God’s love and judgement in John 3


The gospel lectionary reading for Lent 4 in Year B is John 3.14–22, the monologue ending of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, which includes perhaps the best-known verse in the New Testament at John 3.16. It is intimidating to talk about such a well-known passage—can we say anything new?—but also to deal with such a large theological subject as the love of God.

But there are some important things to note about the passage—not least that we appear to see a seamless transition from the speech of Jesus to the reflection of the gospel writer, in part demonstrated by the inclusion of reference to the later events of the resurrection and ascension. And although John 3.16 is well known, it is also mostly misread and misinterpreted, so there is plenty to say here as well!


Although our reading begins at verse 14, we need to look back a few verses to see the context; verse 14 isn’t half-way through a sentence, but it is half-way through an idea. The last reference to the conversation with Nicodemus comes in verses 9 and 10, where he and Jesus exchange questions. (‘Why does a Jew always answer a question with another question?’ ‘Tell me, why shouldn’t he?’) Nicodemus then recedes into the background, to reappear speaking tentatively for Jesus in John 7.50 before appearing to be one of his disciples who helps to anoint his body in John 19.39.

But verse 11 is puzzling. On the one hand, we have a characteristic saying of Jesus: ‘Amen, amen I say to you…’ but it is followed by a statement on behalf of a group: ‘we speak of what we know and we testify but you (plural) do not receive our testimony’. Testimony is primarily that which is borne by Jesus’ followers about the life and teaching of Jesus (though Jesus does talk about himself as a witness in John 5.31), and the language here sounds very much like those Jews who follow Jesus talking to the Jews who rejected him. So it appears as though the gospel author is integrating his own reflection with the words of Jesus, and as the passage goes on, commentary seems to take over. In the remainder of the text, Jesus is referred to in the third person as the Son of Man, and the language has parallels with the prologue in chapter 1.

In John Goldingay’s second volume on reading and interpreting the Bible, Models for the Interpretation of Scripture, he explores the four different ways in which the four gospels do their theological work: Mark by his driving narrative; Matthew by his organisation and application of the teaching of Jesus; John by his addition of authorial comment; and Luke by his adding to his gospel the account of the continued ministry of Jesus in the early church (pp 73–76).

[In the Fourth Gospel] the point of the story is driven home by direct teaching material attached to the story to bring out its theological and ethical implications (p 75).

Critical scholarship has, in the past, assumed that the early Christian communities were projecting their concerns back into the gospel narratives—but if so, they did not do a very good job, since key concerns (such as the challenges of the Gentile mission) were left only obliquely addressed, and key features of the narrative (such as Jesus’ use of ‘Son of Man’) were not obviously taken up. The gospel author isn’t here making up Jesus’ teaching, but retelling it in a way that brings out its significance—just as any good preacher or teacher will do.

A second feature complements this insight. We saw last week that there is explicit reference to the disciples ‘re-membering’, putting together the story of Jesus with the benefit of hindsight. We can see the same happening implicitly with the references to the Son of Man ‘ascending’ in John 3.13. The language here is similar to that of Paul in Eph 4.7 in his use of Ps 68: Jesus has ascended and so can send spiritual gifts. Looking through the Fourth Gospel, there are several times when the Son of Man language is associated with ‘ascending’—in the encounter with Nathanael in John 1.51, and in John 6.62 ‘if you see the Son of Man ascended to the place he was before’. This all points to the meaning of ‘lifted up’ in John 3.14: it is not just his being ‘lifted up’ on the cross, but also includes his resurrection and ascension—even though the ascension is not included in the events narrated, it is referred to as a theological theme. As we have seen in previous weeks, in Mark (along with the other Synoptics) Jesus talks of himself as Son of Man to point to his humanity, his humiliation in death, and his exaltation to the right hand of the Father, using the language of ‘the coming of the Son of Man’ from Dan 7.13, where the ‘coming’ is from the earth to the throne of God, not the other way around. The Fourth Gospel does not use this language explicitly, but appears to understand the term in the same way.


The first verse of our reading proper, John 3.14, draws on a very brief and otherwise insignificant event in the desert wanderings. Num 21.4–9 offers a concise account: the people are impatient at a detour in the journey; they complain against God and Moses; God sends ‘fiery’ (venomous) serpents amongst the people, who die when bitten; the people repent and ask Moses to intercede; God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole; and all who look on it are forgiven and healed.

Some commentators suggest that there might be a further allusion to the figure of the serpent in the garden of Eden, but if that is the case, the allusion is both odd and obscure, since the ‘lifting up’ of Jesus is offered as a parallel to the mounting of the serpent on the pole, so Jesus is here taking the place of the serpent.

The pole offers an obvious parallel to Jesus’ being nailed to the cross, with its crossbeam fixed to an upright pole. The gospel here uses ‘lifted up’, a term which occurs nowhere in Numbers 21, and most usually means ‘to exalt’ (as in the song ‘Lord, I lift your name up high…’). Here we have the start of a long Johannine double meaning and paradox: though being hoisted on a cross is the most shameful thing possible in the first century world, because it expresses God’s love and provides the means of salvation, this giving of himself becomes the glory of Jesus and the revelation of the glory of God.

In the wilderness, the lifted serpent becomes the means of salvation from God’s judgement, the forgiveness of sins, and healing from deathly poison. The gospel is surely pointing to all these in the cross of Jesus. Those who ‘look to’ the bronze serpent will live; those who ‘look to’ Jesus in trust and faith will receive eternal life. The normal sense of ‘eternal’ (aionios) in other literature is ‘unending’, but here is must include the sense of ‘life of the age [to come]’. In contrast to the other gospels, the Fourth Gospel has a very ‘realised’ sense of eschatology, in which the certain events of the future (both life and judgement) project forward into the present and make sense of world as it is.

There is one curious feature of the Numbers 21 story: though the Hebrew talks of the serpent being fixed to a pole, the Greek version of the OT (Septuagint, LXX) uses the language of being fixed to ‘a sign’ (semeion Num 21.9). This is what might have suggested the parallel, and again points to Jesus’ death and resurrection as the eighth ‘sign’ in the gospel to which the other seven point.


And so we come to the pivotal verse in this passage—and the one that is widely misread. ‘God so loved the world’ in contemporary English naturally has the sense ‘God loved the world so much…’ that he sent Jesus. But we are locked into a tradition from 1611 and the Authorized Version, when this phrase meant something different: in this way God loved the world. The change in word order in the ‘Comfortable words’ of the Book of Common Prayer make this clear:

So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. St. John 3.16

And this is what the text says. The adjective houtos means ‘this’, and the related adverb, found here, means ‘thusly’ or ‘in this way’, something a number of modern translations now correctly point to. But it is a risky thing to challenge a tradition! This is the way that God loves the world—not merely by speaking, no longer merely by offering the ‘sign’ of the serpent, but by bringing his tabernacle presence amongst us in the person of Jesus, who not only is the temple presence of the holy God, but remarkably offers himself up for us as a costly sacrifice.

