Prevenient Grace – God's "Go" Signal?

In this excerpt from his classic Lectures in Systematic Theology, Henry Thiessen explains the concept of prevenient grace:1

All Christians are agreed that God has decreed to save men, but not all are agreed as to how He does this. We must, in this connection, particularly remember that God must take the initiative in salvation, that man, even in his present helpless state, is really responsible, and that God’s decrees are not based on caprice or arbitrary will, but on His wise and holy counsel. To our mind, the following things seem to be involved in the decree to save sinners:

The freedom of man

God has a very high regard for freedom. He could have made the creature an automon, but He preferred to make him capable of choosing whether or not he would obey and serve Him. The idea of freedom appears in two forms in Scripture.

On the one hand, freedom is thought of as simply the ability to carry out the dictates of one’s nature, whether as that of a holy unfallen being or as that of a sinful and fallen one. On the other hand, freedom is conceived of also as the ability to act contrary to one’s nature. Originally the creature (both angels and man) had freedom in both senses of the term. It had the ability not to sin and also the ability to sin. With the fall, the creature lost the ability not to sin (Gen 6:5; Job 14:14; Jer 13:23, 17:9; Rom 3:10-18, 8:5-8). It is now free only in the sense that it is able to do so as its fallen nature suggests.

Since man neither looks to God for deliverance, nor has any claim on God’s help, he is in a pitiable condition indeed (Rom 7:15-24). We, therefore, ask, How can he help living in sin? How can he ever choose contrary to his evil nature?

Prevenient grace

The upshot of the matter is that God must take the initiative if man is to be saved. God cannot relax His law simply because man is no longer able to obey it. Now all Calvinists believe in common grace. They teach that, since the race fell in Adam and lost all claims to consideration before God, we have in the blessings of life, health, friends fruitful seasons, prosperity, the delay of punishment, the presence and influence of the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the Church, manifestation of the common grace of God. Common grace is not sufficient for salvation, yet it reveals the goodness of God to all sinful creatures.

This is true, but why stop there?

We believe that the common grace of God also restores to the sinner the ability to make a favorable response to God. In other words, we hold that God, in His grace, makes it possible for all men to be saved.

That God does take the initiative in salvation is evident from His dealings with Adam and Eve after they had fallen (Gen 3:8-9). It is also evident from the teachings of Scripture in general (Isa 59:15-16; John 15:16). Paul says: “Not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Rom 2:4). This is a conative idea: it tries to lead thee to repentance.

Paul also says: “For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men” (Titus 2:11). This results in the freeing of the will in the matter of salvation. That the will has been so freed is implied in the various exhortations to turn to God (Prov 1:23; Isa 31:6; Ezek 14:6, 18:32; Joel 2:13-14; Mt 18:3; Acts 3:19), to repent (1 Kings 8:47; Mt 3:2; Mk 1:15; Lk 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38, 17:30), and to believe (2 Chron 20:20; Isa 43:10; John 6:29, 14:1; Acts 16:31; Phil 1:29; 1 Jn 3:23).

But we should note exactly what this means and what it does not mean. It does not mean that prevenient grace enables a man to change the permanent bent of his will in the direction of God; nor that he can quit all sin and make himself acceptable to God. It does mean that he can make an initial response to God, as a result of which God can give him repentance and faith. He can say: “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned” (Jer 31:18-19; cf. Lam 5:21; Ps 80:3, 19; Ps 85:4).

If he can say this much, then he has had a measure of freedom restored to him; then he can in some measure act contrary to his fallen nature; and then he becomes doubly responsible, even in his present helpless state. And, if he will say this much, then God will turn him, grant him repentance (Acts 5:31, 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25) and faith (Rom 12:3; 2 Pet 1:1). The common grace of God is now seen to be intended to induce men to make this response.

Thiessen goes on to briefly discuss election based on foreknowledge of response to prevenient grace. We close our excerpt with the first portion of Thiessen’s discussion on “special or saving grace.”

We have seen that prevenient grace makes it possible for a man to respond favorably to God; but it does not compel him to do so. Because of it he can say: “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned” (Jer 31:18-19); in other words, he can now indicate some measure of desire for God. This positive response does not yet save him: it merely gives God the “go” signal, as we would say in this day of traffic signals. There are further conditions to meet; and in response to man’s “go” signal, God can now enable man to meet them. These conditions are, as we have already intimated, repentance and faith.

