Prevenient Grace is the invention of Jacobus Arminius. It is a rescuing device that is used to bridge the logical gap that exists between the doctrine of total depravity and free will. If man is totally depraved, completely dead in his sins, hostile toward God in every part of his being, albeit to varying degrees, then how is it that he would ever reason that God is the most reasonable choice, being blind as he is by the god of this world and then exercise his free will to choose God, something the Lord Jesus adamantly taught his disciples they did not do?
The purpose of this post is not to talk about prevenient grace per se, but to discuss Evan Minton’s claim that there exists biblical evidence for the doctrine. Minton admits that the Bible itself does not mention the concept of prevenient grace but he contends that it can be inferred from four facts that the Bible does teach: “Like The Trinity (and I would contend, Molinism), even if The Bible nowhere addressed the potency level of God’s grace, it could still be inferred from 4 other facts that The Bible does teach.” Why Minton tosses in Molinism alongside the Trinity is interesting to me because it has no more support either directly or by inference from Scripture than prevenient grace does. If anything, it has less which means it has no support from Scripture whatsoever. What are these “4 other facts” that the Bible does teach that infer prevenient grace?
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.
#1 at face value is not controversial for Calvinists. The only issue I have with the wording is located in the phrase “aid of grace.” A Calvinist would say without the work of grace. Grace does not merely aid the sinner in repentance, it gives the sinner a new repentant heart. The heart is new heart and it is the kind of heart that is a repentant heart. That heart is filled with the Holy Spirit and as such, it cannot help but be a repentant heart. It is a faith-filled heart. How could it be otherwise since it comes with the filling of the Holy Spirit. Not only this, to use the phrase “aid of grace” where repentance is concerned implies that the sinner may want to repent but cannot. However, the doctrine of total depravity asserts that unregenerate men are not only unable to repent but unwilling. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest that men want to repent but they are just not able. They are both are unable and unwilling to repent.
The only issue here is how Minton uses the word draw. He seems to employ a modern definition in that the word draw means “try to persuade.” This is typical in Arminianism. The Greek word ekluo employed in John 6:44 means to pull or drag, requiring force because of the inertia of the object being dragged. It is a word that is always efficacious. Think about the idea of drawing a gun, or knife, the fishing net. It has no element of “trying to convince or persuade.” This changes how one interprets that text remarkably.
The text essentially says No man can come to me unless the Father brings him and I will raise him up on the last day. Notice that the same people that God brings to Christ are also “raised up on the last day.” There is nothing in the text to suggest that the person being drawn will resist. There is also nothing in the text that implies this bringing or drawing is better understood as “helping or aiding” someone. In fact, v. 37 says “all that the Father gives me will come to me.” And they will not be cast out. Notice that there is nothing in text that implies that God is “helping” people come to Christ. The Father is bringing them to Christ.
In 6:45 we see this again when Jesus quotes Jer. 31:34 and says everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. This is a reference to how the New Covenant functions. And then we see it again in John 6:64-65 says that Jesus knew from the beginning who would not believe in him…for this reason I said to you that no one can come to me unless the Father has granted it. Why do some NOT believe? That is what Jesus is dealing with, not why do some believe. The reason some men do NOT believe is because it has NOT been granted from the Father. That is the explanation for why men do not believe. And again, remember, in the context, The Father is the one who brings men and Jesus will not cast them out and they will be raised up on the last day. And also remember that EVERYONE who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Christ. No ever hears and learns from the Father and then does NOT come to Christ. Minton fails to get into the details of this text. Doing so would disclose logical issues with the way he and every other Arminian interprets this text.
#2 God wants all people to be saved. This is patently false in a general sense. Minton’s entire argument ignores the sound word study methods in his hermeneutic. God did NOTHING to provide for the redemption of a single fallen angel. God does NOT want unrepentant sinners to be saved. That is to say that for humans who insist on remaining obstinate, God does not have some internal emotional desire (in the same sense as we think of desire) that they be saved. God wills that all men would repent in that God wills that no man should commit adultery, murder, lie, steal, etc. God wills that all men repent and believe the gospel because this is a universal command. No people group and no class of men is exempt from God’s will or command. But this is remarkably different from God’s eternal plan, his decretive will, his purpose in the earth and Minton conflates God’s will in the sense of command with God’s will in the sense of God’s eternal purpose and plan.