The ‘world’ that God loves is the world that was made through him (John 1.10) but it has not recognised or received him, and so it is also (as the gospel narrative unfolds) the world that ‘hates’ Jesus and will also therefore ‘hate’ those who bear testimony to Jesus (John 15.18). Here is the paradox of God’s generous love: it comes as a gift, but a gift must be received. If I see someone drowning in a river, and I reach out my hand, then that hand must be grasped if the salvation I offer is to be received.

There is a temptation to make something of the vocabulary of ‘love’, here the verb agapao related to the noun agape. But this gospel actually uses the term interchangeably with another ‘love’ word phileo. In fact, the exposition of that love—a costly gift of Jesus—is sufficient for our understanding. Older versions describe Jesus as ‘the only begotten son’, a term which has found its way into the creeds. But the emphasis here is not on the metaphysical relationship between the Son and the Father, but the uniqueness of the Son. Although (John 1.12) can become children of God, Jesus remains unique—a one-of-a-kind Son, offered for us.


The continuing narrative does not proceed in a linear, logical, way, but circles around, repeating and rehearsing what has been said before, but unfolding the consequences as it does so. Thus the ‘For God’ in John 3.16 is parallel with ‘For God’ in John 3.17. The purpose and intention behind God’s sending of Jesus was not condemnation but salvation—a reiteration in parallel terms of the stark contrast between ‘perishing’ and ‘having eternal life’. The language of ‘condemnation’ is similar to that used by Paul in Romans 8.1: ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’.

But a further reiteration opens up the paradox between being saved and lost, being free from condemnation and facing judgement. If Jesus represents God’s offer of life, then those who reject him are rejecting that life. I wonder here is the gospel author is reflecting on the puzzles he and his community now face, puzzles that remain with us: if Jesus was God’s anointed son, why have some Jews accepted him and recognised him, and others haven’t? More broadly, if Jesus is the source of life, a generous gift from God, why do not all receive him? And ultimately, if the coming of Jesus demonstrates the extent of God’s love, how do we make sense of the language of judgement?

To answer these questions, the gospel once more reaches for the metaphor of light that it began with in John 1.4. Light brings ‘judgement’ in two ways. First, there is plenty that you can hide away in the darkness, which people will not see or realise—until you shine a light on it when all is revealed. This is in intention of bringing light—to show what is true, and reveal what has been hidden—and this is one aspect of Jesus’ ministry in this gospel.

Secondly, there is a rather different way in which light brings judgement. As the still image at the top nicely illustrates, when you light a candle, not only does it illuminate, but it also casts shadows. Those who turn from the light will remain in darkness; it is not the intention of the light-bringing to create darkness, but it is an inevitable consequence. In this way, light both reveals and divides—revealing what is already there, and creating a division between that which is lit and that which remains in darkness. These become key themes in the unfolding narrative of the gospel.

Finally, the text offers a two-way relationship between the light of Jesus and the darkness and light of our lives. On the one hand, as we come to Jesus we learn to live in the light. On other other, if we are concerned about light and truth, then we will be drawn to him.


William Temple ends his reflection (Readings in St John’s Gospel p 49) on the centre of this passage:

This great saying states the mode of his sovereignty, and therefore also the quality of his kingdom. The throne of that kingdom in this world is a cross, and its crown is made of thorns. It is this revolutionary disclosure which gives grounds for the sharp dismissal of diplomatic compliments. The whole conception of the kingdom is so novel that only those who are ready to make a new start can even see it, let alone enter it.

And the challenge this passage presents us with is: will we have this king to reign over us?


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41 thoughts on “God’s love and judgement in John 3”

  1. Could John 3:16 be intentionally ambiguous? (Similar to the houtos in Matthew 5:16… potentially opening up an ambiguity: ‘In this way let your light…’ or ‘May the extent of your light be such that…’ ) I see Tom Wright’s translation in NT for everyone tries to capture both senses; “This, you see, is how much God loved the world…’

    Reply
    • Yes, there could be both senses. But the commentators are fairly consistent: the primary meaning is ‘in this way’. That is not to deny the extent, but the modern understanding of ‘God loved the world so much’ is wide of the mark.

      Reply
      • So far as the Greek is concerned, there does not seem to be any possibility of both senses. The modern take on the verse is pernicious, because the text tends to be read as supporting a theology where God loves the world so much that he will find it difficult not to save everyone. The cure is simply to read on as far as 3:19.

        Eph 5:28 is similar: “Thus (houtos) should husbands love their wives as their own bodies” – referring back to how Jesus demonstrated his love for the Church by giving himself up for it.

        Reply
        • I don’t think I have a problem with a theology where God’s love compels Him to demonstrate His love ‘in this way’ toward whoever believes in Him (not everyone). Is there a problem with that? The history of God’s covenants suggest He does find it difficult to give up on people He has sought relationship with even after they fail. I stress I’m not talking about universalism but salvation for everyone who believes in Him – assuming ‘belief’ includes the need to repent and depend entirely on His mercy.

          Reply
  2. Hi Ian, it may be older age and little grey cell deterioration but, much as I enjoyed the way in which you plummeted the depths of this passage, I was totally confused by: In contrast to the other gospels, the Fourth Gospel has a very ‘realised’ sense of eschatology, in which the certain events of the future (both life and judgement) project forward into the present and make sense of world as it is.
    Not at all clear how events of the future can be projected forward into the present. Do you mean that predicted events of the future can also illuminate the present, or am I completely off target here?
    I do so appreciate your blogs for the way in which they stretch my understanding of Scripture even if, at times the discourses of theological academia whizz over my head! Keep it up.
    And by the way, do I have to support you via Psephizo and pay increasingly large sterling conversion fees, or could payment not be made via, for instance, Stewardship? Just a thought.

    Reply
    • I switched from Patreon to PayPal – both options are on the Psephizo “Support” page. PayPal doesn’t have fees for the giver – it works much better.

      Reply
  3. Thank you for filling this out.
    Our zoom groups looked at this a couple of months ago, as part of a much larger block but there was insufficient time to really look at it in any depth, let alone my inability to consider it to the degree and extent that you have, Ian. The usual reading of “degree” was mentioned, but we didn’t have time to delve into it. As I was facilitating the group. I followed it up, e-mailing this:

    John 3:16 “For God so loved the world…”
    “This is usually read as the degree to which, the depth, intensity of God’s love for the world.”

    “The world “so”, usually translated “so much”, is a word used frequently in the Gospel of John, but it never denotes the “degree” or “how much” but always the manner (in what way).”

    And “in what way”always refers back to something previously mentioned, not something about to be explained”. ( A list of scripture references from the book of John is given).

    Therefore, “the way God loved the world is to be sought in the previous verses, 3:14-15 where Jesus speaks of the Son of Man (Jesus self-referencing) being “lifted up” as the snake was lifted up on the pole by Moses.”

