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Predestination, Free Will and Sin: A Tension Resolved by Grace


The Question that Started it All

Predestination and Free Will—is there a place for both?



Prevenient Grace—As defined from the Beacon Dictionary of Theology
Background of the Argument by way of Systematic Theology
Follow up Question Concerning Theological Method

Theological History

The views of Pelagius and Augustine

Theological Teaching

Discussion Question: Grace and Sin
The False Antithesis Between Monergism and Synergism
Oden's Schema of Prevenient Grace
The fallacy of God's will vs. Man's will
Is God's Knowledge the Cause of All Things?
What About Pharaoh?


Arminianism isn't Pelagian or semi-Pelagian, it is semi-Augustinian
What of Original Sin, the Total Depravity of man?
Are you saying that any man who doesn't reject God will be saved?
I just don't see that much difference between choosing to accept and choosing to reject God.

Proof Texts

A Short Listing of Proof Texts for Prevenient Grace


Follow up 1
Follow up 2


The Question That Started It All

Predestination and Free will—Do they go together? My pastor said we can't comprehend or know how God can choose us while we are able to choose Him in the same time. The Bible speaks of both. Free-will with predestination seems like a contradiction to me. If God chose me to choose Him, did I really have the free-will to choose Him?


Eric Landstrom's reply: Beware those who say the two subjects are mutually exclusive of each other. These people will present you with a fringe view that is the result of an uninformed, unreflective, and rigid false dichotomy. At best they will simply rehash the historical positions of Augustine and Pelagius as they run to opposite ends of the logic pool to defend their view.

After reflecting upon your question, I will lay it out for you:

As stated elsewhere on this web site: 1) God definitely has foreordained or predestined from the foundations what will happen to those who have followed Him and to those who have not followed Him. 2) God has not predetermined individuals one way or the other. Yet, as Geisler well summarized, this does not deny that God:

a) Works to effect things.
b) Allows things.
c) Positively commands things.
d) Negates or negatively requires something not to be enacted.
e) Teaches and advises but does not coerce an action.

Simply put, just because God hasn't fatalistically predestinated the fate of each individual does not mean that God is not active in His creation. Neither does creature choice detract from the Lord's providence or sovereignty over His creation. Nor does creature choice mean that God has not predetermined what shall happen corporately to the aggregate groups of the faithful and the unfaithful.

Though I am still looking for a better way to articulate, to argue the following, you're welcome to a trip through my own reflections upon the problem you present:

My argument regarding man's chosing God and God's choosing man: I reject the idea that man can choose God and His transcendant witness. Instead I argue that man can only choose to reject God. As stated, I believe that both Augustine and Pelagius went to the opposite extremes of the logic pool. I also believe that they were both wrong and argue for what I believe is the middle ground while affirming compatibolism.

Simply put my argument is this:

1) God the Spirit is present among and is working to redeem all men.
2) The moral choice that man makes is not to receive God the Spirit, for He is already there, rather;
3) the moral choice is to suppress God the Spirit, doing that which is contrary to God and His witness, your conscience. And this, if done unto death, means to die in your sins.
4) Thus man does not choose God, nor does God force man.

Therefore man does not choose God and neither does God force man to repent and believe because man can resist and suppress the grace and salvation offered. Thus my argument affirms and is in accordance with a distinctly Arminian view of systematized theology. In essence my argument affirms that God has chosen all men, yet it is compatible with the idea that man has a choice; for if man has no choice, howbeit man is held responsible? "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?" (Jer 13:23).

What I am basically presenting is that the receiving of grace, positively speaking, is passive, and negatively speaking, resisting grace is active. I argue that all of mankind is within an unconditional covenant and that God gives grace to all of mankind. I also argue that this grace always has the gift of the Holy Spirit, justification and sanctification, and the manifestation of the fruits of the Spirit in view but this grace though it cannot be rejected, it can be suppressed or resisted. Negatively, for resisting and suppressing the truth, man will be held accountable which is what the apostle Paul argued (cf. Rom. 1:18-32).

