invitation, offering eternal life in exchange for eternal judgment. When a sinner repents and submits to God, and stops saying “no,” and instead says, “yes, please do save me,” then the Holy Spirit indwells and transforms them from sinner to saint, gifted with a particular calling, for service within the body of Christ.

Jack Cottrell: “Not all Arminians affirm total depravity and original sin. Even those who say they do (mostly Wesleyan Arminians) have a device called ‘prevenient grace’ that nullifies the total depravity for all people and enables all to respond to the gospel with free will. I define an Arminian as anyone who accepts (significant) free will, i.e., who believes that any sinner can respond positively to the gospel message (via faith & repentance) without the selective, irresistible gift of enabling grace posited by Calvinists as the answer to total depravity.” (Depravity: Total, Partial, or None at All?, emphasis mine)

As long as “any sinner can respond positively to the Gospel message” is still nonetheless seen as part of divine grace, then there is no issue, and I can accept Cotrell’s definition. But if a person says, “man needs no help from God,” then he is not an Arminian, by any definition. However, Calvinists like to portray that as Arminianism, in order to erroneously try to score points:

Calvinist, James White: “Why should we give thanks to God upon hearing of the faith of fellow believers, if in fact having faith in Christ is something that every person is capable of having without any gracious enablement by God?” (Debating Calvinism, p.20, emphasis mine)

But Arminianism does affirm the “gracious enablement by God.” Arminians simply disagree that it is irresistible. The Arminian doctrine of preceding grace is known as Prevenient Grace. Furthermore, we give thanks to God when someone becomes a Christian because it is an answer to prayer. It is in thanks to God for reaching out to that person for pursuing them with patience and care, as the Holy Spirit convicts, awakens and goads, while the Son seeks, draws and knocks. God takes the initiative.

​Here are quotes by Arminians about Prevenient Grace

Arminian, Roger Olson: “A crucial Arminian doctrine is prevenient grace, which Calvinists also believe, but Arminians interpret it differently. Prevenient grace is simply the convicting, calling, enlightening and enabling grace of God that goes before conversion and makes repentance and faith possible. Calvinists interpret it as irresistible and effectual; the person in whom it works will repent and believe unto salvation. Arminians interpret it as resistible; people are always able to resist the grace of God, as Scripture warns (Acts 7:51). But without prevenient grace, they will inevitably and inexorably resist Gods will because of their slavery to sin.” (Arminian Theology, p.35, emphasis mine)

Roger Olson: “Arminians believe that if a person is saved, it is because God initiated the relationship and enabled the person to respond freely with repentance and faith. This prevenient grace includes at least four aspects or elements: calling, convicting, illuminating, and enabling. No person can repent, believe and be saved without the Holy Spirit’s supernatural support from beginning to end. All the person does is cooperate by not resisting.” (Arminian Theology, pp.159-160, emphasis mine)

Essentially, men do not choose to receive grace. Grace is already there, and  in operation by the Holy Spirit. The choice is whether it will be resisted, as Israel had resisted Gods grace (Acts 7:51), and grieved the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 4:30) People also receive various measures of grace, depending upon how they respond to Gods grace. As a result, some are hardened. This is why John 12:39 states that certain people could not believe,” as it pertains to the warning through the prophet Isaiah: He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.” (John 12:4) The habitual hardening of one’s heart results in the forfeiture of grace.

Daniel Whedon on Prevenient Grace: “Ask then what fully caused the Will in its conditions to cause the volition and the reply is, nothing. However, in the cause of the volitional decision to repent, God’s prevenient grace does exert an enabling influence on the will.”  (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, p.74, emphasis mine)

Daniel Whedon: “…the grace of God frees the Will from being completely bounded by sin since the Fall, but it does not determine or cause which way the Will volitionally decides.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, p.74, emphasis mine)

Daniel Whedon writes in response to Calvinist, Jonathan Edwards: “Edwards continues to say, ‘Now it must be answered, according to the Arminian notion of freedom, that the Will influences, orders, and determined itself thus to act. And if it does, I say it must be by some antecedent act.’ (65) But, we reply, as our ‘notion of freedom’ requires no anterior causing or ordering of the Will to act, as we hold the Will in its condition to be a complete cause acting uncausedly, there is no requisite for any ‘antecedent act.’ And so again the necessitarian cobweb is broken.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, p.105, emphasis mine)

In other words, while yes, there are always external influences, including God’s influence of Prevenient Grace, man, being a self-volitional being, is therefore of himself, one of those influences, and thus acts freely and uncausedly in his choices.