    (From Tyndale New Testament Commentaries on John, by Colin G Kruse).

    v 16 runs straight on with the application of (increasing it to a worldwide extent) the demonstration of the ultimate way God loved the world, through the crucifixion, and
    “As the lifting up of the snake in the desert was God’s provision for salvation from physical death for rebellious Israelites, so too the lifting up of the Son of Man (his crucifixion) will be God’s provision for salvation from eternal death for people from all nations, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Colin Kruse again.

    Reply
  4. ‘If I see someone drowning in a river, and I reach out my hand, then that hand must be grasped if the salvation I offer is to be received.’

    Perhaps. Or you could grab for his arms, rather than relying on the strength of the drowning man’s hands. Is that not what Calvinists believe?

    Peter

    Reply
    • Peter
      The Bible teaches both – that God regenerates those whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world and those chosen do make a real decision – to submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection. How that can be is one of God’s secrets. As I have said before, Calvin hit the nail on the head when he wrote, ‘Besides it it not surprising that our eyes are blinded with intense light that we cannot certainly judge how God wishes all to be saved and yet has devoted the reprobate to destruction and wishes them to perish’. See my other post on this and Kuiper’s ‘God-centred Evangelism’

      Phili Almond

      Reply
      • Or it’s possible Calvin’s understanding was wrong and it is not a secret at all.

        Sorry, but I still cant get my head around ‘God wishes them to perish’.

        I would be interested in Ian Paul’s understanding but I dont think he’s ever given it (?).

        But it’s off-topic for this particular posting.

        Peter

        Reply
        • Peter
          If God has predestined some but not all to eternal life then he has not chosen all. I find it interesting that Lloyd-Jones on page 200 of his exposition of Romans chapter 9, ‘God’s Sovereign Purpose’, writes, ‘ They (some people) get hold of the idea that God deliberately made some people that they might go to hell. That is a lie! It is not taught anywhere in the Scripture. What the Apostle is dealing with here is what God does with fallen men and women, and that is true of the whole of humanity. The lump of clay is not ‘humanity’; it is ‘fallen humanity’. Of course what the Doctor writes here could be challenged along the lines of ‘But what about the predestination of the Fall?’ But as I see it this supports my view that embedded here is one of God’s secrets. Only he knows how truths which to our fallen reason and thought are contradictory are both true. Somewhere else the Doctor writes, “I do not believe in the ‘double decree'”. The quote I gave from Calvin suggests that he did believe in the ‘double decree’ so perhaps this bit of what he said was not right. But I stand by my remarks of the rest (about ‘intense light’).

          Reply
          • As I understand it the standard Calvinist view is that some, a minority, are predestined and chosen by God to be saved. The rest of humanity, the majority, are not so chosen and therefore will inevitably perish, hence Calvin’s words. Such a doctrine is comforting to the ‘saved’ (as JI Packer described it, it is a family secret you come to understand only after being saved, or words to that effect) but the opposite of comforting to anyone else.

            And just as Packer was very likely wrong in his understanding of the ultimate fate of the ‘unsaved’ (everlasting conscious suffering), I suspect he is wrong on this too.

  5. Peter,
    Your comment free various thoughts
    1 Eh? What’s Calvin got to do with it? That took me back to read the article.
    2 I think in the context of the text, the illustration is out of context.
    2.1 the context of the flow the scripture which Ian develops.
    2.2 Nicodemus is The Teacher of Israel who is in the darkness of his understanding and intellect, coming in darkness. We are taken back to the OT to show who Jesus is.
    2.3 There is a movement from darkness to light (follower) for him, again as Ian develops.
    2.4 This fits with Light/Darkness theme, belief/unbelief. Jesus light of the world.
    2.5 It wasn’t a lightbulb moment for The Teacher, but a gradual dawning.
    2.6 The darkest hour at Calvary on the cross, was before the new morning brightness of the resurrection.
    2.7 The first and last chapters of John set out the goal and purpose: to reveal the glory of God in Christ Jesus. It’s all about him.
    And with apologies to the Mamas and Papas -the darkest hour is before dawn.

    Reply
    • Geoff, I was simply commenting on the analogy of a drowning man in relation to salvation. It only works if you have a particular view of that.

      If one is a Calvinist, then the image would be one of an ocean full of drowning people, the majority of whom God chooses not to reach down to.

      But youre right, Im getting off topic, as I tend to do.

      Peter

      Reply
      • Peter, maybe it is off topic, but it demonstrates how easily we can be drawn away from the scripture in front of us.That is the reason I was taken aback and back to the article, by your comment, as skimming it, I hadn’t really noticed the illustration. And maybe the illustration does reveal Ian’s position on the topic! I think Sam Storms discusses a similar illustration somewhere in his blog resources. I don’t think I’d be misrepresenting him by saying that there is an inability: we are dead in our trespasses and sins, not drowning. Re-arrange worms and can into a well known saying. Lift up the glory of God in Jesus. And while this may not equate to Calvinism as I’d say that we are in effect wooed by Jesus so that we want him(or don’t) and it is him we get, not only the benefits of salvation. Nor is it mere intellectual assent to doctrine. DA Carson expands on this when writing about St Paul’s two pronged petition in Ephesians 3: 14-21 “It is not a prayer that we love Christ more, but to better grasp his love for us.”” This can not be a mere intellectual exercise.” From, “The Call to Spiritual Reformation”. Of course he writes far far more than that.

        Reply
      • Peter
        But, according to Calvin’s “Besides it it not surprising that our eyes are blinded with intense light that we cannot certainly judge how God wishes all to be saved….” God does wish them all to be saved. Those are the two truths (true for God) which we cannot reconcile, both of which we have in humility to believe, recognising that this is God’s secret.

        Reply
        • Philip, as Ive said elsewhere how can God genuinely with all integrity ‘wish all people to be saved’ if He doesnt enable them to be saved, which according to Calvinist belief is the only way one can become saved – God has to enable. Without that enabling, we simply cannot respond.

          There are only 2 possibilities – either such a doctrine is true and given my limited mind Im simply not in a position to understand God’s doings (I accept that could be the case); or the doctrine is a misunderstanding/false and human beings are genuinely free to choose God/Jesus or not, and as such God has not chosen a select group of people to spend eternity with Him but rather his offer is genuinely for all, and all are free to choose either yes or no.

          Reply
  6. Peter
    I agree those are the two possibilities. In my view the Bible rules out the latter, apart from one phrase – see below- (debate if you want). Which leaves the former. I’m glad you recognise that could be the case. But I reiterate that I agree with one phrase from the latter ‘his offer is genuinely for all’ – and how that can be is one of God’s secrets.
    Phil Almond

    Reply
    • As an officer of The Salvation Army, and therefore a Wesleyan Arminian, I’d like to comment on this debate about the difficulties of predestination.

      1. I am unconvinced by appeal to a “secret” because the doctrine simply does not make sense in linguistic terms. It is not possible to affirm that God “wants” everyone to be saved but decides to “elect” only some. There may not be an active “double decree” but there most certainly is a “sin of omission”!

