Question:

In a conversation with a Methodist, the term "PrevenientGrace" came up. What does this mean? Is this type of grace founded on Scripture?


Answer:

"Prevenient Grace" is a term coined by John Wesley, who founded groups like the Methodists and the Church of the Nazarene. The word "prevenient" is archaic, in modern English we would say "preceding." In other words, it is a belief that God's grace precedes man responding to God's offer of salvation. John Wesley put it this way: "The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and works, to faith, and calling upon God; wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing [preceding in modern English] us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will." [John Wesley, Articles of Religion, Article VIII]. Thus, prevenient grace is the concept that man is too corrupt to be saved, so God in His mercy give men grace so that they can make the choice to be saved.

It is a modification on John Calvin's idea that God's grace is irresistible. Calvin's idea is that when God decides to save someone, He gives the person grace and they have no choice but to become saved. Prevenient grace says that God offers salvation by giving some grace but then the person has to choose whether to accept the gift or not. "Simply put, prevenient grace is the grace of God given to individuals that releases them from their bondage to sin and enables them to come to Christ in faith but does not guarantee that the sinner will actually do so" ["What is Prevenient Grace?" gotquestions.org -- a Calvinist teaching organization].

The problem with both irresistible grace and prevenient grace is that there is the assumption that people are born totally corrupt and unable to do good. See Total Depravity or Total Inability for why this foundation is unscriptural.

A second problem is that both systems make God a respecter of persons by saying that salvation is only offered to a limited set of people. But consider:

"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9).

Because the Lord doesn't want any to perish, He is longsuffering so that all should come to repentance. This implies some of "all" are currently perishing. The delay is so that all should repent, but that implies that the repentance is not guaranteed and some of the all will not repent even with God's longsuffering.

Clearly Peter has in mind that "all" includes both the saved and the unsaved. His current focus is on the unsaved -- those who have not repented, but should. God has His desire, but some will not do as God prefers. This matches other statements by God. ""Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways," says the Lord GOD. "Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. "Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies," says the Lord GOD. "Therefore turn and live!"" (Ezekiel 18:30-32). Ezekiel makes it clear, the choice of salvation is up to man. God has made His choice, now it is up to man to decide to follow God or not.

But is that offer of salvation only given to some of the lost? Paul said that Jesus "gave Himself a ransom for all" (I Timothy 2:6). God's grace was the sending of Jesus to die for mankind's sins, but that gift was offered to everyone. "For the love of Christ constrains us; because we judge thus, that one died for all, therefore all died. He died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for their sakes died and rose again" (II Corinthians 5:14-15).

The mistake of prevenient grace is the assumption that grace is offered on an individual scale instead of the universal offering that it was. "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 2:6-8). Yes, God's grace came before I accepted God's offer of salvation because it happened long before any of us were born, but it doesn't mean that God only offers grace to some. "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men" (Titus 2:10).

Thank you so very much for your prompt reply and explanation. Have a blessed day.