I further argue that the real beauty of this argument is that it dovetails into rational arguments for the existence of God, observable facts, as well Scripture:

First, my presentation dovetails into the moral argument:

All feel responsibility. No human consciousness can fully succeed in escaping some awareness of guilt and shame. This cannot be explained sociologically or in terms of parenting. The depth, extent, and power of these moral feelings require the explanation of a moral presence, God the Spirit, in all men. The voice within ourselves, conscience, points to that which is beyond oneself. Conscience is not something we merely give ourselves (and thus could also fail to give), but is a God given gift to correct and instruct against immorality. If it were objected that one gave himself moral requirements apart from a transcendent source, this would not constitute a suitable answer because oftentimes we wish we could get rid of our conscience, that it would cease to bother us. Hence, conscience is not self-imposed, but rather unavoidable, from a transcendent witness from within. It is this same transcendent witness, a voice from deep within ourselves which is not our own, that calls us to do what is right.

Yet obviously we can do things that are contrary to this witness, our conscience. Thus we are afforded empirical evidence that God does not force any man unconditionally to be his servant. Romans 9:1 is an interesting verse to ponder this all over as you come to recognize that still little voice within you, is the awesome fearful presence of the Lord our God.*

Secondly, it dovetails into man's God given ability to reason:

Human reasoning begins with a fundamental trust in it's own power of reasoning. Although at times the senses may deceive, the only way we can grasp those deceptions is on the basis of the larger assumption of the intelligibility of things and the trustworthiness of the inquiring mind in ferreting out deceptions. Descartes rightly reasoned that the one thing he could not possibly doubt was that he had the capacity to doubt. If I can doubt my own thoughts, I must be able to think, to inquire, to examine, and to criticize, and these functions could not work without both an intelligible world and a perceiving intelligence (Thomas Oden, The Living God, Prince Press, 2001, pp. 147-48).

Rational persons have some sense of right and wrong from their natural reason, an indication that the Holy Spirit is present in them. Even "barbarians and nomads" show some signs of kalokagathia, "moral excellence," whenever they leave previously uncivilized customs. When that happens the Holy Spirit is at work and has gained a victory over sin in His mission to draw all men unto Himself.

Herman Bavinck writes of God's omnipresence: "When you wish to do something evil, you retire from the public into your house where no enemy may see you; from those places of your house which are open and visible to the eyes of men you remove yourself into your room; even in your room you fear some witness from another quarter; you retire into your heart, there you meditate: he is more inward than your heart. Wherever, therefore, you shall have fled, there he is. From yourself, whither will you flee? Will you not follow yourself wherever you shall flee? But since there is One more inward even than yourself, there is no place where you may flee from God angry but to God reconciled. There is no place at all whither you may flee. Will you flee from him? Flee unto him" (as cited by Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine, Zondervan, 1999, p. 81).

Thirdly, Scripture affirms that God is within all men, for all men are said to be without excuse (Romans 1:16-20). Apart from all influence of God, howbeit men are held responcible to the point that they are completely without excuse?**

Scripture continues to infer that the Spirit of God knocks on the hearts of all men, saying, "this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:33).

To give you a summary of what Jeremiah is speaking of, I quote from Matthew Henry's commentary regarding Jeremiah 31:27-34:

The people of God shall become numerous and prosperous. In Hebrews 8:8,9, this place is quoted as the sum of the covenant of grace made with believers in Jesus Christ. Not, I will give them a new law; for Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it; but the law shall be written in their hearts by the finger of the Spirit, as formerly written in the tables of stone. The Lord will, by his grace, make his people willing people in the day of his power. All shall know the Lord; all shall be welcome to the knowledge of God, and shall have the means of that knowledge. There shall be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, at the time the gospel is published. No man shall finally perish, but for his own sins; none, who is willing to accept of Christ's salvation.

But this isn't the only bit of Scripture that support that the Holy Spirit is present among all men, for Romans 2:15 reports: "in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them."

Just so you know that this is not all referring to some future event, but to one that has already come to pass, I quote Hebrews 8 :6-13, as Matthew Henry affirms as well:

Heb. 8:6 But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.
Heb. 8:7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.
Heb. 8:8 For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
Heb. 8:9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.
Heb. 8:10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
Heb. 8:11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.
Heb. 8:12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
Heb. 8:13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away. (Italics, mine.)

Hebrews 10:16 also supports this as well, saying, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them." Clearly the Spirit of God was at work on the hearts of those who heard Peter on Penecost before they where saved for upon hearing him, "they were pricked in their heart" (Acts 2:37) and convicted of their sin. It wasn't until the next verse that Peter tells the assembly to repent. John 16:8 says: "And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." How will the world be convicted of sin and a coming judgment unless there is already a transcenant witness right now among all men?

