Redundancy of Arminianism’s “Prevenient Grace”: Response to Roger Olson’s critique of the “Traditional Statement” of the SBC.

To Listen to the Podcast on Prevenient Grace and Pelagianism CLICK HERE.

 I know I am a “Johnny-come-lately” to many of these discussions, however since they are somewhat timeless in content I’m not sure what a few months (or even years) matters all that much.  However, I do strongly feel this particular issue has significant implications in our discussion over soteriology in Baptist circles.

I have much respect for the scholarship and work of Dr. Roger Olson. I have used his resources many times in my own studies and find him to be a thoughtful and thoroughly biblical scholar in all respects. He unashamedly wears the label “Arminian” and defends his views as well as I have ever seen. However, I do have a small bone to pick with his teaching on “Prevenient Grace.” Dr. Olson clearly explains this perspective:

 “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. [LINK]

Notice that Dr. Olson frames the discussion in such a way as to set up “supernatural grace” as separate from “the gospel call,” as if the “graciously prevenient” work of God cannot actually be the work of the gospel itself. Maybe he does this because that is what some of the influential theologians have done in the past, but I see no valid biblical reason to frame the debate in this manner. Just because history has tended to paint theologians in one of the two “classical” camps does not mean most scholars have actually landed with both feet firmly planted in either of those actual camps.

What must be noted is that the gospel itself meets EVERY needed characteristic of this so-called “prevenient grace.” Using Dr. Olson’s own definition: The gospel goes before, prepares the way, enables and assists the sinner’s repentance and faith (Romans 10:14-17). The gospel is inspired, written, carried, proclaimed and preserved by the direct activity of the Holy Spirit Himself. What more must He do to enable the lost who hear it to respond to it? Must we further cloud the issue by suggesting that God, at some unknown point in the life of everyone, has to move in some other gracious way to enable all people to respond to the already gracious, powerful, Holy Spirit wrought truth of the gospel? What text necessitates such complex theological explanations? Why create a redundant theological term when the biblical word is more than sufficient? The GOSPEL is God’s enabling grace and the ONLY reason some do not have “ears to hear” is either because (1) the gospel had not been fulfilled and sent out into all the world yet (as would be the case prior to Christ being raised up – John 12:32), or (2) some have been blinded or calloused against it (John 12:39-41). There is nothing biblically which suggests men are born in such condition that would prevent them from responding to the double edge sword of the Holy Spirit’s soul piercing gospel truth (Heb. 4:12).

In another article Dr. Olson specifically addresses the “Traditional Statement” produced by many respected theologians associated with the SBC. The statement, according to Dr. Olson’s own article, reads as follows:

 Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man

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.

Genesis 3:15-24; 6:5; Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 6:5, 7:15-16;53:6; Jeremiah 17:5,9, 31:29-30; Ezekiel 18:19-20; Romans 1:18-32; 3:9-18, 5:12, 6:23; 7:9; Matthew 7:21-23; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 6:9-10;15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27-28; Revelation 20:11-15” (italics added)

This article seems to support the perspective I expounded upon above to which Dr. Olson takes to task by stating:

A classical Arminian would never deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will.  Classical Arminianism (as I have demonstrated in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities) strongly affirms the bondage of the will to sin before and apart from prevenient grace’s liberating work. Now, perhaps this is the point of the statement’s mention of “the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.” But that, too, can be interpreted in a semi-Pelagian way.

Does that mean it can also be interpreted in a “non-semi-Pelagian way?” If so, then I vote for that option and without the added redundancy of classical Arminianism’s so-called “prevenient grace.” The GOSPEL is more than sufficient. We do not need another term to muddy the theological waters in my humble opinion. Dr. Olson continues:

 Semi-Pelagians such as Philip Limborch and (at least in some of his writings) Charles Finney affirmed the necessity of the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s enlightening work through it for salvation. What made them semi-Pelagian was their denial or neglect of the divine initiative in salvation (except the gospel message).

