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Predestination or Free Will? (Post 19)

In this final post of the series, I’ll outline a third and final objection raised as an internal conceptual problem for Arminianism. If valid, it is an important problem faced by Arminian soteriology (doctrine of salvation). After offering three responses, I’ll summarize all five points of the argument in favor of the Arminian understanding of predestination and free will which I’ve covered in these 19 posts. 

Objection 3: Prevenient Grace is Not Taught in Scripture

It is sometimes objected that prevenient grace is not explicitly taught in Scripture. Therefore, as the argument goes, it is not a viable option in defending the Arminian position. Three things may be said in response.

Response 1: It Is At Least Implicitly Taught in Scripture

First, it can be argued that, by allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, a number of verses do explicitly teach prevenient grace. Such verses include 2 Peter 3:9, I Timothy 2:3-4, Acts 17:30, Matthew 11:28, and Revelation 22:17.  

Furthermore, it can be argued that the doctrine of prevenient grace is implied in the constellation of verses speaking of our sin and alienation from God, the need for God to act first, and the reality of our choice. If, as has been argued in this series, the nature of that choice is of the libertarian variety, then these passages together are implying prevenient grace as the means by which God initiates with us, while we are still dead in our sin and transgression. (For some of the passages referred to in this and the previous paragraph see Post 5).

Response 2: The Same Can Be Argued Against Calvinism

Second, the same objection may be raised against Calvinism. Doctrines such as efficacious grace, limited atonement, and unconditional election are not explicitly taught in Scripture. All are constructs that attempt to synthesize what is implied by the text. This is no different from the Arminian’s postulation of prevenient grace to synthesize the implications of the biblical text.

Response 3: Prevenient Grace is Similar to Other Biblical Doctrines

Third, there are many other theological positions which are not explicitly stated in Scripture, yet are no less taught in the biblical text. One obvious example is the Trinity. No verse uses that term. Yet it is clear some verses refer to different divine persons. Some refer to the Father as God, some verses refer to the Son as God, and other verses refer to the Spirit as God. In some cases, all three are mentioned together. And some verses indicate God is one in essence. So, while the term “Trinity” is not used, the doctrine of God being one in essence and three in persons is clearly taught. The same is true for prevenient grace, so argues the Arminian.

Review of The Entire Discussion

Over the past 19 posts, I’ve covered a lot of ground. To summarize:

  • Post 1: I discussed why this issue is important, but not ultimately important

  • Post 2: I defined “predestination” according to Calvinism and Arminianism

  • Post 3: I defined the various views of free will important to the discussion

  • Post 4: I showed how Calvinism and Arminianism define “free will” differently

  •  Post 5: I surveyed the biblical support offered for both Calvinism and Arminianism

  • Post 6: I discussed four common but poor responses one or both positions sometimes offer

  • Post 7: I suggested a way to get past the stalemate: considering internal and external conceptual problems for each view

  • Post 8: I discussed one internal conceptual problem for Calvinism: Adam’s libertarian free will

  • Post 9:  I discussed a second internal conceptual problem for Calvinism: The goodness of God and the reality of Hell

  • Post 10: I considered two objections to Post 9: Romans 9 and God’s Justice in condemnation

  • Post 11: I explained and gave examples of external conceptual problems, and how this is used in other theological considerations

  • Post 12: I discussed one external conceptual problem for Calvinism: We live as if we had libertarian freedom

  • Post 13: I outlined a second external conceptual problem for Calvinism: the reality of the soul

  • Post 14: I offered a third external conceptual problem for Calvinism: the process of developing virtue

  • Post 15: I raised two objections to Post 14: Sin limits our ability to choose, or at least Sin limits our ability to choose Christ

  • Post 16: A fourth external conceptual problem for Calvinism was discussed: Understanding why God allows Evil requires libertarian free will

  • Post 17: The first of three external conceptual problems for Arminianism was discussed: Calvinism has a higher view of God’s sovereignty

  • Post 18: The second of three external conceptual problems for Arminianism was discussed: Arminian is semi-Pelagian, and thus a works-based theology

  • Post 19: The third of three external conceptual problems for Arminianism was discussed: Prevenient grace, a central aspect of Arminian soteriology, is not taught in Scripture.

My Conclusion

Taken together, in these 19 posts I’ve argued:

  • The debate between Calvinism and Arminianism can’t be solved by the biblical texts alone (the “data”), for both positions receive support. Neither position can claim the Scriptures are clear enough on this issue that the other position is untenable.

  • When similar impasses are encountered in science (competing theories that are both supported by data), a method has been developed to help “tip the scales” in favor of one view or the other. If one theory faces more internal and/or external conceptual problems, this is a good reason to prefer the other theory.

  • This methodology has been fruitfully applied to other theological issues.

  • When applied to the Calvinism/Arminianism debate, Calvinism faces greater internal conceptual problems than Arminianism.

  • Furthermore, Calvinism faces greater external conceptual problems as well.

  • Therefore, Arminianism seems the more plausible answer to the question “Predestination or Free Will?”

So the Arminian’s answer is “Yes: Conditional Predestination/Election and Libertarian Free Will.”  This is my answer. 

However, I again note what I discussed in Post 1 of this series: the very important difference between Opinions, Persuasions, and Convictions. At one time, my answer to this question was an Opinion I held. I had not thought much about the issue, but had a leaning this way. 

Now, after much deliberation, it has come to be a Persuasion of mine. I have what I believe are good and strong reasons to believe this is the correct conclusion. I’ve weighed the arguments for and against both views. I’ve debated this topic rigorously with myself and others, both in conversations and through books I’ve read. 

However, this is not, nor will it ever be, a Conviction, in the way that term is defined in Post 1. I certainly could be wrong. Many good, thoughtful, and intelligent men and women have come to the opposite conclusion. They may be right. Regardless, they remain brothers and sisters for whom I have the highest respect. And as we continue to dialogue, all seeking truth together, perhaps I will be persuaded to change my mind (due either to my libertarian or soft determinist freedom!) 

Conclusion

I hope and pray this series of posts has been helpful to you in wrestling with this issue as well, no matter your views on the matter. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). I know I have been sharpened by the comments posted along the way. I trust some of my thoughts have been helpful in sharpening you as well.

Until next week, grace and peace.

Photo by Glen Rushton on Unsplash

3 Comments

  1. Jerry H
    Jerry H July 17, 2020

    Good series, Stan! This was an introduction to me of explicitly applying outside considerations to inside theology matters which seems like a reasonable approach.

  2. Richard M. Biery
    Richard M. Biery July 21, 2020

    God’s long suffering as an argument for free will:
    The Bible repeatedly talk about God’s waiting, or patience or long suffering in regard to waiting for sinners to come to Him. It has always seemed to me that, if God’s sovereignty includes sovereign (unconditional) election and irresistible grace is true, then the idea of patience and waiting for an unbeliever to believe is incoherent.

  3. Stan Wallace
    Stan Wallace July 21, 2020

    Jerry, thank. And Dick, appreciate your post. Good point!

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