      2. Calvinists tend to be nervous about Arminian views because they misunderstand them to imply that sinful humans are capable of “accepting God” in their own strength. This fails to recognize the key role that “prevenient grace” plays in the Wesleyan schema: God constantly reaches out to fallen human beings, seeking a response which is itself only possible because prevenient grace has ameliorated the devastating effects of original sin and total depravity, so that no human being is as evil as they could be, and no human being is totally devoid of grace. Think of how the “imago dei” is defaced and marred, but not obliterated….

      Reply
      • David
        If the Bible asserts as truths things which we cannot understand can be simultaneously true my view is that we have to believe them to be true, humbly accepting that since God has revealed them both they must both be true.
        Phil Almond

        Reply
        • Or another possibility, Philip, is that yours and others’ understanding of what Scripture says on the matter is in fact wrong, and therefore there is no need to simultaneously hold contradictory truths. I dont accept God contradicts Himself, unless He has redefined what ‘wants’ and ‘genuine’ mean.

          I fully accept that His ways are far above mine but that does not mean God contradicts Himself and is happy to do so.

          Peter

          Reply
          • Peter
            God is not contradicting himself. He is revealing truths which are true. How they can be both be true is beyond our fallen and limited understanding. We have to humbly believe them, as Calvin and Kuiper said.
            Phil Almond

        • I would suggest that, because God has accommodated himself to our limited understanding by using human language, we must take apparent contradictions as a possible sign that our understanding is faulty. To give an example: to assert that God can make a circular triangle is nonsense, because the concepts embedded in “circular” and “triangle” are not reconcilable.

          In a similar manner to assert that an omnipotent God wishes all to be saved, and yet does not predestine all to be saved is, to say the least, somewhat problematic.

          Reply
          • David
            The Bible does not assert that God can make a circular triangle. But the Bible does assert “the universal and sincere of the gospel in Ezekiel 33:11, 2 Peter 3:9, and elsewhere. We may as well admit – in fact it must be admitted- that these teachings (divine reprobation and this universal and sincere offer) cannot be reconciled with each other by human reason. As far as human logic is concerned, they rule one another out. However the acceptance of either to the exclusion of the other stands condemned as rationalism. Not human reason, but God’s infallible Word, is the norm of truth. That Word contains many paradoxes. The classical example is that of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The two teachings now under consideration also constitute a striking paradox. To destroy a Scriptural paradox by rejecting one of its elements is to place human logic above the divine Word. To subject human logic to the divine logos is the part of child-like faith”. Kuiper ‘God-Centred Evangelism, page 41’

            Phil Almond

      • Hi David

        Regarding your 2nd point, are you saying that God gives, as it were, sufficient grace to all people such that they could respond if they so chose, but that many dont for a variety of reasons? In other words, God enables all to respond but not all respond from that enabled free will?

        Thanks

        Peter

        Reply
        • David and Peter: Prevenient grace

          Prevenient Grace: Part 1

          The course tutor on a Methodist Local Preacher, Faith and Worship training course, said that Methodism did not accept the theology of the Fall. That took me aback and was a catalyst for a self-directedlook, which took led me to consider prevenient grace.
          I’ve attempted to post three links to Dr Sam Storms site, which Ian has declined to post.
          This is one of his articles:
          Arminians and Prevenient Grace

          By: Sam Storms

          It is important to point out that Calvinists and Arminians share a considerable amount of common theological ground, even when it comes to the issue of salvation. Perhaps the most important issue on which they agree is anthropology, or the doctrine of man or human nature. Both camps acknowledge that fallen human beings are born with a corrupt and depraved nature, in bondage to sin, utterly unable to do anything pleasing to God. Both camps agree that unregenerate human beings are willingly enslaved to their fallen natures.

          John Wesley affirmed this truth:

          “I believe that Adam, before his fall, had such freedom of will, that he might choose either good or evil; but that, since the fall, no child of man has a natural power to choose anything that is truly good. Yet I know (and who does not?) that man has still freedom of will in things of indifferent nature” (Works of Wesley, 10:350).

          Wesleyan Arminianism differs significantly on this point with the version of Arminianism espoused by Charles Finney. Finney believed that all people possess the ability, apart from divine grace, to choose what is good no less than they possess the ability to choose what is evil. Contrary to Wesley, Finney rejected the idea that people are born morally depraved because of Adam’s sin. In fact, when it came to the doctrine of sin, Finney was more semi-Pelagian than Arminian.

          In sum, the Wesleyan Arminian analysis of fallen human nature does not differ fundamentally from the Calvinistic one. So wherein do they differ? Why do Wesleyan Arminians affirm conditional election and Calvinists affirm that election is unconditional? The answer is what is called prevenient (or preventing) grace. According to this doctrine, God graciously and mercifully restores to all human beings the freedom of will lost in the fall of Adam (appeal is often made to John 1:9). Prevenient grace provides people with the ability to choose or reject God. According to Wesley, “there is a measure of free-will supernaturally restored to every man” (10:229-30). This grace, however, is not irresistible. Whereas all are recipients of prevenient grace, many resist it to their eternal demise. Those who utilize this grace to respond in faith to the gospel are saved. In summary, “Arminians maintain that ‘prevenient grace,’ a benefit that flows from Christ’s death on the cross, neutralizes human depravity and restores to pre-Christians everywhere the ability to heed God’s general call to salvation” (Demarest, 208).

          The best treatment of the notion of prevenient or enabling grace from an Arminian perspective is provided by H. Orton Wiley in his Christian Theology, 3 vols. (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1952), 2:344-57.

          Henry Thiessen explains it this way:

          “Since mankind is hopelessly dead in trespasses and sins and can do nothing to obtain salvation, God graciously restores all men sufficient ability to make a choice in the matter of submission to Him. . . . In His foreknowledge He perceives what each one will do with this restored ability, and elects men to salvation in harmony with His knowledge of their choice of Him” (Lectures in Systematic Theology [Eerdmans, 1949], pp. 344-45).

          Thomas Oden, a contemporary theologian, contributes greatly to our understanding of the Wesleyan-Arminian view on prevenient grace. Grace, says Oden, arrested man in his fall and placed him in a salvable state and endowed him with the gracious ability to meet all the conditions of personal salvation. The redemption that God intends for all must be cooperatively chosen by freedom cooperating with the conditions of grace enabled by the history of grace in Christ. Oden writes:

          “Insofar as grace precedes and prepares free will it is called prevenient. Insofar as grace accompanies and enables human willing to work with divine willing, it is called cooperating grace” (Transforming Grace, 47).

          “To no one, not even the recalcitrant unfaithful, does God deny grace sufficient for salvation” (48).

          “Actual grace both removes the obstacles to salvation and enables the will to act in a salutary way. Grace works negatively to remedy the infirmity resulting from sin, and positively to elevate the soul to salutary acts, so that the soul may be enabled to receive God’s own justifying action manifested on the cross and persevere in this reception” (57-8).