EXCEPT THE GOSPEL MESSAGE?!? That is kind of a huge exception to leave hanging there in a parenthetical afterthought. It is the GOSPEL–the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16), the very appeal of Christ Himself for all to be reconciled from the fall (2 Cor. 5:20). Can we…or should we “EXCEPT it” from being “the divine initiative in salvation” without very clear biblical cause?

The problem with this Southern Baptist statement is its neglect of emphasis on the necessity of the prevenience of supernatural grace for the exercise of a good will toward God (including acceptance of the gospel by faith). If the authors believe in that cardinal biblical truth, they need to spell it out more clearly.

 It seems only to be unclear to one who presumes that an additional work of supernatural grace is needed above that which is accomplished by the Gospel itself, which begs the question of our disagreement: Is another work of divine grace, besides that which the gospel accomplishes, needed to enable the lost to respond? Show me in the Bible where such additional grace is said to be needed and I’ll be the first to recant my perspective on this. But, we must be careful in this discussion not to misapply texts having to do with God purposefully and judicially blinding the truth of the gospel from large numbers of Israelites.  Dr. Olson certainly would not want to make the same hermeneutical mistake as the Calvinist on this point.  Dr. Olson continues:

And they need to delete the sentence that denies the incapacitation of free will due to Adam’s sin. Leaving the statement as it stands, without a clear affirmation of the bondage of the will to sin apart from supernatural grace, inevitably hands the Calvinists ammunition to use against non-Calvinist Baptists.

With all due respect to Dr. Olson (and I really mean that when I say it), but the classical Arminians are strange bed-fellows with the Calvinists when it comes to their individualizing of the text (see Brian Abascaino’s work on the “Corporate View“) and this particular error of separating the grace from its means. God’s gracious means to enable faith IS the Gospel. The TRUTH will set you free (John 8:32). The very words that Christ spoke and gave us to proclaim are “spirit and life” (John 6:63). Faith comes by hearing God’s gospel truth (Romans 10:14).  Dr. Olson continues:

It doesn’t matter what “most Baptists” believe or what is the “traditional Southern Baptist understanding.” For a long time I’ve been stating that most American Christians, including most Baptists, are semi-Pelagian, not Arminian and not merely non-Calvinist.

Likewise, it does not matter what classical Arminians believe or how ancient councils have framed this discussion. It is never right to label and dismiss people with manmade Catholic titles of heresy, especially when we all deny the heretical component of that original doctrine (i.e the denial of the sin nature and our need for a Savior from conception).

Calvinists and Arminians stand together, with Scripture, against semi-Pelagianism. (Romans 3:11 and 1 Corinthians 4:7 to name just two passages.)

Regarding Romans 3:11, the teaching that “no one seeks God,” does not prove that no one can respond to God’s gracious means to seek and save us. And the context of the 1 Corinthians 4:7 passage ironically warns us against saying you are of Paul or Apollos (i.e. of Calvin or Arminius) because “what do you have that you were not given?” How that supports the concept that the Gospel itself is not a sufficient work of supernatural enabling grace is beyond me. In a follow up comment, Dr. Olson gives this less than helpful “litmus test” to determine if one falls into the heretic category:

The litmus test is this: Do you believe the initiative in salvation (speaking here of the individual’s salvation) is God’s or the human person’s? Can a sinner exercise a good will toward God apart from special assisting grace? If the answer to the first question is “God’s” and to the second is “no,” then I will count you an Arminian, not a semi-Pelagian.

Of course I believe God takes the initiative in salvation. He takes the initiative by sending the Law, His Son, the Spirit, the apostles, the Scriptures, and His Bride filled with Holy Spirit filled messengers to carry his powerful gospel appeal to every living creature. So, would I pass his first test question?

To the doctor’s second inquiry, I would quickly say “no, a sinner cannot exercise faith apart from hearing the gracious truth of the gospel appeal.” Faith does come by hearing, after all. How will they believe in one whom they have not heard (Rom. 10)?   So, would I pass his second test question, or can we assume the good doctor forgot his parenthetical exception of the gracious gospel truth leaving me to fail his heretical litmus test?