Notes:

1 Henry Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 154-157.  

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Aaron Blumer's picture

I'm not persuaded of the Arminian view of Prev. Grace, but I have to appreciate what the best of the Arminian thinkers were/are trying to do. The best of them want to take a position that answers well to all of the Scriptures that relate to the topic, that doesn't make God "the author of evil/sin," that avoids Pelagianism, and that seems to fit our experience of how people come into the Faith.

Roger Olsen is a helpful contemporary representative of classical Arminianism. But I haven't been able to find a clear statement from him as to the scope and timing of God's enabling grace. Maybe someone who has read more of Olsen can point me to it.

Here's a helpful excerpt from Olson, in a 2012 post at Patheos: Prevenient Grace: Why It Matters

Calvinists also believe in prevenient grace. “Prevenient grace” is simply a term for the grace of God that goes before, prepares the way, enables, assists the sinner’s repentance and faith (conversion). According to classical Calvinism this prevenient grace is always efficacious and given only to the elect through the gospel; it effects conversion. According to classical Arminianism it is an operation of the Holy Spirit that frees the sinner’s will from bondage to sin and convicts, calls, illumines and enables the sinner to respond to the gospel call with repentance and faith (conversion).

Calvinists and Arminians agree, against Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, that the sinner’s will is so depraved and bound to sin that it cannot respond positively to the gospel call without supernatural grace.

Emphasis mine.

TylerR's picture

Aaron wrote:

But I haven't been able to find a clear statement from him as to the scope and timing of God's enabling grace.

Don't worry; I haven't even been able to find a clear statement in Scripture about the very idea of prevenient grace! 

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Aaron Blumer's picture

As Olson has defined it (enabling, drawing, etc.), it's not hard to find in the NT. The more difficult part is the who, when  and how. I'd like to see his thoughts on that.

dcbii's picture

TylerR wrote:

Don't worry; I haven't even been able to find a clear statement in Scripture about the very idea of prevenient grace! 

For starters, how about Titus 2:11 - "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men".  I'm sure there will be plenty of argument about why this doesn't mean what seems to be clear in the verse.  But I can certainly see how the idea of prevenient grace could be gleaned from scripture.

Dave Barnhart

Aaron Blumer's picture

In this post, Olson is reviewing an Arminian book on prevenient grace, and disagrees with the author a bit:

Shelton strongly affirms the idea that through the cross event all people—past, present, and future—receive sufficient assisting but resistible grace to believe and be saved. While I recognize that many of my fellow Arminians are convinced of this, I’m not as certain of it. Romans 10:17: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” It seems to me that even if some measure of prevenient grace is given by God to all people, sufficient faith to believe and receive the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ is especially tied to the gospel message and its proclamation in some form. Link

I recall seeing similar vagueness in Arminius on this point. I was not able to determine if his view was that all who hear the gospel receive sufficient grace to believe the moment they hear it, but that seems implied by some of what he says and so also with Olson.

Whatever else one might say about this view, it is certainly not accurate to call it semi-pelagian.

Later in the same post he writes. 

With Calvinists I can affirm that we are all spiritually dead apart from supernatural grace, but I add only that 1) even the spiritually dead possess the formal image of God, and 2) supernatural grace heals that deadness so that sinners can at least make a decision to repent and trust in God and Christ or not.

I appreciate the way he tries to only disagree about what is genuinely a point of disagreement.

Ed Vasicek's picture

I tend to think that, in a sense, prevenient grace boils down to "everyone can believe and can make this choice in contradiction to their nature," but I also believe that "no one will believe, given that choice."

To my way of thinking, election is very provable, Scripturally.  And the call to believe is offered legitimately to all because they can, but they won't.  It takes regeneration to make them want to believe.  So prevenient grace, like unlimited atonement, is another argument of condemnation for the lost. Not that God needs another argument, but God does things lavishly and with overkill quite often.

2 Thessalonians 2:12, "in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness."

If the grounds for condemnation in 2 Thess. 2 is not believing the truth (i.e., that Christ died to atone for my sins), then you could see another argument, namely, you chose to not believe but could have.

this postulated understanding may not be correct, but we have often too easily (IMO) acknowledged that man is responsible without articulating (in a convincing way) how this reasonably possible in light of election.  Prevenient grace coupled with election (which is contrary to Thiessen who rejects election) might be an interesting match up.

