Irresistible Prevenient Grace

Motivated by C. Michael Patton’s post: A Brief Rejection of Arminianism or “Why Arminianism Does Not Work” I’m reposting one of my old articles below.

I may be about a week late to the game, but Pastor Gary L. W. Johnson over at the Teampyro blog finishes his three part post entitled Arminianism: Semi-Pelagianism? I am not here to argue that Arminianism equals semi-pelagianism either directly or practically. I think Greg Welty [Dr. Welty’s article on this has been moved.] argued well and reasonably that it doesn’t.

I am here to argue, in the spirit of the Arminian/non-Calvinist objection that irresistible grace isn’t a biblical concept, that they too believe in an irresistible grace. That is, prevenient grace is irresistible. Let’s start by looking at article 4 of the Remonstrance and there understanding of grace.

Article 4.
That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to the extent that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But with respect to the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, since it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Spirit (Acts 7, and elsewhere in many places).

Now let’s turn to one of the theologians in question. In part two of Peter Lumpkins’ interview with Arminian Roger Olson, Olson states:

Arminianism is that God comes to us first, through the gospel which can be efficacious in our lives-through a sermon, a song, a witness, or reading the Bible. But that God the Holy Spirit reaches into our lives first, through prevenient grace, and partially regenerates us, then we have to actualize that with our free will decision which God’s grace makes possible.

This shows my point that prevenient grace is irresistible in its “partial regeneration” because if this “partial regeneration” could be rejected it would be then be semi-pelagianism. Prior in the interview Olson says:

The difference is this: in classical Arminianism–in real Arminianism–if someone gets saved, it’s because God came to them first; the initiative is God’s. God calls them and God enables them. That’s called prevenient grace.

But you don’t hear that in pulpits a lot. What you hear in pulpits and pews is what scholars call semi-Pelagianism; although they don’t know it’s called that.I definitely agree with what Olson said is heard from many pulpits today. If there is no grace acting upon man and man left in his natural, sinful state can make a “decision” without any grace at all we are back to a form of Pelagianism.

Therefore, prevenient grace is irresistible. Proving my point further is one last quote from Olson:

Without God’s prevenient grace, we would not be free, so we don’t believe in Free Will, we believe in the Freed Will. Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism believe that humans have inherent free will apart from any supernatural grace. So, there is a very important difference there.

This basically summarizes my point. Men’s wills are irresistibly freed or otherwise we are back to a form of Pelagianism. So then the irresistibility isn’t really the crux of the argument is it?


Tags: , ; Categories: Arminianism,calvinism,Gospel,theology
The above article was posted on January 30, 2009 by Mark Lamprecht.
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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Peter Lumpkins January 30, 2009 at 4:18 pm


Let’s grant your point, for argument’s sake, that “prevenient grace is irresistible” from a non-Calvinist standpoint. I’m wondering precisely what difference such makes to the fundamentally distinct visions of the wider scope of salvation. For while you’ve demonstrated, for argument’s sake, parallel beliefs of a type of “irresistible” grace found in both Calvinism and non-Calvinism, what remains crucially lacking about your claim is the basic nature of the prevenience found respectively in each. Or, if you will, the differences between the two.

For example, while both Calvinism and non-Calvinism accept the efficacious nature of “prevenient grace” the nature of one is definitively not like the other. For Calvinists, God efficaciously brings life which cannot be resisted, nor can at any time be forfeited. In short, when prevenient grace is bestowed, all else required for redemption consumated necessarily follows.

Not so for the non-Calvinist. Whatever may be said for the efficacious nature of “prevenient grace”–or the irresistability factor–in the beginning, cannot be said to necessarily continue, at every juncture, as in the Calvinist prism. That is, while Professor Olson is surely correct in affirming Classical Arminianism’s insistence on God’s unilateral redemptive move toward depraved humanity–“God calls them and God enables them..”–he would undoubtedly affirm just as confidently (and rightly, I might add) that the efficacious nature of “prevenient grace” ends there. Unlike the Calvinist, nothing personally redemptive necessarily or “irresistibly” follows apart from human deliberation.

As a side-line, while I appreciate the likenesses between our faith experiences, Mark, at times this can only lead to making the puddle muddy. Another “stir-stick” Calvinists employ that muddies the water–at least from my view–is this: Both Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike believe in Limited Atonement. A similarly structured response can be offered to this as well.

With that, I am…


2 M Burke February 2, 2009 at 1:41 am

The problem is that this idea of partial-regeneration is far from Biblical. Time and again the unregenerate (that is, ‘UN-ALIVE’) man is likened to the dead, to dry bones. Romans 8 unequivocally expresses man’s state as one that is “hostile toward God”, “does not submit to God’s law”, and even “unable to do so”, these people “cannot please God”. Now these are direct quotes from the Apostle Paul speaking of those whose “minds are set on the flesh” vs those who are of the Spirit. The difference, Paul explains in Romans 8:9 is this: “you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit if the Spirit of God dwells in you.”

Mr. Lumpkins, and his ilk, would have you believe that there are some who are NOT hostile toward God, who DO submit to God’s Law, who CAN please God WITHOUT having the Spirit of God dwelling in them. Paul denies such a possibility with the strongest language.

Scripture tells us that it is God who “makes us alive, together with Christ” even while we were yet “dead in our trespasses”. We do not make ourselves alive, we do not even seek life for we, apart from the Spirit dwelling in us cannot please God, do not submit to God’s law and are even unable to do so.

It is therefore true that Arminians in fact limit Christ’s atonement, they limit it to those who were either smart enough, more spiritual or somehow better than others so that they availed themselves of “grace” whereas others do not.

Mr. Lumpkins, why did you choose Christ when so many others who hear the same message do not? Were you smarter? Better looking? Were you more spiritually inclined? Do tell.

3 abclay February 3, 2009 at 12:20 am

How are babies saved in the “prevenient grace” economy?

4 abclay February 3, 2009 at 1:30 am

I was once a “free-willer” and the most persuasive argument against my former belief in the “free-will” necessity of mankind is the conspicuous absence of any mention of man’s free-will in the bible.

If the “free-will” choice of man was the decisive factor, made possible by prevenient grace, shouldn’t the Holy Writ say:

“But to all who did receive Him,…who were born of the will of man, not of God” John 1:12-13

“no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me sees that they are willing.” John 6:44

“you don’t believe because God did not foresee faith in you when He looked into the future.” John 10:26

“Lazurus, Come Forth!…If you want to”? John 11:43

“Unless a man wills it, no one can see the kingdom of God”? John 3:3

“all those whose ordination into eternal life was conditioned by their free-will choice to believe believed” Acts 13:48

“the mind set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law for it is unable to do so without prevenient grace” Romans 8:7

“It depends on human will and effort, not on God, who shows mercy” Romans 9:16

etc., etc, etc…

Admittedly, the absence of a word or term does not negate the possibility of it being a Christian Doctrine (i.e. “The Trinity”). The interesting thing is not only do these verses not appear as they are above, the notion of the “free-will” of man playing any part or portion in salvation/regeneration is refuted in these verses.

5 Peter November 7, 2011 at 9:48 am

“I was once a “free-willer” and the most persuasive argument against my former belief in the “free-will” necessity of mankind is the conspicuous absence of any mention of man’s free-will in the bible.”

Have you studied the Bible yourself? You conveniently used 8 verses that don’t talk about man’s free will while ignoring so many that do!
Isaiah 45:22, Ezekiel 18:21, John 3:16, Acts 17:30, Romans 8:28-30, Revelation 22:17, etc.

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