Dr. Olson, you know I love you, but consider dropping the redundant term of this so-called “prevenient grace.” It is not a term we find in the Bible, which does not necessarily invalidate it, but why not stick with the biblical terminology? Leave Arminius and become a GOSPEL loving “BIBLICIST” along with the rest of us non-Calvinistic “Southern Baptists.”  😉

To Listen to the Podcast on Prevenient Grace and Pelagianism CLICK HERE.

33 thoughts on “Redundancy of Arminianism’s “Prevenient Grace”: Response to Roger Olson’s critique of the “Traditional Statement” of the SBC.

  1. Pastor Flowers writes, “What must be noted is that the gospel itself meets EVERY needed characteristic of this so-called “prevenient grace.”…What more must He do to enable the lost who hear it to respond to it? Must we further cloud the issue by suggesting that God, at some unknown point in the life of everyone, has to move in some other gracious way to enable all people to respond to the already gracious, powerful, Holy Spirit wrought truth of the gospel?”

    Do you see your comments above being substantially different from what is attributed to Pelagians – on the specific issue of one’s response to the gospel granting that you would not hold that a person can resist temptation to sin except as the gospel empowers him?

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    1. I’m not sure what you mean by “granting that you would not hold that a person can resist temptation to sin except as the gospel empowers him?”

      I do find my view substantially different from what is attributed to Pelagians, because Pelagians are said to have denied original sin, and thus they affirm man is born innocent. I believe men are born in need of a savior and under the fallen condition. I just believe the grace of the gospel is more powerful than that fallen condition of man, thus all those who hear it may respond to it. The only reason one may not “HEAR” is because they are judicially hardened or blinded from hearing (i.e. John 12:39-41; Acts 28:27-28; Romans 11, etc)

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      1. So, what I understand you to be saying is that the grace of the gospel is powerful, so all who hear the gospel should be saved with the exception of those who have been judicially hardened.

        You have mentioned judicial hardening before. Have you, or someone else, addressed the idea of judicial hardening elsewhere? I still think that would be a good read.

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      2. I would say “all who hear the gospel COULD be saved with the exception of those who have been judicially hardened.” The gospel enables them to respond to its very appeal, but they may also ‘trade the truth in for lies’ and grow calloused.

        Only those already calloused and then judicially hardened (like Israel – see Acts 28:27-28, Jn 12:39-41) would not be enabled to believe the clear gospel truth.

        Does that help clarify?

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      3. Well, not as clear as I want. You write, “all who hear the gospel COULD be saved with the exception of those who have been judicially hardened.”

        You write, “…with the exception of those who have been judicially hardened,” and seem to be identifying a group of people who cannot be saved even if they hear the gospel. The Calvinist would label these people as Totally Depraved.

        The rest of the people who hear the gospel “could” be saved. The issue here is one of free will. If you hold that this group has free will, then they “should” all be saved as a “free” will would (1) perceive a choice – eternal life or eternal death, (2) understand that eternal life is a great and positive benefit while eternal death is an opposite negative benefit, and (3) be rational creatures who make rational decisions. Given the enormous disparity between eternal life and eternal death, the only rational decision is to choose eternal life. It would be irrational for a person to choose death marking such people as judicially hardened and unable to respond to the gospel. Unless you restrict what it means to have a “free” will, I don’t see how you can have people with free will that can hear the gospel and then reject that gospel – unless those who reject the gospel did not really have a “free” will (they must actually have been judicially hardened).

        I think you need to flesh out your concept of “free will.” (not necessarily here but maybe in a future blog)

        I also think you need to flesh out how some people are judicially hardened while all others are not as all sin and no particular sin makes one person more evil than another. (again, in a future blog)

        I don’t see how the system you are describing can distinguish itself from the Calvinist system – you have the Totally Depraved (judicially hardened) and those not judicially hardened which surely must reflect God’s grace and irresistible unless you find a way for people with free will to make irrational decisions given the nature of the choice presented by the gospel.

