Irresistible or Prevenient Grace?
Feb 16, 2012 by Craig Blomberg | 21 Comments
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30 NIV)
Can God make the proverbial stone so big that he can’t move it? I remember puzzling over this conundrum as a college student and was delighted to read in a standard evangelical philosophy of religion textbook of that day that the solution was actually quite easy. No, God can’t, because his omnipotence does not extend to that which is logically contradictory. God can’t create a square circle, either or a married bachelor!
The analogous logical riddle with respect to the debate over the role of God’s grace in the universe would be to ask if God could resist his irresistible grace. The answer again would have to be no. And, of course, because God is more powerful than humans, humans could never resist such grace either.
A student asked me recently what I thought of prevenient grace. This, of course, is the concept that the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition uses to defend the concept that although all humans are dead in their trespasses and unable to choose Christ in their own strength, God, in Christ’s atonement, makes possible enough grace to all humans that they now can trust in Christ should they so choose. Then, the Spirit comes to actually indwell them and empower them for the process of sanctification as well.
My reply was that I had never found a passage in the Bible that clearly teaches the concept. God’s grace extends to all people for all manner of non-salvific things, but where is there a text that depicts prevenient grace as just defined? It seems more a corollary of other theological convictions about what God must do to be fair and gracious, and to explain the Scriptural tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
One of the reasons that the most controversial of the five points of the famous Calvinist TULIP acronym, Limited atonement, is often defended in conversations with people who are quite willing to accept Total depravity, Unconditional election, Irresistible grace and the Perseverance of the saints but skeptical about the “L” is that without it Christ’s death went for naught for those who do not repent. Might there be a better way to get at this concern without introducing the debate over limited vs. unlimited atonement?
What if the problem with prevenient grace is parallel? Would God extend sufficient (but resistible) grace to those he knew would forever resist and reject it? Wouldn’t that just be a waste?
I have blogged in the past about a kind of “Calminianism” that tries to draw on the strengths of both classic Calvinism and classic Arminianism. On those instances I started from some position of classic Calvinism and questioned it (much to the concern of those who aren’t open to any such questioning but know they have the final word on these perplexing topics already figured out!). This time I’m beginning with an element of classic Arminianism and doing the same thing—trying to move in a somewhat more Calvinistic direction. All courteous responses and input are most welcome!