 

 

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Paul Henebury's picture

Thiessen is an interesting choice.  His section on soteriology is the worse in the book.  If I recall he sails close to semi-pelagianism, which is not the classic Arminian position (though Doerksen made them more Calvinist).  Anyhow, for me election is real, but its mechanism is a mystery.  A sinner will not come to Christ unless God calls him (i.e. convicts and illuminates), and certain formulations of prevenient grace would tie into that view.  That said, many Arminians seem to teach that prevenient grace is given to all men, which I just don't get. 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Aaron Blumer's picture

Thiessen was the doctrines textbook at BJU when I was there. Undergrad. I'm sure they are using something better now. I seem to recall a prof or two who also felt the book was weak on soteriology. 

As for the perennial debates, I find it interesting that there is a large non-semipelagian segment that doesn't generally notice how much they agree on, because they're divided over terminology.

I don't want to trivialize terminology, but so many who agree that an act of divine grace is required before any sinner ever chooses to believe, disagree about what that gracious intervention should be called....with a degree of passion that often seems disproportionate. 

I sometimes wonder if a completely fresh articulation might be healthy.

TylerR's picture

I wish I could say I had a profound and compelling reason for choosing him for this excerpt. The truth is that it was 9:30 in the evening, I had just arrived home from teaching children's bible club, and I knew I wanted to offer an Arminian perspective on soteriology, and Thiessen was the first to come to mind ... 

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

ScottS's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

Thiessen is an interesting choice.  His section on soteriology is the worse in the book.  If I recall he sails close to semi-pelagianism, which is not the classic Arminian position (though Doerksen made them more Calvinist). 

However, Roger Olson in his Arminian Theology views Thiessen as classical Arminian. But it seems for Olson that prevenient grace being universal or restricted to gospel call is not a clear defining point of classical Arminianism. Because I do not currently have access to Olson's book to reference directly, I quote from my dissertation summary (p.52 n.54, carried over from p.51) with some additional information in brackets added here for clarity:

Roger Olson distinctly argues Thiessen was “classical Arminian” based off Thiessen’s 1949 work [Lectures in Systematic Theology (1949; Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1963; prior to Doerksen's getting hold of it and changing some theology*] and specific position on prevenient grace (Arminian Theology[:Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006)], 42–43). However, what is not quite certain from Olson’s information is whether classical Arminian always holds to universal prevenient grace. His categorizing Thiessen as classical implies it, and his categorizing of John Wesley as classical (169), who he recognizes as also holding to universality of that grace (167), also implies it. Yet Olson considers Simon Episcopius to be a classical Arminian (169), but he did not hold to universal prevenient grace (167), rather believing prevenient grace only came “when the Word of God is heard” (166). Olson also notes, “Arminius left this question open” regarding universality, but “tended to restrict the reach of prevenient grace to the
scope of the evangelized” (167).

Regarding the * on Doerksen's edits noted above, the paragraph prior to the one above in my dissertation I said this:

In the original edition, Thiessen is very universal about prevenient grace (155-156, 230-231). In the revised edition, Doerksen takes liberty, both steering the conversation away from Thiessen’s original view of conditional election to an unconditional election (106-108; cf. 155-156 in original), and in simply eliminating whole sections of Thiessen’s discussion (163-164; cf. 229-232 in the original, where most has been removed by Doerksen). Thiessen classifies the universal prevenient grace as a common grace (155), which is a category of graces he does deem secured by the atonement (330).

So I don't know which version Tyler used, Thiessen originally or the Doerksen's edits. Well, actually, his footnote says it is a 1949 original, so that is good.

Regarding

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Roger Olsen is a helpful contemporary representative of classical Arminianism. But I haven't been able to find a clear statement from him as to the scope and timing of God's enabling grace. Maybe someone who has read more of Olsen can point me to it.

I seem to recall that Olson's book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities does more explicitly show him taking a view that prevenient grace comes at the time of the gospel witness, but since I do not have a copy to look at right now, I cannot confirm or guide to where that was, but if you have not looked at it, you might get a hold of a copy.