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      4. 1. Those ‘judicially hardened’ are not born as such, like those in the Calvinistic system (totally depraved).

        2. People become calloused or hardened after CHOOSING of their own free choosing to reject the clear revelation of God. God may, if it serves His greater purposes, seal one over in their calloused condition, but there is no reason to suggest God does this to all humanity from birth.

        3. You seem to think that free will necessitates the “right” decision, which undermines the very freedom of ‘free will.’ People are told daily that if they smoke it is bad for them and they still choose to smoke. People are told they need to eat better after a heart attack but still choose to eat badly. People make poor decisions in the face of clear facts all the time, so I’m not sure what you point is regarding people being ‘rational.’ People are RESPONSE- ABLE…able to respond in whatever way they determine. That is their choice which is why they are held responsible for those choices and have to live with the consequences. You seem to presume deterministic reasoning onto free will…

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      5. Free will necessitates a rational decision – the ability to choose otherwise. One can still make bad decisions as in choosing to smoke or not eat well because of the many variables involved. However, the choice concerning salvation is not complicate and can be illustrated by this example: Suppose you need gas in your car. You have two gas stations to choose from. One charges $100 per gallon of gas; the other $1. Which do you choose? The rational choice is obvious. Now exaggerate that difference: eternal life or eternal death.

        The conundrum is why people choose eternal death. You have suggested one reason – judicial hardening. Paul suggests another: the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not. Are their others? Both of these reasons are deterministic and compromise free will.

        I think you are correct to say, “People become calloused or hardened after CHOOSING of their own free choosing to reject the clear revelation of God.” I see Romans 1 supporting this conclusion-

        “…the invisible things of [God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts,…”

        In context, this seems to apply to everyone as Paul then follows, “Therefore you art inexcusable, O man, whosoever you are that judge: for wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you that judge do the same things.”

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  2. Leighton, I returned to this post to try to understand your view of God’s initiative to individuals to provide them an opportunity of salvation. I think you are saying that only in the verbal presentation of the gospel to the mind, will, and emotions of an individual is the grace found enabling a decision of faith for salvation, but not irresistibly. Is that fair? What I am needing help to understand is how you view the verbal presentation of the gospel to a hardened heart, whether by God or personally.

    Does every presentation of the gospel provide a bona-fide opportunity to any heart, even the hardened ones? What if they were hardened from birth by, say, false religion, and this is their first hearing of the gospel? Will that be a “day of salvation” opportunity (though not irresistibly) for them no matter what? As you know, I believe a special enlightenment and convicting grace has to accompany the proclamation of the gospel. (John 1:9, 16:7-8) Are you suggesting that always happens for each one hearing the gospel every time?

    You asked for Scriptures in support of prevenient grace. I do not think my view is identical with the Arminian view of this, since I think some of them think it is a prevenient ability available from birth to accept God’s gracious initiatives of any kind, and some (strangely) think God starts giving that ability to those He foreknew would need it since they were going to believe in Christ (masked-Calvinism). But Jesus’ parable of the seed and soils and His proclamation of having “ears to hear” and the divine warning – “Today if you hear His voice, harden not your heart” points me to think that just a verbal presentation of the gospel is not enough.

    I look forward to your thoughts, and pray for your effectiveness in this important ministry you have undertaken! I praise the Lord for you!

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    1. All great questions, Brian,

      I don’t know that I would really disagree with your comment: ” I believe a special enlightenment and convicting grace has to accompany the proclamation of the gospel.”

      I’m simply attempting to make this less complicated because I believe we as theologians tend to make things over complex. God uses means to provoke or convince men to do what he wants them to do (Jonah/Paul) and I believe the gospel proclamation is the means He uses to “enlighten” or “inform” those who hear it. It seems we “over spiritualize” or over complicate it by suggesting that sometimes the “spirit works” and other times He doesn’t, as if the reason a hearer might choose to trade the truth in for lies is the Spirit’s fault for “not working enough” or something. I believe the gospel IS a work of the Spirit, so there is no such thing as a time where the gospel is proclaimed where the spirit is not at work.