          Prevenient grace, says Oden, is responsible for “healing the nature vitiated by original sin and restoring the liberty of the children of God” (58). Again,

          “God antecedently wills that all should be saved, but not without their own free acceptance of salvation. Consequent to that exercise of freedom, God promises unmerited saving mercies to the faithful and fairness to the unfaithful” (77).

          “God provides sufficient grace to every soul for salvation . . . . Those who cooperate with sufficient grace are further provided with the means for grace to become effective” (77).

          There are several problems with the Arminian view:

          First, the doctrine of prevenient grace, on which the Arminian view of conditional election is based, is not found in Scripture. See “Does Scripture Teach Prevenient Grace in the Wesleyan Sense?” by Tom Schreiner in The Grace of God, The Bondage of the Will (Baker, 1995), 2:365-82.

          Appeal is often made to John 1:9 “‘There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.’ This could as easily refer to (1) the influence of common grace, or (2) the operation of general revelation. Schreiner contends that ‘enlighten’ does not refer to inward illumination of the heart/mind/will, but rather means to expose the moral state of the heart, i.e., to shed light upon someone so as to reveal and uncover (see 3:19-21).

          Second, consider Romans 8:29, a text on which many Wesleyan-Arminians base their view of divine election because of the reference to God’s ‘foreknowledge’. But note well that there is no reference in the text to faith or free will as that which God allegedly foresees in men. It is not what he foreknows but whom.

          Third, this view assumes that fallen men are able and willing to believe in Christ apart from the regenerating grace of God, a notion that Paul has denied in Rom. 3:10-18.

          Fourth, would not this view give man something of which he may boast? Those who embrace the gospel would be deserving of some credit for finding within themselves what others do not.

          Fifth, this view suspends the work of God on the will of man. It undermines the emphasis in Romans 8:28-38 on the sovereign and free work of God who foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies. It is God who is responsible for salvation, from beginning to end.

          Sixth, even if one grants that God elects based on his foreknowledge of man’s faith, nothing is proven. For God foreknows everything. One must determine from Scripture how man came by the faith that God foreknows. And the witness of Scripture is that saving faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-10; Phil. 1:29; 2 Pet. 1:1; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; Acts 5:31; 11:18).

          Someone once said to Charles Spurgeon, “God foresaw that you would have faith, and therefore He loved you.” To which Spurgeon replied:

          “What did He foresee about my faith? Did He foresee that I should get that faith myself, and that I should believe on Him of myself? No; Christ could not foresee that, because no Christian man will ever say that faith came of itself without the gift and without the working of the Holy Spirit. I have met with a great many believers, and talked with them about this matter; but I never knew one who could put his hand on his heart, and say, ‘I believed in Jesus without the assistance of the Holy Spirit’.

          A concluding question for the Arminian:

          The Arminian contends that God foreknows both that some are and others are not going to believe in Christ in response to the gospel. He also affirms that God knows why they respond either in belief or unbelief, for God is omniscient and knows the secrets and inner motives of the heart. God also knows what it is in the presentation of the gospel that proves successful in persuading some to say “Yes” and what it is that proves unsuccessful in persuading those who say “No.” The question, then, is this: If God truly desires for all to be saved in the way the Arminian contends, and if he knows what it is in the means of persuasion contained in the gospel that brings people to say yes, why doesn’t he orchestrate the presentation of the gospel in such a way that it will succeed in persuading all people to believe? The point is this: Surely the God who perfectly knows every human heart is capable of creating a world in which the gospel would prove successful in every case. And if God desires for all to be saved in the way the Arminian contends, why didn’t He?

          Reply
          • There may be some overlap here with part 1
            Prevenient Grace: Part 2

            The Arminian Doctrine of Prevenient Grace

            By: Sam Storms

            Whereas some Arminians (such as Jack Cottrell) deny the doctrine of total depravity, most affirm it and account for human free will by appealing to the concept of prevenient grace. John Wesley affirmed:

            “I believe that Adam, before his fall, had such freedom of will, that he might choose either good or evil; but that, since the fall, no child of man has a natural power to choose anything that is truly good. Yet I know (and who does not?) that man has still freedom of will in things of indifferent nature” (Works of Wesley, 10:350).

            How, then, does one exercise saving faith? Thiessen explains:

            “Since mankind is hopelessly dead in trespasses and sins and can do nothing to obtain salvation, God graciously restores all men sufficient ability to make a choice in the matter of submission to Him. . . . In His foreknowledge He perceives what each one will do with this restored ability, and elects men to salvation in harmony with His knowledge of their choice of Him” (Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, 344-45. The best treatment of the notion of prevenient or enabling grace from an Arminian perspective is provided by H. Orton Wiley in his Christian Theology, 3 vols. [Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1952], 2:344-57).

            In sum, the Wesleyan Arminian analysis of fallen human nature does not differ fundamentally from the Calvinistic one. So wherein do they differ? Why do Wesleyan Arminians affirm conditional election and Calvinists affirm that election is unconditional? The answer is prevenient grace. According to this doctrine, God graciously and mercifully restores to all human beings the freedom of will lost in the fall of Adam. Prevenient grace provides people with the ability to choose or reject God. According to Wesley, “there is a measure of free-will supernaturally restored to every man” (10:229-30). This grace, however, is not irresistible. Whereas all are recipients of prevenient grace, many resist it to their eternal demise. Those who utilize this grace to respond in faith to the gospel are saved. In summary, “Arminians maintain that ‘prevenient grace,’ a benefit that flows from Christ’s death on the cross, neutralizes human depravity and restores to pre-Christians everywhere the ability to heed God’s general call to salvation” (Demarest, 208).

            There are several problems with the Arminian view:

            First, the doctrine of prevenient grace, on which the Arminian view of conditional election is based, is not found in Scripture. See “Does Scripture Teach Prevenient Grace in the Wesleyan Sense?” by Tom Schreiner in The Grace of God, The Bondage of the Will (Baker, 1995), 2:365-82.

            Appeal is often made to John 1:9 – “There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” To derive the doctrine of prevenient grace from this passage, on the basis of which one then constructs an entire doctrine of soteriology, strikes me as somewhat of a stretch. This passage could as easily refer either to the influence of common grace, or to the operation of general revelation. Schreiner contends that “enlighten” does not refer to inward illumination of the heart, mind, or will, but rather means to expose the moral state of the heart, i.e., to shed light upon someone so as to reveal and uncover the state of the soul (see 3:19-21).

            Second, this view assumes that fallen men are able and willing to believe in Christ apart from the regenerating grace of God, a notion that Paul has denied in Rom. 3:10-18.

            Third, would not this view give man something of which he may boast? Those who embrace the gospel would be deserving of some credit for finding within themselves what others do not.