BEGIN UNRELATED GRIPE: I hate the fact that Sharper Iron's "blockquote" feature italicizes all the text of the quote. I know italicizing has become somewhat "common" on web page representations of quotes (it may even be the default of the <blockquote> HTML tag in browsers), but academically, it creates issues because italics should only be used for emphasis and styling of titles to books and other major works, so it creates confusion to have whole sentences of text in italics. I would love to see a site wide, style fix to prevent blockquotes from doing that. The gray box and indent is enough of a style change to distinguish it as a quote. END GRIPE.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
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Ken S's picture

In his review of Prevenient Grace: God's Provision for Fallen Humanity, Olson gives somewhat of a statement of his position:

Quote:

Shelton strongly affirms the idea that through the cross event all people—past, present, and future—receive sufficient assisting but resistible grace to believe and be saved. While I recognize that many of my fellow Arminians are convinced of this, I’m not as certain of it. Romans 10:17: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” It seems to me that even if some measure of prevenient grace is given by God to all people, sufficient faith to believe and receive the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ is especially tied to the gospel message and its proclamation in some form. I would prefer to say that the gospel message is made available to many people in some form, even to those who are not reached by Christian evangelism.

 

And in the comments section he adds:

Quote:

I wonder, though, whether God is an equal opportunity savior or whether he depends on us (the church) to disseminate prevenient grace by means of gospel preaching (and other evangelistic means)? I think Wesley would have agreed with all that you say here. I'm just not sure prevenient grace is automatically universal.

You can read the entire review here.

Aaron Blumer's picture

It's relatively easy to edit the theme so quote blocks don't italicize. Unfortunately, that causes other problems. One of them is that blockquote doesn't indent properly when it appears next to an image in a teaser... So there's little visual clue that it's a quote in that situation. There are are various solutions, but they all involve tradeoffs, unfortunately. This is one reason italicized blockquotes are common on the web. 

... having said that  an idea just hit me that I don't think I've tried before. It may show up in our next style update.

Ok...so back to the real topic...

Thanks to Dr Combs for the article link above. Interesting read. It seems like the question of Original Sin and imputation always ends up connected to the question of how grace operates to bring sinners to life.

And the connection makes sense. What one needs to get out of the mess one is in depends on the nature of the mess. 

David R. Brumbelow's picture

Article Eight: The Free Will of Man

We affirm that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God's gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

We deny that the decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person. We deny that there is an "effectual call" for certain people that is different from a "general call" to any person who hears and understands the Gospel.

Genesis 1:26-28; Numbers 21:8-9; Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua 24:15; 1 Samuel 8:1-22; 2 Samuel 24:13-14; Esther 3:12-14; Matthew 7:13-14; 11:20-24; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 9:23-24; 13:34; 15:17-20; Romans 10:9-10; Titus 2:12; Revelation 22:17

-A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of  God's Plan of Salvation, May 30, AD 2012

http://gulfcoastpastor.blogspot.com/2012/06/traditional-southern-baptist...

David R. Brumbelow

Aaron Blumer's picture

As Olson pointed out, by failing to include any mention prevenient grace, the statement is not quite classical Arminiansim.

But without at least that much, it's hard to see how the intent is not semi-pelagian. 

JohnBrian's picture

We affirm that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God's gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

Here the Traditionalists (as they like to be called) affirm that the carnal unregenerate man has the ability to choose against his nature. The Calvinist affirms that man has freedom to choose but ONLY within his nature, in agreement with Romans 8:7

We deny that the decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person.

Calvinists agree! The inclusion of this sentence shows that the Traditionalists either do not understand what they are attempting to refute, or are determined to misrepresent the opposing view.

We deny that there is an "effectual call" for certain people that is different from a "general call" to any person who hears and understands the Gospel.

This shows they believe that Christ's atonement only makes salvation possible, but fails to secure the salvation of anyone. 

Here is Spurgeon from Sermon 181 titled Particular Redemption

We are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it, we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, “No, certainly not.” We ask them the next question—Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer, “No.” They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say, “No, Christ has died that any man may be saved if”—and then follow certain conditions of salvation. We say, then, we will just go back to the old statement—Christ did not die so as beyond a doubt to secure the salvation of anybody, did He? You must say, “No,” you are obliged to say so, for you believe that even after a man has been pardoned, he may yet fall from grace and perish. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as to infallibly secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ’s death, we say, “No, my dear sir, it is you that do it. We say Christ so died that He infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your
atonement, you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.”