And let us not forget John 12:36, which reads, "While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them" (italics, mine).

The chronology of the verse is as follows :

1) While you have the light (God's transcenant witness, your conscience***)
2) Put your trust in the light (faith)
3) So that you may become sons of light (regeneration, being born again)

God the Spirit provides illumination that precedes faith and that is before regeneration, the point of salvation.

What this all boils down to is that the Lord has entered into an unconditional covenant with all peoples. It is a covenant you cannot avoid, for as the earlier argument pointed out, you cannot fail to have a conscience. Indeed the Holy Spirit is present and at work to redeem all men, yet obviously God the Spirit can be resisted, else if He cannot be you must argue that you are without sin and sin no more which is to deny 1 John 1:8 which says, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."


* Conscience may be defined as "a universal human experience of awareness that accompanies consciousness in every action, seeking to assess whether that action is consistent with what one knows is the best of one's moral self (Rom. 2:15; Heb. 10:2)" (Oden, The Transforming Power of Grace, p. 71) and all Christians are called to have a clean heart and good conscience (1 Tim. 1:5; 1 Pet. 3:16, 21) and for Christians the examination of the conscience is interwoven within a life of prayer (Heb. 9:9, 10:22). Traditionally theologians have cautioned that the conscience cannot be reduced to a conceptions that it is an act of will—for we can be morally aware that something should be done and do nothing. Neither is conscience an emotion—for we can find temporary pleasure in a thing but find such a thing as wrong upon further reflection of our conscience. Neither can conscience be wholly considered to be the direct voice of God or the absolute will of God because conscience maybe led astray by misperceptions. Rather, it is said that God speaks indirectly through our conscience and then only when the soul isn’t anesthetized by habitual sin (cf. 1 Tim. 4:2) and listened to with humility, honestly, and intently with an ear to hear what is right. Return

The normative way God speaks to Christians is through the conscience and then by bringing to memory "a more sure word" of Holy Writ (2 Pet. 1:19). The deepest self-examination (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5) comes through habitual prayer, the habitual dialogue with our Lord where we listen intently for his address and ask God for the grace so that we are able to hear and understand rightly (Ps. 51; 86).

Deficiencies and shortcomings in the conscience aren’t due insufficiency of grace but to the corrosive, habitual history of sin and God’s voice upon our heart diminishes as a consequence of habitual sin because of our willful inability to listen and hear his voice. Notwithstanding, by grace God uses a variety of means to spark the conscience and ignite the fires of moral awareness that attests to God’s own revulsion of moral evil who seeks to reconcile sinners by repentance and faith and change the fallen conscience to a redeemed, good and holy conscience that is freed to the will of Christ (1 Cor. 10:25-29; 2 Cor. 1:12).

Jesus set forth a practical example of moral insight in John 7:17 where he said that it is only when one does the will of God will that one will find out whether such teachings are from God (abstracted from Thomas Oden's, The Transforming Power of Grace, 1993, pp. 72, 73).

** The primary text for the Christian view that all people have some knowledge of the One True God is Romans 1. Romans 1 teaches that all people possess some knowledge of God because God has shown the truth to them however imperfectly the truth is understood (Rom. 1:18-19). That's why, according to Paul, people are condemned because they reject the truth in their unrighteousness. Two observations we may take note of: Our first observation is that knowledge of the truth doesn't mean salvation. Christian orthodoxy holds that people are saved by a person that believers have a personal relationship with. Christian orthodoxy rejects that people are saved by an intellectual apprehension of the tenants of Christianity. Our second observation is that rejection is a summary term. Some ignore the truth, some actively campaign against the truth, some remain jaded and anesthetize themselves from the truth through their own carelessness. "hold the truth" or "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (your English Bible may vary): suppress translates katechontôn meaning to hold down, suppress, hinder or render inoperative. In unrighteousness shows that the suppression of truth brings forth corruption of the soul. In context, the suppression of truth is in the moral sphere and is in opposition to righteousness. It is the embracing of error. Return

