Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Error of Prevenient Grace

Prevenient grace is the theological equivalent of affirming total depravity
while crossing your fingers.

Recently I was directed to this quote from Arminian apologist Roger Olson:

I consider anyone a fellow Arminian who is an orthodox Protestant Christian (justification by grace alone through faith alone) who believes in human inability to initiate a saving relationship with God apart from prevenient grace (whatever they might call that), corporate election, prevenient grace (again, whatever they might call it), universal atonement, and resistible grace and does not believe God “designed, ordained, or rendered certain” the fall of humanity and all of its consequences. Yes, that’s a large tent and I invite anyone who fits that profile into/under it—whether they agree with Arminius about other matters or not and whether they call themselves Arminian or not. (Must One Agree with Arminius to be Arminian?, Roger Olson)
This quote is an excellent example of the self-contradictory claims of the Arminian theologian. When one affirms man's "inability to initiate a saving relationship with God" they are affirming human depravity. WIth this much we can agree, because we see man's spiritual inability liberally attested to in the word of God (Romans 3:10-18). But Olson's affirmation does not stop there.  It goes on to add the phrase "apart from prevenient grace." While this so-called "prevenient grace" is expressed in a number of ways, those expressions, by and large, share the same basic quality of being that which nullifies the totality of man's depravity and which is not regeneration.  

The prevenient grace we have in view here is that which counteracts the effects of total depravity by enabling certain spiritual capacities but which falls short of imparting eternal life. Stated plainly, embracing total depravity while also embracing such forms of prevenient grace is like saying, "I'm totally broke, except for the $20 in my pocket." In the same way that a man who has $20 is not totally broke, a man who has prevenient grace is not totally depraved, and to assert such is to insult one's intelligence or attention span, or both. At a minimum it is certain to raise the ire of anyone to whom this man owes $20. 
This theological slight-of-hand is everywhere in evangelicalism today, but I have chosen to consider it all joy when I encounter this sort of trial (James 1:2). The Lord affirmed that there would be many purveyors of falsehood in our time (I John 4:1) and if nothing else I can see at least be blessed by knowing this truth and seeing the wisdom and foreknowledge of God unfolding prophetically before my eyes. But in so doing, I must reject the notion of prevenient grace as it is so commonly represented in the Christian marketplace, because it is nothing short of an affirmation that man is not totally depraved.

That said, I can see that the concept of "preveniency" may have some beneficial application in my life. I have often thought it would be nice to be taller than I am. And so I will henceforth ever claim to be 7 feet tall, and attribute my evident height of 5' 10" to the effects of "prevenient shrinking."

1 comment:

  1. Ferris: "Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, "I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me." Good point there. After all, he was the walrus. I could be the walrus. I'd still have to bum rides off people."

    At the end of the day, you still have to deal with reality. My wife asks me why I contend with Olson-isms and the like when I still have to bum rides. True enough. My faith is simple.

    But, somebody has to deal with it. I like the explanation here.