            Fourth, this view suspends the work of God on the will of man. It undermines the emphasis in Romans 8 on the sovereign and free work of God who foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies. It is God who is responsible for salvation, from beginning to end.

            Fifth, even if one grants that God elects based on his foreknowledge of man’s faith, nothing is proven. For God foreknows everything. One must determine from Scripture how man came by the faith that God foreknows. And the witness of Scripture is that saving faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-10; Phil. 1:29; 2 Pet. 1:1; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; Acts 5:31; 11:18).

            Someone once said to Charles Spurgeon, “God foresaw that you would have faith, and therefore He loved you.” To which Spurgeon replied:

            “What did He foresee about my faith? Did He foresee that I should get that faith myself, and that I should believe on Him of myself? No; Christ could not foresee that, because no Christian man will ever say that faith came of itself without the gift and without the working of the Holy Spirit. I have met with a great many believers, and talked with them about this matter; but I never knew one who could put his hand on his heart, and say, ‘I believed in Jesus without the assistance of the Holy Spirit’.

            The Arminian contends that God foreknows both that some are and others are not going to believe in Christ in response to the gospel. He also affirms that God knows why they respond either in belief or unbelief, for God is omniscient and knows the secrets and inner motives of the heart. God also knows what it is in the presentation of the gospel that proves successful in persuading some to say “Yes” and what it is that proves unsuccessful in persuading those who say “No.”

            The question, then, is this: If God truly desires for all to be saved in the way the Arminian contends, and if he knows what it is in the means of persuasion contained in the gospel that brings people to say yes, why doesn’t he orchestrate the presentation of the gospel in such a way that it will succeed in persuading all people to believe? The point is this: Surely the God who perfectly knows every human heart is capable of creating a world in which the gospel would prove successful in every case. And if God desires for all to be saved in the way the Arminian contends, why didn’t He?

          • Prevenient Grace: Part 3 – Divine Election

            And here is a third article from Dr Sam Storms.( Election Part 2

            Divine Election – Part II

            By: Sam Storms

            In continuation of part one . . .

            A. The Arminian Concept of God’s Will

            Thomas Oden (The Transforming Power of Grace [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993]) contends that “the eternal will to save may be viewed as either antecedent or consequent to the exercise of human freedom in history” (82). This Wesleyan-Arminian perspective recognizes “God’s primordial (or antecedent) benevolence, and God’s special (or consequent) benevolence. A distinction is posited between God’s antecedent will to save (voluntas antecedens, antecedent to the exercise of human freedom), and God’s consequent will (voluntas consequens) to reward the just and punish the unjust consequent to the exercise of their freedom” (83).

            Thus the universal sufficiency of grace is viewed in three phases:

            1. God’s will antecedently is to save all;

            2. God’s will is to offer grace sufficient to make actual God’s universal will to save;

            3. Consequent upon the exercise of freedom, God’s will is to destine those who freely accept grace to be near to God in eternal blessedness and to destine those who reject grace to be far from God in eternal separation (83).

            God’s antecedent will is that all be saved. It is called “antecedent” because it precedes and is unrelated to the free and self-determining response of people to believe or not believe. God’s consequent will, so called because it is subsequent to and follows upon the decision to believe or not believe, is that those who embrace the gospel in faith shall be saved whereas those who reject it be lost. Thus the antecedent will of God is equally and impartially disposed toward all without regard to any human responsiveness. This antecedent will is wholly sincere, insofar as there is no secret intent that some would not be saved. Consequent to and upon human choice God wills that those who have freely believed receive salvation. By virtue of divine foreknowledge, God knew in advance who would and who would not avail themselves of the prevenient grace that was the fruit of his antecedent benevolence. Thus, says Oden, “the antecedent will focuses on God’s eternal intent to give, the consequent on God’s will in answer to historical human responsiveness. The former is universally and equally given, the latter particularly and variably received according to human choice” (88). If there is any relation between God’s antecedent will and human faith it is that faith is the condition under which God antecedently wills all to be saved. In other words, God truly and sincerely wills for all to be saved . . . but only if they believe.

            Oden contends that “””since God is eternally present to all moments — past, present, and future — God foreknows how free agents will choose, but that foreknowing does not determine their choice” (128). Events are known by God because they exist, but do not exist because he knows them. Thus God’s foreknowledge does not place a necessity on any foreknown event. Things do not happen because God foreknows them. God foreknows them because they will happen.

            Grace arrested man in his fall and placed him in a salvable state and endowed him with the gracious ability to meet all the conditions of personal salvation. The redemption that God intends for all must be freely chosen as the human will cooperates with the conditions of grace enabled by the history of grace in Christ. “Insofar as grace precedes and prepares free will it is called prevenient. Insofar as grace accompanies and enables human willing to work with divine willing, it is called cooperating grace” (47).

            Prevenient grace is universal. “To no one,” says Oden, “not even the recalcitrant unfaithful, does God deny grace sufficient for salvation” (48). Prevenient grace is responsible for “healing the nature vitiated by original sin and restoring the liberty of the children of God” (58).

            Thus, “God antecedently wills that all should be saved, but not without their own free acceptance of salvation. Consequent to that exercise of freedom, God promises unmerited saving mercies to the faithful and fairness to the unfaithful” (77). God “provides sufficient grace to every soul for salvation . . . . Those who cooperate with sufficient grace are further provided with the means for grace to become effective” (77). Therefore, whereas prevenient grace is distributed universally pursuant to the fulfillment of God’s antecedent will that all be saved, it is not irresistible. It only makes a response in faith possible, but not certain. Any or all may conceivably resist the overtures and operation of prevenient grace to their eternal damnation. That some freely choose not to resist, but to yield, freely embracing the gospel, is foreknown by God, on the basis of which he elects them to inherit eternal life.

            B. The Calvinistic Concept of Divine Election

            An essential part of God’s redemptive plan is the salvation of fallen sinners. However else one wishes to conceive it, God’s election of individuals to eternal life antedates creation. It is a pretemporal act which the biblical authors describe as having transpired “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8; 17:8) or “from the beginning” (2 Thess. 2:13). Election is a result of God’s gracious purpose to save sinners, according to which we have been “predestined” to obtain an inheritance (Eph. 1:11). All of which, Paul tells us, “was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9).

            The Calvinist insists that election is not grounded or based upon any act of man, for good or ill. Election “does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). That God should set his electing love upon any individual is not in any way dependent upon that person’s will (Rom. 9:16), works (2 Tim. 1:9; Rom. 9:11), holiness (Eph. 1:4), or obedience (1 Peter 1:1-2). Rather, election finds its sole and all-sufficient cause in the sovereign good pleasure and grace of God (Eph. 1:9; Rom. 9:11; 11:5; Matt. 11:25-26; 2 Tim. 1:9). Were election to be based upon what God foreknows that each individual will do with the gospel it would be an empty and altogether futile act. For what does God foresee in us, apart from his grace? He sees only corruption, ill will, and a pervasive depravity of heart and soul that serves only to evoke his displeasure and wrath.