*** The normative place where God works upon individual persons to renew their hearts is in their conscience. In this ministry the Holy Spirit uses a variety of means to illuminate hearts and does not hesitate to use tangible, fleshy, bodily means to reach out to sinners to illuminate hearts such things as worship, the hearing of Scripture, which is a "lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Ps. 119:105 cf. Rom. 10:17), preaching, music, discipline, parental care, music and the influence of friends, teachers, or culture. For there is nothing that the world means for evil that God, through His ministry of grace, cannot use for good to reach out to sinners. Such outward means inwardly renew and prepare the soul for repentance and further works of grace but it is not uncommon for God the Spirit to work without external means or triggers directly upon the heart. "In this way grace works verbally and nonverbally, visibly and invisibly" (Oden, The Transforming Power of Grace, p. 57, cf. pp. 56-57). Return



Prevenient Grace—As defined from the Beacon Dictionary of Theology

This has to do with the many ways in which God favors us prior to our conversion. It means that God takes the initiative in the matter of our conversion, inclining us to turn to Him, wooing us, breaking down the barriers to our repenting and believing. It includes also, as taught by Arminius, Wesley, Wiley, and others, the alleviation of guilt for Adam's sin (but not, of course, of the depravity stemming from Adam). It is different from the common grace as taught by Calvinists, which consists of restraining the wickedness of the nonelect.

Due to original sin, which resulted from Adam's bad representation of the whole human race, we are born with a condition that inclines us toward a life of sin acts. Scripture thus speaks of our being enslaved to sin (Rom. 6:16-17). It shows that in ourselves we are incapable of doing what we know we ought to do (7:15, 18). Jesus says, "You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?" (Matt. 12:34, NIV). He also said that "a bad tree cannot bear good fruit" (7:18, NIV); also, that "apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5, NIV). All these passages of scripture suggest fallen man's inability to do any good thing unless he recieves God's special help—i.e., prevenient grace.

Yet Scripture also shows us that God, in His graciousness, strikes out after us, to help us towards himself. "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19, NIV), it reads. Also, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44, NIV). This is why it was said of Cornelius and his household that"God granted repentance unto life (Acts 11:18, ASV)—where the word for "granted" (used also in KJV, RSV, NEB, NIV) is from the usual Greek word for "to give, bestow, present." The rebel must respond to God's offer of salvation; but still, his repentance is called a gift that is bestowed upon him. This, because he cannot repent unless he is added by prevenient grace.

In the OT, also, it is clear that God initiates our salvation. While some passages, there, simply urge people to turn to God, as in Ezek. 18:32: "Turn yourselves, and live" (ASV); others make it clear that we must be helped, if we do turn. Thus we read in Ps. 80:3, "Turn us again, O God... and we shall be saved" (ASV). And in Ps. 85:4 we read, "Turn us, O God of our salvation" (ASV). The most vivid OT passage, on this need for prevenient grace to help us turn, is in Jer. 31:18-19: "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art Jehovah my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented" (ASV).

While both Pelagians and the semi-Pelagians denied prevenient grace, the need of it has usually been recognized. It was a particular emphasis of both James Arminius and John Wesley. Arminius said that "the free will of man towards the true good is... maimed,... destroyed, and lost" (Works, 1:526-27). Wesley said, "We [he and John Fletcher] both steadily assert that the will of fallen man is by nature free only to evil" (Burtner and Chiles, Compend of Wesley's Theology, 132-33).

Christian hymn writers have often extrolled prevenient grace. One of them, Lewis Hartsough, has us singing:

I hear Thy welcome Voice,
That calls me, Lord, to Thee.

Charles Wesley has us singing:

Saviour, Prince of Israel's race...
Give me sweet, relenting grace.

Charlotte Elliot's great invitation hymn also points up the place of prevenient grace:

Just as I am! Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down.

One thing this doctrine means is that God does not meet us halfway, but instead comes all the way to where we are and initiates in us the first desires to be saved. Thus the importance of intercessory prayer for unsaved persons.

J. Kenneth Grider, "Prevenient Grace," Beacon Dictionary of Theology, Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1983, pp. 415-16.


Background of the Argument by way of Systematic Theology

Christian thought says:

That the elect are elected in Christ and this is a group.
The non-elect are not in Christ and this is a group.
The "in Christ" group will dwell with God.
The non-elect shall go to hell.

God has chosen the fates of these two groups from the foundations.

The issue that this argument addresses is whether if man is allowed some form of choice regarding salvation--which he must be afforded if we are going to accept that man is held responsible for his actions before a holy God.