Ps. 136:5 All that the Lord pleases (takes pleasure in, desires) he does (gives effect to, does, accomplishes, performs), in heaven and earth, in the seas and in all deeps (everywhere at all times).
Really, 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 echo Ezekiel 18:23: “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? And then again in Ezekiel 18:32: “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.”
Ps. 115:3 says that God is in the heavens and he does whatever he pleases.
Isa. 13:11 Thus I will punish the world for its evil. And the wicked for their iniquity;
I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud. And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless.
Therefore, God desires to punish the wicked for their iniquity even though he takes no pleasure in their death. It is both. God does whatever he wants to do and takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
A responsible exegesis of Scripture seeks to synthesize Isaiah with Ezekiel:
Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; 11 Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it. (Isa. 46:9-11)
“For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.” (Ezekiel 18:32)
When it comes to the word desire, I think enjoyment. God does not enjoy the death of the wicked even if he decreed it. And the question cannot be did God decree it for Scripture is abundantly plain that God decreed everything that comes to past and that his purpose will be accomplished everywhere and at all times. How do I know that God planned or decreed something? Because it happened. Otherwise Isa. 46:9-11 is patently false.
I think a workout analogy will help. I do not particularly
enjoy the cardio portion of my workout, not even a little. But I plan for it
before ever stepping foot in the gym. That said, I do enjoy what cardio does in
the overall scheme of things. In a similar way, God planned that there would be
wicked people in this world. God does not particularly enjoy the wicked that
they do or even the pain they are inflicted as a result of their wickedness.
But God does enjoy what the presence of evil in this world does. Because of it,
he displays his righteous judgment as well as extends his amazing grace. In the
end, the evil that is present serves to bring God greater glory than if it had
not existed. And bringing God the greatest glory pleases God and that God
#3 Jesus died on the cross for all people.
In his defense of this claim, Minton fails to deal with the logical implications of the doctrine of penal-substitutionary atonement. His failure to do so results in an incredibly weak defense of his view on the atonement. That view is, of course, that the atonement was made for all men without exception. He claims that 1 John 2:2 literally means the whole world without exception. But know that Scripture employs the word all with qualification in a number of instances. John 12:32 says, Jesus says he will draw all men to himself if he is lifted up on the cross. We know that the word all in that text cannot mean all men without exception. Why? Men died right after Christ died all throughout the world who never heard of Christ, let alone were drawn to him. And even today, most men have never been told about the actual Christ of Scripture who lived and died for the sins of the world. We see the same use of world in 2 Cor. 5 as we see in 1 John 2:2: namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:19) Has the entire world without exception been reconciled to God through Christ? It has not. Minton ignores the more substantive problems and picks what he thinks are the easiest objections to refute. And he doesn’t even refute these effectively.
Minton has shared with me that he believes that people must hear the gospel to be saved. This places Minton in the unenviable position of having to explain how it is that God sent Christ to die for the sins of those who would never ever even hear the gospel and have a chance to believe it. But that isn’t the only problem for Minton. The must bigger issue is explaining how it is that Christ literally atoned for sin, which means to release men from the guilt of their sin, and still men are lost, and dying, and going to hell.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor. 5:21) The purpose God made Jesus to be sin on our behalf was so that we might become the righteousness of God. That was God’s purpose for Christ dying on the cross. It is that same “purpose” that Isaiah said would be established. God does not purpose something and then fail to achieve it. At least, not according to Scripture. This text is irrefutable proof that Christ did NOT die for the sins of all men without exception. Just like any other word in any other language, ‘all’ means whatever it means within the given context where it is used.
The Hebrew word atonement is כָּפַר (kapar) and it means to smear, to cover, to appease, to make amends. So, when the Hebrew heard that his sins had been atoned for, it meant he was forgiven. This is exactly what penal-substitutionary atonement means. If Christ made atonement for your sins, then they are covered, appeased, amended. There is no such thing as a person whose sins have been atone for later coming under the judgment and wrath of God. This leaves Arminians and Minton with them in the awkward position of having to do some exegetical gyrations. All of the sudden, all these passages that talk about Christ being the propitiation for the sins of the world are twisted into “Christ is the potential or possible” propitiation for the sins for sins of the world. The only problem is that John, Paul, nor Peter said anything like this. The NT does not say anything remotely resembling a potential propitiation. Another option is to claim that the sins have been paid for and all one has to do is repent and believe the gospel. But the refusal to repent and believe the gospel is a sin as well. And as such, it has been atoned for as well. Now we are where consistent Arminianism logically ends; universalism. Universalism is pernicious heresy.