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dmyers's picture

It simply does not matter -- logically, philosophically, theologically, or scripturally -- whether there is such a thing as prevenient grace at all, whether it is universal, or whether it is associated only with preaching.  If A and B both receive prevenient grace that enables them to choose contrary to their nature (whether because it's universal or because they both heard the gospel preached), what is the sole difference between A and B when A responds to the gospel and B does not?  According to Thiessen/Olson/Arminians, both were too depraved in themselves to respond, but both were enabled by prevenient grace (God's activity) to respond if they chose to.  Without any additional activity by God, A chose to respond; B did not.  A is different from B in some critical way -- he is smarter, wiser, more self-aware, more spiritually sensitive, less sinful, more righteous, less prideful, more humble . . . something.  Where the rubber met the road, A had what it took and B did not.  (No worries about God's fairness to B -- he never deserved whatever saving opportunity he had.)  Arminians will deny this vehemently, but nonsensically:  A has something to boast about (whether very quietly or very loudly), something to be self-satisfied about; he did something, or he was something, or his character was such, or any other formulation of his difference from B, but in some critical way, large or miniscule, his choice/decision/response/faith (whatever) made the difference between his salvation and B's damnation.  Unavoidable conclusion.  Flatly contrary to the Bible.

I suspect that in fact the Arminians believe the critical difference between A and B resides in A without the construct of prevenient grace, but they can't bring themselves to say so because it's that much more obvious that they're contradicting Scripture.  But the concept of prevenient grace doesn't solve the problem; it merely (briefly) delays it.

Aaron Blumer's picture

I can't find anything to disagree with in your post other than the last paragraph. 

It's never been clear to me what the Arminians are thinking when confronted with that point, but everything I've seen suggests they sincerely believe their solution to be *more* biblical than the alternatives. 

David R. Brumbelow's picture

Article Six: The Election to Salvation

We affirm that, in reference to salvation, election speaks of God's eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are His by repentance and faith.

We deny that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.

Genesis 1:26-28; 12:1-3; Exodus 19:6; Jeremiah 31:31-33; Matthew 24:31; 25:34; John 6:70; 15:16; Romans 8:29-30, 33;9:6-8; 11:7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2:11-22; 3:1-11; 4:4-13; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 1 Peter 1:1-2; 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 3:9; Revelation 7:9-10

-A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of  God's Plan of Salvation, May 30, AD 2012

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Charles H. Spurgeon ever preached on 1 John 2:2. 

David R. Brumbelow

dmyers's picture

I appreciate what you're saying, and the first part of my last paragraph probably isn't fair to at least some.  As a former Arminian (third generation Nazarene), I felt more leeway than I otherwise would have, and perhaps that was presumptuous rather than knowledgeable.  I do think that the spiritual explanation for a belief in and a defense of synergistic salvation is pride, often or usually unrecognized. But we're all prey to that sin in a million ways.

dmyers's picture

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

Article Six: The Election to Salvation

We affirm that, in reference to salvation, election speaks of God's eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are His by repentance and faith.

We deny that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.

Genesis 1:26-28; 12:1-3; Exodus 19:6; Jeremiah 31:31-33; Matthew 24:31; 25:34; John 6:70; 15:16; Romans 8:29-30, 33;9:6-8; 11:7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2:11-22; 3:1-11; 4:4-13; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 1 Peter 1:1-2; 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 3:9; Revelation 7:9-10

-A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of  God's Plan of Salvation, May 30, AD 2012

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Charles H. Spurgeon ever preached on 1 John 2:2. 

David R. Brumbelow

The Statement you're quoting really isn't something one should rely on.  It has no official status, it's badly inaccurate historically (for example, what it calls the "traditional" SBC understanding was adopted in 1963 as the denomination was going liberal, before the conservative resurgence), and it denies (presumably due merely to sloppiness) the doctrine of original sin (and hence is -- again, presumably not really intentionally -- actually semi-Pelagian).  https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-faqs-southern-baptists-ca...

David R. Brumbelow's picture

The Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of  God's Plan of Salvation (TS) was made in 2012, not 1963.  It was endorsed by a number of conservatives in the SBC, not moderates or liberals. 

Contrary to the accusations of many (not all) Calvinists, the TS is not Pelagian nor Semi-Pelagian.  Anyone can see that if they know what Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian really mean and actually, fairly read the Traditional Statement. 

“According to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the so-called Semipelagianism of the 4th and 5th centuries ‘maintained that the first steps toward the Christian life were ordinarily taken by the human will and that Grace supervened only later.’ As recent scholars have noted, this definition needs to be refined in light of the historical evidence. But setting that aside, let’s go with this definition for a moment, since this is, generally speaking, the way the term is used by many today.