​One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians:
 “I see Prevenient grace as enabling instead of transforming. 
Saving grace is transforming, but Prevenient grace enables. 
To enable is like holding up a baby while it’s in the pool. 
That hand stops the child from drowning, but the child’s 
inability to swim doesn’t change because of its initial 
presence. The hand must stay, for the moment it is 
removed, the child will drown. Likewise with Total Depravity. 
Before we are saved, we are Totally Depraved, but that is not 
experienced, since God holds us up, continually enabling us, 
until we turn our backs on Him completely and reject Him. 
Then He lets go...”

One Calvinists states: “Prevenient Grace doesn’t change the heart, so even if God does enable us to ‘choose’ Christ through prevenient grace, we still hate Him. The heart is the issue.”

There are a couple of problems with that. 

​Question: Is “prevenient grace” dead on arrival, since mankind hates God? 

Answer: Only if God refused to intervene, but once you add God to the equation, the impossible becomes possible, and it all simply depends upon how God intervenes.

(1) In a practical application, test it out. At John 10:37-38, Jesus states: “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” Therefore, even though the unbelieving Jews had rejected Him, what does Jesus do? He encourages them. How? By pressing them to consider the impact and meaning of the miracles (which had previously been impactful to others of their order, namely, of Nicodemus), so that by the power of such weighty evidence, they now fell under the divine expectation to know and understand that He, indeed, is the Messiah, all of which being for the purpose of conversion unto Him, but which would otherwise be, by a Calvinist’s judgment, a totally worthless gesture by Jesus, since their otherwise hateful heart-condition, would forbid any and all such considerations of said miracles. 

(2) The Calvinist statement is like Frankenstein. What I mean by that, is that it fails to quoting any one particular comprehensive passage in Scripture, such as to say, “For all mankind has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and having utterly hated God, will in no wise receive Christ, except by his heart being unconsciously changed.” That’s a great verse. However, the only problem is that it doesn’t exist in Scripture! But a Calvinist will take a patchwork of verses, sow them together, and like Dr. Frankenstein, declare of Calvinism: “IT’S ALIVE.” But that’s not a living theology, as any cult can do the same. So in the matter of belief and unbelief, as it pertains to Prevenient Grace and The Divine Initiative, we would do well to consider a second practical application, also in regard to Israel, most notably found at Jeremiah 18:1-13, in which God demanded to know of Israel, exactly *why* they wouldn’t turn back to Him. Here is the dialogue of God: “So now then [Jeremiah], speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.” But they will say, “It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.” Therefore thus says the LORD, “Ask now among the nations, Who ever heard the like of this? The virgin of Israel Has done a most appalling thing.”’” (Jeremiah 18:11-13) In this setting, Prevenient Grace is already well established, in which God stated of Israel: “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts.” (Isaiah 65:2) Here, God touches upon the critical matter of faith and disbelief, and the fundamental question of “why.” God asks: “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11) “Why” indeed! But Israel retorts (and not God), “It’s hopeless!” Oh really! Is that a fact? Yes indeed, says Israel. Israel throws “Total Inability” in God’s face. Israel says, “It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.” Fascinating! Notice the part about the “heart.” I believe that you, also, had something to say about the matter of the “heart,” being only hateful of God, and will not turn, save that God should turn it for Him. Yet, notice what God thinks of Israel’s (and the Calvinist’s) response: “Who ever heard the like of this?” Apparently, God is not impressed with the mutual Calvinist and Jewish reasoning. Apparently, the divine expectation is that they turn, as God leads them by His outstretched arms, extended “all day long,” as per Isaiah 65:2. By no means, is God “leaving them to their free will,” as if to imply some sort of abandonment. Rather, God is aiding them to repent, by His own gracious initiative, and they yet throw Total Inability, and an evil heart, in God’s face. So God appeals to the pagans, whether “they” have ever heard of anything so preposterous as to what Israel (and Calvinists) are saying. No doubt, some may accuse me of Pelagianism, even though I am explicitly referencing God’s gracious aid. Nowhere am I saying that they have “innate ability,” as with other baseless accusations against Arminianism. Also notice that this is not reference to keeping the Law. This is simply about them turning back to God in repentance. There's a difference!