            What this means is that Calvinism is monergistic (made up two words that mean “one/sole” and “energy/power”) when it comes to the doctrine of salvation. This simply means that when a person is saved it is due wholly to the working of one source of power: God. Arminianism is by necessity synergistic, in that it conceives of salvation as the joint or mutual effort of both God and man. However, in fairness to my Arminian friends, it must be pointed out that virtually all of them insist that God takes the initiative and that people then respond. Thus the word ‘synergism’ simply means two or more forces or powers working together with each other to accomplish a common goal. Some believe that the implications of this serve to undermine saving grace. G. C. Berkouwer, for example, says this:

            “In no form of synergism is it possible to escape the conclusion that man owes his salvation not solely to God but also to himself. Still more accurately, he may thank himself — by virtue of his decision to believe — that salvation actually and effectively becomes his in time and eternity. To be sure, synergism is constantly seeking to avoid this conclusion, and it is seldom expressed in so many words that salvation really depends partly on man. Nevertheless, this conclusion cannot in the long run be avoided and it is clear that we actually are confronted here with the real problem of synergism as it results in a certain amount of human self-conceit” (Divine Election [Eerdmans, 1960], 42).

            How, then, may we define election as it is conceived by those who call themselves Calvinists? Divine election may be defined as that loving and merciful decision by God the Father to bestow eternal life upon some, but not all, hell-deserving sinners. This decision was made before the foundation of the world and was based not upon any act of will or works of men and women, but solely upon God’s sovereign good pleasure. One does not enter the ranks of the elect by meeting a condition, be it faith or repentance. One enters the ranks of the elect by virtue of God’s free and altogether gracious choice, as a result of which he enables us to repent and believe. Thus, election is both sovereign and unconditional.

            C. An Analysis of Romans 8:29-30

            The Arminian approach to foreknowledge in this text takes one of three forms.

            (1) Foreknowledge may refer to God’s knowledge of all men and women from eternity past. In other words, foreknowledge is but a synonym for omniscience. There are two problems with this: a) all those whom God foreknows he also predestines; therefore, if foreknowledge encompasses every human being, then every human being will ultimately be saved (universalism); b) vv. 29-30 are the basis for Paul’s assertion in v. 28, a passage that concerns “those who love God, those who are called according to his purpose,” i.e., Christians.

            (2) The other option is that foreknowledge refers to God’s advance knowledge of who would choose or believe in Christ. God elects or predestines unto salvation those whom he foreknows will exercise saving faith in Christ. Election is therefore conditional. God elects or chooses those who first elect or choose Christ. God’s elective choice of you, his decision to predestine you to eternal life, was conditioned upon his foreknowledge that you would believe in the gospel. Here is what Arminius himself says:

            “To these [previous three decrees] succeeds the fourth decree, by which God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere, according to the before described administration of those means which are suitable and proper for conversion and faith; and, by which foreknowledge he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere” (Works, I:248).

            (3) A slightly different, but related, form of view (2) is the notion of corporate conditional election (as explained above). According to this view, election concerns God’s appointment of the believing community to everlasting glory.

            The Calvinistic approach to divine foreknowledge begins with this observation on what is happening in this passage:

            “Paul portrays salvation as a series of divine initiatives snowballing toward fullness. He links these initiatives so tightly that each is born of the former and bears a promise of the one which follows. Glorification is thus the finishing touch on the indivisible divine work of salvation which originated in God’s foreknowledge and predestination of Christians and has come to historical expression in their calling and justification. These verses truly do form a ‘chain’ of interconnected divine salvific works and so imply a continuity in Christians’ salvation” (Paul and Perseverance, p. 13).

            The verb “to foreknow” occurs five times in the NT (Acts 26:5; Rom. 8:29; 11:2; 1 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 3:17). The noun “foreknowledge” occurs in two texts (Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:2). The place to begin is with a definition of foreknowledge. John Murray writes:

            “Many times in Scripture ‘know’ has a pregnant meaning which goes beyond that of mere cognition. It is used in a sense practically synonymous with ‘love,’ to set regard upon, to know with peculiar interest, delight, affection, and action (cf. Gen. 18:19; Exod. 2:25; Psalm 1:6; 144:3; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2; Hosea 13:5; Matt. 7:23; 1 Cor. 8:3; Gal. 4:9; II Tim. 2:19; 1 John 3:1). There is no reason why this import of the word ‘know’ should not be applied to ‘foreknow’ in this passage, as also in 11:2 where it also occurs in the same kind of construction and where the thought of election is patently present (cf. 11:5,6)” (317).

            See, for example, Matthew 7:23 where Jesus reveals his future response to false disciples at the last judgment: “I never knew you, depart from Me.” As Baugh has pointed out, “Clearly, mere intellectual cognition is ruled out as the meaning of ‘know’ here, since it is precisely Jesus’ knowledge of their real motives and covenantal status and commitments that leads to their condemnation. Rather, he says that these people never had covenantal relations with him; the Good Shepherd did not know them as his sheep, and they did not know him (John 10:14)” (“The Meaning of Foreknowledge,” p. 194). Cf. Gal. 4:8-9

            Thus, to foreknow is to forelove. That God foreknew us is but another way of saying that He set his gracious and merciful regard upon us, that He knew us from eternity past with a sovereign and distinguishing delight. God’s foreknowledge is an active, creative work of divine love. It is not bare pre-vision which merely recognizes a difference between men who believe and men who do not believe. God’s foreknowledge creates that difference! Or again, “speaking about God’s foreknowledge may be a way of expressing his eternal commitment to individuals as part of his determination to bring them to faith and to all the glories and benefits of Christ’s work” (Baugh, 196).

            Predestination is not synonymous with foreknowledge. Foreknowledge focuses attention on the distinguishing love of God whereby men are elected. Predestination points to the decision God made of what He intended to do with those whom He foreknew. See Acts 4:28; Eph. 1:5,11. Predestination is that act in eternity past in which God ordained or decreed that those on whom He had set his saving love would inherit eternal life.

            Calling, here, “must be understood as effectual. It is not merely an invitation that human beings can reject, but it is a summons that overcomes human resistance and effectually persuades them to say yes to God. This definition of “calling” is evident from Rom. 8:30, for there Paul says that “those whom he called he also justified.’ The text does not say that “some” of those called were justified. It fuses the called and justified together so that those who have experienced calling have also inevitably received the blessing of justification” (Schreiner, 450-51).

            Note the use of the past tense in describing glorification. Yet we are told in 8:18-25 that glorification is still future. Paul clearly wants to emphasize the fact that our glorification is so sure, so securely set and sealed in the mind and purpose and predestined plan of God, that it may be spoken of as having already occurred.