      If you authored a book and I read it to my class and half of the class learned your lesson and applied it to their lives would it be right of me to thank you for the work YOU DID to affect those student’s lives? Of course it would. You would deserve credit for the WORK you did and the effect it had on my students. But would you be to blame for not working in regard to the half of the class who chose not to heed your lesson? Of course not. I wouldn’t blame you for not being clear enough in your work for their choice to neglect your teachings, they alone are to blame for that. They are response-able…able to respond to the lesson made clear to them by your work and my proclamation of that work.

      Jesus said, “The very words I spoke to you are spirit and life.” We cannot underestimate the power of inspired truth. It sets men free. James teaches the tongue in a powerful weapon for a reason. Jesus is called the Word for a reason. Words have power…they brought creation into existence, after all.

      So, instead of saying “a special enlightenment and convicting grace has to accompany the proclamation of the gospel,” I might say “the gospel proclamation is a means of special enlightenment and convicting grace used by the Holy Spirit.” No one who hears has any excuse (i.e. the spirit’s working must not accompanied that proclamation)

      I hope that makes sense…let me know if not.

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      1. I do believe they will not have that excuse, because of God’s promise to enlighten and convict every one at least once (maybe even three times, cf. Job 33:14-29). But I also believe the warning that Scripture quotes has to mean something “Today if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Wouldn’t that infer that there may be times in the future where they would still hear the words of the gospel, or remember them in their head, and yet no longer hear His voice of conviction and enlightenment about those words?

        And I wonder why you have avoided discussing the specific Scriptures I posed, for I would love to hear your take, especially when the seed is the gospel and the soils are hard, shallow, and thorny as in Jesus’ parable. It would seem obvious that because of these pre-conditions the seed could not do its work and the soils were “unable” for those reasons for it to do so. I am proposing that the Scripture teaches that God must and does bring every soil to a receptive state, but not irresistibly. Would you mind commenting on this further?

        As for your alternative statement to mine – “the gospel proclamation is a means of special enlightenment and convicting grace used by the Holy Spirit” how about a compromise – “the gospel proclamation will be a means of special enlightenment and convicting grace used by the Holy Spirit at least once” so that man will know in the judgment that he is without excuse if he rejects that opportunity of salvation?

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  3. Brother Leighton,

    I just came across this post.

    Acts 13:7…..
    “Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and DESIRED to hear the word of God.”

    You would not believe (well, maybe you would) all the theological hoops Calvinists/Arminians have had to jump thru to get this verse to fit within their theological camps.

    Here is an actual, biblical example of a depraved, lost sinner who “desired to hear the word of God”. Of course, for the Calvinist/Arminian, this “desire” is impossible without the divine intervention of prevenient grace, that is, a grace that overcomes the total depravity/inability of man thus restoring him to a pre-fall, pre-lost condition.

    The question is…. Is the gospel of the cross sufficient to save? If you believe in TD/TI the answer is “No.” When our precious Savior was hanging on the cross and said “it is finished”, was it? Or was another work required?

    If someone believes in TD/TI then the cross is not sufficient to save, because man cannot believe unless another supernatural work of grace is performed on the totally depraved sinner.

    For the Calvinist/Arminian its the cross plus something else.

    God bless.

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    1. Phillip writes, “Here is an actual, biblical example of a depraved, lost sinner who “desired to hear the word of God”.”

      This is an example of depraved humanity who seeks salvation on his terms. Salvation is highly desired because people can be aware of their sin and can desire a remedy for that sin.

      The issue here is why there are some who seek salvation on their terms and some who seek salvation on God’s terms. That is the distinction that Calvinism seeks to sort out. You are correct to say that “For the Calvinist/Arminian its the cross plus something else.” If it were just the cross, everyone who heard the gospel preached would come to Christ on God’s terms. That doesn’t happen, so it is the “something else” that explains why some come to salvation and some do not – of course, the “something else” is God’s work within the hearts of His elect; at least, this is one viable reason.