By that definition, Baptist theologians Malcolm Yarnell and Adam Harwood have demonstrated from the language of the TS itself that it clearly denies Semipelagianism. The Statement affirms the priority of divine grace in nearly every article, including Article Two, which is the focus of the Semipelagian charge.”  -David L. Allen

https://soteriology101.com/2018/10/08/dr-david-l-allen-what-semipelagian...

David R. Brumbelow

dmyers's picture

OK.  I didn't know how familiar you were with the Statement's history and the criticisms of it.  I get it -- you're committed to the Statement, so no reason to re-direct this thread to that topic.  One point on the original sin issue though (and if it's the Semi-Pelagian label that's your main sticking point, I don't care if we just call it the original sin issue).  The Statement's Article Two:  The Sinfulness of Man says:

"We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person's sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.  We deny that Adam's sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person's free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit's drawing through the Gospel."

The italicized sentence is a real problem, both biblically and as a representation about SBC doctrine (or Baptist doctrine generally), whether you call it historical, "traditional," majority, or whatever.  I grew up in the Nazarene church (Arminian), graduated BJU, spent decades after that in IFB churches, and spent additional years as attender or member at several SBC churches.  In none of those environments did any pastor or teacher deny that we're all guilty in Adam before we have personally sinned (which of course happens immediately anyway).  Do you agree with that portion of the Statement, or do you agree that on that particular issue it goes too far?

TylerR's picture

Here is the disturbing part for me, from Thiessen (above):

We have seen that prevenient grace makes it possible for a man to respond favorably to God; but it does not compel him to do so. Because of it he can say: “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned” (Jer 31:18-19); in other words, he can now indicate some measure of desire for God. This positive response does not yet save him: it merely gives God the “go” signal, as we would say in this day of traffic signals. There are further conditions to meet; and in response to man’s “go” signal, God can now enable man to meet them. These conditions are, as we have already intimated, repentance and faith.

Prevenient grace is the mechanism which Arminian theologians think is necessary to make a Gospel call meaningful and legitimate. My issue is that I don't see Scripture to support this concept of prevenient grace, either in the OT or the NT. I recently bought a book specifically on prevenient grace, but haven't dug into it, yet. I've read Olson. 

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

David R. Brumbelow's picture

Some believe a man is guilty of sin when he is conceived, or born.  He is directly guilty, because of Adam’s sin. 

Others believe a man is born with a sin nature because of Adam, but is not guilty of sin until he actually commits sin.  They point to Scripture about a man not being held guilty of his father’s sin (Deuteronomy 24:16; etc.), and other reasons. 

Either view fits into orthodox Christianity.   

David R. Brumbelow

josh p's picture

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

Some believe a man is guilty of sin when he is conceived, or born.  He is directly guilty, because of Adam’s sin. 

Others believe a man is born with a sin nature because of Adam, but is not guilty of sin until he actually commits sin.  They point to Scripture about a man not being held guilty of his father’s sin (Deuteronomy 24:16; etc.), and other reasons. 

Either view fits into orthodox Christianity.   

David R. Brumbelow

I am careful not to charge Arminians as semi-Pelagians but the latter view seems to be solidly in that camp.  

Aaron Blumer's picture

I n my comment on the Statement, I worded my reference to "semi-pelagian" very carefully on purpose. I didn't say it was semi-pelagian. Rather, I observed that it's difficult to see how it is not. The quoted portion on original sin, doesn't relieve the difficulty for me. Maybe it does for others.

I accept that those who claim the Statement don't intend to take a semi-pelagian position, but I can't seem to squint hard enough to see the difference. Assuming the problem is me, maybe someone can clarify some distinction(s) I'm missing.

Meanwhile, Dr Combs' article has a table that seemed to lay out the major variations on original sin/depravity. I'll give it another look. 

josh p's picture

Aaron, just so you know I wasn’t referencing you post. I was just surprised to see David’s statement. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

josh p wrote:

Aaron, just so you know I wasn’t referencing you post. I was just surprised to see David’s statement. 

Understood. Thanks. I was responding to David's post as well. (Maybe in a future site update we should bring back threading. It can be just as confusing though) 

dmyers's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

I can't find anything to disagree with in your post other than the last paragraph. 

It's never been clear to me what the Arminians are thinking when confronted with that point, but everything I've seen suggests they sincerely believe their solution to be *more* biblical than the alternatives. 

Dr. Combs put it more gracefully than I did, in the conclusion of his article:  "Prevenient grace seems to be more of a theological necessity in the Arminian system than demonstrable teaching of Scripture."

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