50.What does the term “prevenient grace” mean, and is it biblical?

“Prevenient Grace” is a term that was used in the Remonstrance, a seventeenth-century document formulated by Jacobus Arminius and others, to protest the Calvinistic soteriology of the Reformers. The term itself simply means “grace that comes before”; but the Remonstrance cast it in terms of the grace of God given to all mankind without exception, which enables all men to respond to God's invitation and believe in the gospel. Whether or not anyone in particular does believe in the gospel, then, is conditioned upon whether he chooses to improve upon the grace which has been given indiscriminately to all. Prevenient grace, therefore, is not irresistible for the elect; it is merely persuasive and enabling, but may freely be accepted or rejected by the arbitrary choice of its subjects. This doctrine of resistible, indiscriminate prevenient grace for all men is held today in many Arminian/Wesleyan theologies and denominations throughout Christianity.

However, the doctrine of prevenient grace, as it is explained in Arminian theology, finds no support from scripture. It is true, of course, that the regenerating grace of God must come before faith, and so in that sense it is prevenient; however, this biblical prevenient grace goes far beyond the Arminian conception; when God grants his quickening grace to unbelievers, it does not merely give them the option to be alive – it makes them alive (Eph. 2:1-5; Ezek. 37:3-6, 11-14; John 1:11-13, 3:3-8; 5:21; Jam. 1:18; 1 Pet, 1:3; 1 John 5:1); it does not merely grant them the ability to come – it irresistibly draws them all without exception (John 6:37-40, 45; Psalm 65:4 Rom. 9:15); it does not merely make them able to choose good if they improve upon it – it causes them to walk in God's statues (Deut. 30:6; Ezek. 11:19-20; 36:26-27; Jer. 31:33; 32:40). Against the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace, the bible teaches that there are only two classes of people: those whom the Father has chosen and given to the Son, all of whom without exception will come to him (John 6:37-40, 45); and those whom the Father has not given to the Son, who are not of his sheep, and who therefore cannot believe (John 6:65; 10:26; 12:37-41). There is no room for a third class of people who have been given God's drawing grace but who do not improve upon it. Furthermore, the doctrine of prevenient grace is specifically argued against by the apostle in 1 Cor. 4:7, which asks rhetorically, “Who made you to differ?”. Prevenient grace says that we make ourselves to differ from our unsaved neighbors, by choosing to improve upon the grace that God gave to us all without exception; hence, it is in manifest contradiction to this passage.

Further Studies:
A Short Response to the Arminian Doctrine of Prevenient Grace by John Hendryx
Does Scripture Teach Prevenient Grace in the Wesleyan Sense? by Thomas R. Schreiner
Arminians and Prevenient Grace by Sam Storms

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