      Do you have an explanation for some receiving salvation and some not?

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      1. Brother Rhutchin,

        If you want to know why someone rejects the cross of Christ you need to ask them.

        You said…. “of course, the ‘something else’ is God’s work within the hearts of His elect; at least, this is one viable reason.”

        Unfortunately, “regeneration precedes faith” isn’t biblical. So your “reason” isn’t valid.

        Maybe the non-Calvinist answers to “why someone believes and the other doesn’t?” might not be to your satisfaction, but your “reason” just isn’t biblical. Sounds good, but wrong.

        God bless.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Phillip writes, “If you want to know why someone rejects the cross of Christ you need to ask them.”

        Why ask them when Paul already tells us, “…the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;’

        We know why people reject the cross of Christ – it is foolishness to them (or if they are Jews, a stumbling block).

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      3. Phillip writes, “Maybe the non-Calvinist answers to “why someone believes and the other doesn’t?” might not be to your satisfaction,…”

        The non-Calvinist can no more explain why one person believes and another does not than you can.

        God tells us why people do not believe in 1 Corinthians 1. God tells us why people believe in John 6 – Jesus said, “this is the Father’s will who sent me, that of all which he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.”

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  4. Olsen said “And they need to delete the sentence that denies the incapacitation of free will due to Adam’s sin. ” I agree. The sentence should read that “man’s will has been bent toward sin due to the fall, but not incapable of responding to the Gospel by the grace of God.” I am a non-Calvinist Southern Baptist and I still would never say our will is naturally free. Don’t get me wrong I know that most non-Calvinist Southern Baptists agree that the fall has effected the human will, but the writers of the Traditional Statement need to be much more clear in this regard because it does in fact give a snippet that Calvinists can use to deceive people into believing we are Pelagians. We need to use wisdom in this regard. God bless you Leighton I love your website!

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    1. For me it’s about the incapacitation of free will (response ability) in view of God’s sufficiently gracious revelation (as I attempt to lay out in this article). Olsen appears to make the same mistake as the Cal by presuming Gods enabling grace through revelation itself cannot be sufficient to enable willing responses

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  5. Hello Dr. Flowers,

    Thank you for your podcasts and articles. I have a question if you are not too busy.

    I just listened to your podcast on Pelagianism and prevenient grace. There you argued that prevenient grace and the Gospel are basically the same thing. This confuses me, for are they not different? Just as electricity and a light bulb are related, but are fundamentally different, so is the Gospel and grace related, but are still very different things. The Gospel is the proclamation of Christ’s finished work with the call to repent and believe. Grace is God’s unmerited favor, which the Holy Spirit gives.

    What makes Arminianism orthodox, unlike Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, is the doctrine of prevenient grace. To muddle grace and the Gospel, I would think, is to confuse two very critical biblical categories.

    Thank you.

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    1. Doug, I appreciate your question and I doubt there is much substance to our differences. If rephrasing it to say that “the gospel is the means of prevenient grace,” fine by me but the bible didn’t see a need to put it that way so why should I? To be more “orthodox” than someone else? Not my goal.

      Calling the gospel (or any revelation of God) gracious is a given, I understand that, but it seems some theologically minded individuals have forgotten that is a given. Instead they treat the gospel like it has no sufficiency or power when the scripture speaks quite differently.

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      1. Pastor Flowers writes, “…some theologically minded individuals have forgotten that is a given. Instead they treat the gospel like it has no sufficiency or power when the scripture speaks quite differently.”

        I don’t think the issue is grace or power but sufficiency. What is the gospel sufficient to do? While the gospel is necessary to salvation is it sufficient to save all? Apparently not, else all who hear the gospel would be saved. The gospel reflects God’s grace but many contend that it is not sufficient, by itself, to bring a person to salvation – something else is needed to bring a person to salvation.

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      2. Dr. Flowers, thank you for the reply. Unfortunately I am still a bit confused.