Moreover, simply ask the Calvinist whether Total Depravity was a random accident, or part of their eternal decree of predestination? Sometimes Calvinists forget their own theology, and you need to remind them, so as to help them to avoid Double Talk. In Calvinism, Total Depravity is just a “means to an end.” In other words, God would have eternally decreed both “elect” and “non-elect” groups, and meticulously designed a world in which both groups are born into sin and depravity, in order to keep the [alleged] non-elect out, while irresistibly bringing the “elect” in. Thus “Total Depravity” (from a Calvinist’s point of view), is just a sadistic way of keeping control of who gets saved, and who stays unsaved

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul: “The $64 question for advocates of prevenient grace is why some people cooperate with it and others don’t. How we answer that will reveal how gracious we believer our salvation really is.” (Chosen By God, p.125, emphasis mine)

​Question: Why did sinless creatures, Adam & Eve, choose to disobey God? Even R.C. Sproul cannot explain it:

R.C. Sproul: “But Adam and Eve were not created fallen. They had no sin nature. They were good creatures with a free will. Yet they chose to sin. Why? I don’t know. Nor have I found anyone yet who does know.” (Chosen By God, p.31, emphasis mine)

​Question: Why did certain angels fall, while others remained faithful? The answer cannot be because they were totally depraved, since God had created them as sinless creatures.

Answer: Sproul said it himself: “Free Will,” which was inherited by Adam’s descendants, along with his knowledge of good of evil. Having the encumbrance of a fallen nature, mankind, all the more needs God’s preceding grace in order to repent, believe and be saved.

Free Will, inherited from Adam & Eve, is why some cooperate with God’s intervening grace, while others do not. 

R.C. Sproul: “The $64,000 question is, ‘Does the Bible teach such a doctrine of prevenient grace? If so, where?’” (Chosen By God, p.125, emphasis mine)

Acts 26:14 is a great example, and Acts 16:14 and John 16:8 are worth noting as well. Acts 26:14 states: And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’” Obviously the Holy Spirit was doing something there, and Paul’s persistent resistance could not have been an “irresistible grace, because he was, in fact, resisting, and hence Calvinists would have to acknowledge that God was operating upon an unregenerate heart, rather than simply making an unregenerate heart into a regenerate heart. There was a tug of wills, between God’s will and Saul of Tarsus’ will. To a Calvinist, that is just Common Grace, but it is nonetheless prevenient, and is also a grace, and hence, Prevenient Grace.

One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “Calvinists believe that ‘God always wins. He can’t stand losing. He chooses NOT TO EVER LOSE.’ He therefore believes the Spirit’s action will always be successful, and asserts that those who do not believe did not have the Spirit work on them, because that ‘prevenient grace’ is Irresistible. Arminians believe it is resistible, in the same way that the rich young ruler resisted Jesus’ call, despite being convicted of his lack of righteousness. In short, Arminianism ascribes more emotional maturity and resilience to God than the Calvinist, who ascribes to God the character of a two-year old. Arminianism holds that the convicted sinner, by agreeing to the Holy Spirit’s evaluation of his spiritual state and following the promise that believing in Jesus Christ would result in the taking away of his corruption and wickedness, is converted and saved, resulting in peace with God.”

​Ordo salutis of Arminianism:

1. Election in Christ
2. Prevenient grace
3. Gospel call
4. Inward call
5. Conversion
6. Justification
7. Regeneration
8. Sanctification
9. Glorification
10. Christian’s Call (vocation in Christ)
11. Predestined inheritance in Christ

Here is an additional article.

Question:  What is Prevenient Grace?

Answer:  “Prevenient Grace” is something that both Calvinists and Arminians agree upon, insomuch that fallen man needs divine intervention, though Calvinists insist that it is irresistible, whereas Arminians insist that it is resistible. The only sense in which Prevenient Grace is irresistible is in the sense that all men experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit, though they can resist this conviction and reject God.