Posts Tagged ‘prevenient grace’

Prevenient Grace: Its Different Meanings

January 5, 2012 Comments off

Some doctrinal terms can be confusing at first, since it turns out they can have very different meanings, depending on who is using the term.  “Prevenient grace” is one such term.  For several years I heard the term “prevenient grace” from a Reformed Baptist church, as describing what the Puritans believed:  the grace that comes to the person before they believe to bring them to the point of salvation.

Then recently online I’d heard it used disparagingly, as an Arminian free-will term. Someone I know, from an Arminian background, was then surprised to hear a Calvinist preacher, S. Lewis Johnson, use the term “prevenient grace,” since to him the term was associated with Arminian free-will ideas about our choosing God, the “wooing” which is resistible by the human will.

Throughout history the term “prevenient grace” has been used in different ways. Originally the term was used by Reformed theologians as a synonym for irresistible grace: the grace which comes before  salvation and brings us to salvation. Arminians came along later and changed its usage to suit their own ideas.  That does not preclude Calvinists from using the term with a different sense, and I found from googling S. Lewis Johnson’s transcripts, his statement that semi-Pelagians (which is what many Arminians really are) do not believe in prevenient grace:

Semi-Pelagians say, ‘I wanted to come and God helped me.’ They deny prevenient grace. That is they deny the grace that comes first that enables a man to respond to the word of God. They conceive of themselves as first responding, first choosing to come, and then being helped by God to receive Christ as Savior.

Here is an article that examines “Prevenient Grace in the Wesleyan System” (scroll down almost a page, to that section heading).