        You wrote, “the gospel is the means of prevenient grace,” thus prevenient grace is limited only to where the Gospel is preached? I thought the traditional definition of prevenient grace is that grace given to everyone allowing them the ability to choose or deny the Gospel. If prevenient grace is equated to the proclamation of the Gospel than it is no longer, by definition, prevenient (i.e. “antecedent, anticipatory”).

        I wasn’t trying to argue whether a position was more orthodox than an other or not, but whether it was orthodox at all. Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism have been viewed as heresy by Protestants and Roman Catholics alike. Prevenient grace allows one to fully affirm the biblical teaching that salvation is by grace and in libertarian free will.

        Of course the Gospel is the power of God. The direct references to this concept (Rom 1:16-17; 1Cor 1:18.24; 2:5; 2Cor 13:4; 1Pet 1:3-5), however, are about the church. These passages deal with sanctification, not justification. The continued receiving of the Gospel, and belief in it, gives the Christian endurance and holiness.

        All of salvation is by the power of God, but in order to have libertarian free will and grace, one has to (at least by traditional Arminianism) believe that God gives grace to everyone which allows them to accept the Gospel or not. This grace, which is prevenient, is by definition not the Gospel, but prepares the person to choose, hence the need for worldwide evangelism.

        If you disagree, what I am missing?

        Thank you.

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      3. Doug writes, “Prevenient grace allows one to fully affirm the biblical teaching that salvation is by grace and in libertarian free will.”

        This is a problem for all who espouse prevenient grace. The problem is that all to whom grace is extended do not respond positively to the gospel. That outcome is attributed to libertarian free will and this just kicks the can down the road but doesn’t really explain why only some respond to the gospel.

        The combination of prevenient grace and libertarian free will creates room for the irresistible grace of the Calvinists. If not, how does one explain why two people equally endowed with with grace and LFW make such radically different decisions – it defies logic (and the “man is made in God’s image” position, – i.e., that man is able to think rationally and make sound decisions consistent with the information he has). What other factor could distinguish one person’s decision from the other?

        In their attempt to distance themselves from the Calvinist system, the prevenient grace crowd has created a dilemma that can be resolved by the Calvinist system – something God does explains why one person is actually able to respond to the gospel while another person continues on as if he did not even hear the gospel (as least until the prevenient grace crowd figures out another solution). The Open Theist crowd took away God’s knowledge of the future seemingly removing Him from the person’s decision making process. That just means they have nothing to account for different decisions that they seem happy to concede to mystery. At least, the Calvinists offer a solution to the problem and don’t appeal to mystery.

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    2. Pastor Flowers writes, “Since when does the sufficiency to do something equal actuality of doing something?” (I took “if” out because it made a little more sense that way.)

      I was kinda thinking it always is so. If something is sufficient to gain a desired end but does not, then it would not be sufficient. For example, faith always justifies. To have faith is to be justified.

      The preaching of the gospel is necessary to produce faith but not sufficient as seen in the parable of the sower and the seed.

      Did you have an example of something that is sufficient to produce an outcome but the outcome does not follow (is not actualized)?

      Maybe we have a definition problem regarding the meaning of “sufficient.”

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  6. Hey Leighton,

    I wanted to make a comment for your consideration on this point you made.

    ” If rephrasing it to say that “the gospel is the means of prevenient grace,” fine by me but the bible didn’t see a need to put it that way so why should I? To be more “orthodox” than someone else? Not my goal.”

    I agree that there is no necessity to use a word that is not in the Bible in order to sound more Orthodox. I think we would agree however that using the term “Trinity” is just a simple way for people to understand your view without needing to be taught in depth all of the particulars about our Triune God. Although the word Trinity does not appear in scripture it still proves to be a simple word we can use in order to convey doctrinal meaning.

    In the same way I think using the phrase “the gospel is the means of prevenient grace” helps people get a feel for what you are saying without needing you to go into explicit detail about all the inner workings of your view. The way that you have explained the gospel’s role in enabling the hearer with ability to respond is identical to the classical evangelical term “prevenient grace,” so I think it would actually help others to see the stark difference between the Traditionalist view and semi-pelagianism by not avoiding this well-known term.