#4 Not all people will be saved. Some people will end up in hell for eternity. This is an odd thing for Minton to say since he is an affirmed annihilationist. I have no disagreements with Minton’s argument in this text other than to say, taken at face value and read in a straightforward manner, it contradicts the doctrine of annihilationism. My guess is that Minton empties words of their meaning and pours his alternatives to fit his personal beliefs.
From the four facts that Minton thinks stands up to the test of examination, he infers that grace is resistible. I will treat Minton’s notion that the reformed doctrine of irresistible grace is false in a separate post. That said, Minton calls up John 1:9 where the text reads, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” Minton insists that πάντα ἄνθρωπον (every man) must be understood to mean every single man without exception. Minton goes on to claim that this is prevenient grace. Again, this notion is wrought with numerous exegetical and logical problems.
This construction appears in Colossians 1:28: “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” Every one Paul taught, he taught these things. But it is obvious that Paul did not teach every man without exception in the entire world. When John says that Christ enlightens every man he means that there is no man who is enlightened who has been enlightened by Christ. Why? Because Christ is THE light and apart from Christ there is nothing but darkness.
If Minton is right and all men have been enabled now to accept Christ of their own free will, then why do the writers of the NT so often teach just the opposite? For example Paul tells the church at Corinth in 2 Cor. 4:4 that the God of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel. Why did Paul say in 1 Cor. 2:14 that the sinner does not have the ability to understand the things of the Spirit? Shouldn’t prevenient grace make it so that he can? Not according to Paul. Why did Paul tell the Roman church in Rom. 8:6-8 that the sinner’s mind is hostile toward God and that it is NOT able to submit to the law of God, which includes repentance and faith in the gospel? Where is the idea of prevenient grace in the writings of Paul?
Jesus had to open the hearts and eyes of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. I thought prevenient grace took care of that. Jesus had to open Lydia’s heart to understand the things Paul was preaching about Christ. So much for prevenient grace. Not only this, but the Arminian also wants to affirm that God is unlimited in power; that God sincerely wants to save every person in the world without exception; that God extends prevenient grace to everyone who is now born into the world so that they can cooperate with grace; and that the atone was of a penal-substitutionary nature; and that the gospel is required for salvation. Would God sincerely want to save someone that he knew in advance would have none of it? He knew before he created who would believe and who would not in the Arminian scheme. Does it make the slightest bit of sense that God would instantiate people that he knew were going to give him the finger until death and at the same time desperate desire to save them? He already knows the end. It makes no sense. Not only that, does it make sense that God would give all men prevenient grace but NOT give them the gospel, the very thing that prevenient grace is designed to enable cooperation with? It makes no sense and it isn’t supported by Scripture and it certainly isn’t supported by plain logic.
This is why Arminianism came up with Molinism. It was a philosophical rescuing device because the invention of prevenient grace didn’t solve their problems. Well, as it turns out, Molinism doesn’t solve the problem either. Arminians are still left with a God who seems to be schizophrenic at best. This God wants everyone to be saved, truly, sincerely, hopes for, wishes for, does everything he can despite the fact that he is the one who created this world knowing exactly how things were going to proceed. God knew who would believe and who would not. God knew that most humans would rebel and be damned. God knew about the immense suffering, the pain, the disease, the calamity, the final judgment that would befall man, and still, God created this world. The level of incongruence in this theological scheme exceeds anything that healthy thinking should accept. These issues are part of the reason why Arminians so very often end in heresy.
Sam Storms says:
The Arminian contends that God foreknows both that some are and others are not going to believe in Christ in response to the gospel. He also affirms that God knows why they respond either in belief or unbelief, for God is omniscient and knows the secrets and inner motives of the heart. God also knows what it is in the presentation of the gospel that proves successful in persuading some to say “Yes” and what it is that proves unsuccessful in persuading those who say “No.” The question, then, is this: If God truly desires for all to be saved in the way the Arminian contends, and if he knows what it is in the means of persuasion contained in the gospel that brings people to say yes, why doesn’t he orchestrate the presentation of the gospel in such a way that it will succeed in persuading all people to believe? The point is this: Surely the God who perfectly knows every human heart is capable of creating a world in which the gospel would prove successful in every case. And if God desires for all to be saved in the way the Arminian contends, why didn’t He?