            Observe also that each link is co-extensive with every other link. Paul makes it clear that the objects of God’s saving activity are the same from start to finish. Those whom he foreknew, not one more nor one less, these he predestined. And those whom he predestined, not one more nor one less, these he called. And those whom he called, not one more nor one less, these he justified. And those whom he justified, not one more nor one less, these he glorified. Thus “Paul posits a continuity in the beneficiaries of salvation from its first manifestation in God’s eternal counsel to its final one in glorification” (Gundry Volf, 14). So, how many did God lose in the process? Not one! All whom He foreknew in eternity past will ultimately be glorified in eternity future. Not one is lost. Not one! No one who is foreknown fails to be predestined. And no one who is predestined fails to be called. And no one who is called fails to be justified. And no one who is justified fails to be glorified!

            N.B. There is also immense practical benefit in this interpretation. Vv. 29-30 are designed to provide the theological basis or foundation for the promise of v. 28. In other words, we can know with confidence that God truly will work in all things for our ultimate good (v. 28) because those whom he calls will most assuredly be glorified as well (vv. 29-30). Thus, God will permit nothing ultimately to hinder his eternal good purpose for his called ones.

            [Other NT texts to consider on the doctrine of election include John 6:37-44, 64-65; 10:14-16,24-30; Acts 13:44-48; Romans 9; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 2:11; 1 Peter 1:1-2; 2 Peter 3:8-9; Revelation 13:8; 17:8.]

          • I will come back to your lengthy posts later, but in the meantime I will simply comment that your Methodist tutor needs to brush up on his Methodist theology! Both Maddox (“Responsible Grace”) and Collins (“Holy Love”) have sections on Wesley’s understanding of the Fall, original sin and total depravity

          • “Third, this view assumes that fallen men are able and willing to believe in Christ apart from the regenerating grace of God”

            This is wrong, and demonstrably so on the basis of the preceding outline of prevenient grace. The human response is possible and enabled only by divine grace.

  7. Peter,
    I recollect from a few years ago, JI Packer considered it to be antimony.
    But John Piper argued against Packer. He has an essay, Are their two wills in God? readily available online.
    The discussion (and Packers view) and points between them can probably still be found online.
    For what it is worth, I think this whole topic, from scripture is a retrospective view, looking back from a position of salvation and the longitudinal canonical theme of the history of redemption.

    Reply
  8. Hello David,

    I was a member of the Methodist church, but came away as I after self- directed study couldn’t vow not to preach/teach against the doctrine of the church
    Dr Sam Storms considers “prevenient grace” in his blog, resources, if you’d care to search it out. And asks questions of Arminians, but starts with points of agreement.
    In fact it is here:
    https://www.samstorms.org/all-articles/post/divine-election—part-ii

    https://www.samstorms.org/all-articles/post/arminians-and-prevenient-grace

    and here:

    https://www.samstorms.org/all-articles/post/the-arminian-doctrine-of-prevenient-grace

    Yours,
    Geoff

    Reply
    • Hello David,
      Re,
      Your comment above.
      It was in mid-90’s. Course tutor – she now dead but was dyed in the wool Methodist.
      As you’ll be aware, Methodism has in the main, departed from Wesley. While I was a member I often heard Wesley derided from the pulpit.
      As for Atonement, you’ll be aware of the fractious and antogonistic Controversy in Wales.
      The main reason I sought to have the articles posted was not because of Ian’s excellent exegesis, original article, but Peter’s comment followed by yours and to bring some developed reasoning to the table on the point raised.
      Peter, over some time, in his comments on this site, seems to be particularly exercised by election something which Ian has avoided as a distinct systematic topic-not that I blame him.
      Maybe, David, you could help. I know someone who has returned to a local Salvation Army after some years in the Assemblies of God. If I understand correctly, there seem to be two tiers or classes of Christian, in the Salvationist structure or ecclesiastical system. Is that correct?
      But this is far, far off topic, so much so it detracts from Ian’s article.

      Reply
      • “If I understand correctly, there seem to be two tiers or classes of Christian, in the Salvationist structure or ecclesiastical system. Is that correct?”

        I think I would need to know which the two “tiers” are. If the distinction is between “soldiers” (laity) and “officers” (ministers) then the official position is that officers are simply soldiers who have been called to full-time ministry. There is certainly no hierarchical “order” – although The Salvation Army, like many other churches, struggles with clericalism.

        If the distinction is between “adherents” who make a confession of faith and “soldiers” who sign a covenant containing life-style commitments (including that of abstinence), then the situation is rather more muddled and I think that this is going to be a key discussion in The Salvation Army over the coming years. It is sometimes asserted that “soldiership” is the Army’s form of basic discipleship, at other times that “soldiers” are more than “mere Christians”.

        Reply
        • David,
          Thank you for your considered response.

          It is the situation described in your last paragraph, that he has mentioned and has difficulty in accepting as a Christian of many years.

          As it happens my wife’s dead mother signed the Methodist pledge (of abstinence).

          What I appreciated in Methodism was an annual “Covenant Renewal Service” for all members, using the original Wesley covenantal renewal commitment, not a newer version which had been diluted from the original.

          Reply
  9. “Third, would not this view give man something of which he may boast? Those who embrace the gospel would be deserving of some credit for finding within themselves what others do not.”

    Again, no, because the response is enabled only by divine grace. The penitent sinner does not find anything in him/herself for which credit can be claimed.

    Reply
  10. “The question, then, is this: If God truly desires for all to be saved in the way the Arminian contends, and if he knows what it is in the means of persuasion contained in the gospel that brings people to say yes, why doesn’t he orchestrate the presentation of the gospel in such a way that it will succeed in persuading all people to believe? The point is this: Surely the God who perfectly knows every human heart is capable of creating a world in which the gospel would prove successful in every case. And if God desires for all to be saved in the way the Arminian contends, why didn’t He?”

    Three points, which are actually closely related:

    1. God values free will, and prevenient grace – as acknowledged in the outline which you presented – is not “irresistible”;

    2. The form of this question closely follows the common question about the Fall, and why God allowed Adam and Eve to sin;

    3. The closing question simply invites a counter-question: if the Calvinist understanding of election is followed, in which everything depends upon God, then why would a God who desires the salvation of all, choose to elect only a few?

    Reply
  11. “God’s election of individuals….”

    I suspect this is actually the key difference in this debate. As I understand it, the Wesleyan understanding of election is not that God elects individuals as such, but that he has elected to save those who are “in Christ” who is both the elect and reprobate (which is why repentant sinners can be “in Christ” through justification, regeneration and adoption).

    Reply
  12. The Calvinist understanding of “election” safeguards God’s sovereign freedom to save whom he will. It fails to take account of his love, and seems to have no answer to the question of why a loving God, who desires that all be saved, should choose to elect only a few

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  13. David,
    Remove Arminius, Calvin, philosophy from all this: what does scripture say in the whole canon, longitudinal , history of redemption.
    After the Fall, there are blessings and curses, divisions from the off throughout the OT.
    While I’ve not looked at it again before making this comment, I think that Storms part 3 brings in more, argues more from scripture, with references and in one of the articles he points out the prevenient grace does not have scriptural warrant.

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