    Arminius and Wesley both pointed to prevenient grace as the sole component that differentiated their view from semi-pelagianism (and I agree that it did). And in the same way in your view the gospel plays the role of prevenient grace and thus invalidates the charge of semi-pelagianism. Otherwise, it can be perceived by those in the evangelical world that because the Traditionalists avoid using the term “prevenient grace” that they reject the notion of grace playing the role of initiation in God’s process of saving men. I don’t mean to overstress this point, but I do believe it may be helpful to use this term as a way of deflecting misconceptions from various evangelicals.

    A person like me who has read through your views extensively knows full well that you are not a semi-pelagian, but for those who have not done their due diligence I could see a SLIGHT possibility of them mistaking you as someone who could be leaning semi-pelagian (either disingenuously as James White does, or genuinely as someone who only briefly investigates your views). Either way I think God is doing a fine work through your ministry, please keep the material coming! God bless!

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    1. dizerner writes, “that’s true in one way except for this: we have a new existence in Christ. ”

      Do you mean to say that by prevenient grace everyone has a new existence in Christ so that all are saved? Or have you left something out that explains how all have prevenient grace but only some have new existence in Christ? I found the article a bit incoherent when it got to the last paragraph, “Now at this time you might be thinking,…”

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  7. There is a bit of semantics going on here, and that makes it more difficult to unravel. I think, if we hard pressed those who claim prevenient grace is redundant because the Gospel is the ONLY grace a person gets, they would always eventually admit “well, it’s not the ONLY grace.” This demand that ONLY the Gospel message itself is the ONLY thing we can describe as prevenient grace seems very stubborn headed. Christ said he would DRAW all men to himself if he be lifted up, and drawing is a process not just a presentation.

    If a sinner walks by a Gospel convention let’s say, and hears the sound of the preacher’s voice, but can’t quite make out the words, is it the sinner’s nature to go into this convention to hear the words, or to go on to the party where his flesh will be gratified? Here is the litmus test in action. There is NOTHING in the sinner’s nature that might make him WANT to hear words he knows will be against his current worldview, there is NOTHING in the sinner’s nature that would make him want to GIVE UP his fleshly pleasures… BUT GOD. I’ve heard so many testimonies of people feeling a draw and a pull that otherwise would not, BEFORE they even hear a Gospel presentation.

    There is a very good reason Mr. Olson finds this doctrinal statement a bit inadequate. Because it is. There is this misconception that Total Depravity or Total Inability means people can never respond to the Gospel even with God’s grace. We all agree they can respond to the Gospel with God’s grace. This statement wants to claim that a mere factual presentation of Gospel information always contains the same amount of power from God’s Holy Spirit. Some of us disagree with that simplistic and one-dimensional assumption. There are so many people who witness the Gospel message in an ungodly spirit in one way or another, and without the wisdom and graciousness of the Spirit. Yet there are people who preached with such purity of heart that the power of God made people tremble and cry out before they even finished their message.

    Without prevenient grace it is possible no one would even listen to a Gospel message. When mankind fell, he didn’t just trip. We haven’t just stumbled. We all have gone our own way. We all have sought out many schemes. Without prevenient grace, in the valley of decision, there’s not a man or woman alive who upon hearing that God died for them, would accept it. There are demonic strongmen Christ warned us of, there are blind and hard hearts sown by the seeds of the evil one. And there is the sin nature, that without prevenient grace, delights in sin and not in the fear of God and responding to a holy call to devout living for the life to come. Numerous Scripture passages back all this up multiple times.

    Because Christ came to set the captives free, and to cause the spiritually deaf to hear the words of salvation. Give the Holy Spirit a little credit as a real and living Person who makes Jesus real to us and sets us free from sin. I refuse to call him a redundancy to the Gospel message, as he convicts a world where none does righteousness, of their sin.

    I know we get passionate about our views, and I honestly love that degree of conviction. I hope to also maintain humility and really try to listen.

    love in the mercy of Christ

    Liked by 1 person

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