A typical "free will defense" is this: We should not ask if God gets His will, but if God grants man freewill. If man indeed does have freewill then one cannot escape the fact that man will at times not fulfill God's will for him. If man has not freewill then God Himself is the author of the sin he hates (God forbid!).

This defense then introduces a problem: If faith is from God, how does man go about "choosing" God? If man can "choose" God then man is capable of saving himself, but man cannot save himself, so what gives?

Reformed theology seems to sidestep this issue preferring to institute irresistible grace by presuming that God chooses men and none may resist God, thus the free will defense must ultimately fail. Further, so that the Biblical doctrine of the hell (i.e., the two groups) can be upheld and universalism so navigated, limited atonement is also instituted by Reformed theology, and so on through the points of Calvinism as formed at the Council of Dort. It is all very logical and seems to have credible Scripture evidence and what not from the Reformed perspective.

Neat, I say—but I do not view it as correct understanding. I could accept this problem of God choosing man and man "choosing" God on faith that while I don't comprehend how this works, in the mind of God it is understood fully—but since I'm young and foolish, I'm grabbing the bull by the horns and offering an argument that resolves the issue while still remaining well within the established biblical context. Thus the argument above is the fruit of my own exercise to harmonize the problem. I will happily accept criticism regarding its veracity.


Follow Up Question Concerning Theological Method

If Grace is present (are we speaking of saving grace here?) and working to redeem all men where does man's will come into the picture?

Eric Landstrom's Reply

First a little background and then, if you don't mind, some insight into my own theological process (without all the boring Paleo-Orthodoxy methodology): Grace, which I summarized by saying as present among all people with the immediate goal of justification followed then by sanctification, begins with a period of preparation that leads up to saving faith in the cross and saving faith itself. "Conversion" points to that decisive moment where the sinner becomes radically aware of atoning grace on the cross and understands that the grace of the cross applies to him or herself. At that point the sinner then begins by repentance and faith through God's ministry of grace to be cleansed from sin an inward renewing of the mind and the taking on of the image of Christ and clothing oneself in the righteousness of Christ.

Augustine and most of the church fathers held that the grace of justification doesn't stand alone as a unilateral, monergistic (singly worked out without willing cooperation) imputed decree, but is joined and imputed freely and coresponsibly in an extended interpersonal process (Augustine, On Man's Perfection in Righteousness, NPNF 1 V, pp. 159-76). Some of the informed Reformed as well as most Arminian and Wesleyan theologians are in agreement with Augustine's assessment and further argue that man is the media that God ministers to and that as media, man, in response to stimuli given, responds in a personal way.

While understanding that adherents to the above description believe their own cooperation accounts for no merit whatsoever, I remain uncomfortable with cooperative language in terms of soteriology. Westminster acknowledges what is, from a Calvinist perspective, a paradox of truths wherein man is in possession of free agency of some sort while God sovereignly assigns all things to come to pass. Although I don't share the same presuppositions as Westminster, where Westminster doesn't try to resolve the paradox, I do try to resolve the paradox by altering our perspective of how moral free agency is thought to work in the theological sphere of God's theocracy while steadfastly refusing to break with orthodoxy.

In light of orthodoxy, however defined, moral freedom is said to exist thereby making man fully responsible for personal sin and absolving God as the author of evil. From Westminster's perspective freedom exists as a paradox and from an Arminian-Wesleyan viewpoint freedom exists as the result of a “freed will” from grace that is then able to respond and act on the grace God has given. No matter how freedom is thought to work the end is the same: man is responsible, God is not the author of evil.

My major change in perspective is to say, no, man doesn't cooperate with grace to bring to fruition further graces (such as justification and furthering sanctification) because man's will is fallen. As such, man can only exercise his will negatively and not positively. Thus my change of perspective assumes that in God's providence to create a moral world were man is responsible, God allows the defective will of man to be exorcised while not applauding the results of those exorcises.

The illustration that man is a cup that God is continually pouring grace into comes to mind wherein man is given the ability to spill the cup or to completely knock the cup over comes to mind. The idea is that as the cup fills, the harder it is to for man to spill grace but the more grace that is spilled, the easier it is to spill more until some regrettable point comes where the cup is upended and the conscience seared and forever blind to God.

In remembrance of God’s outpouring of his Spirit upon all men, and the reversal of Babel on the day of Pentecost,

Eric Landstrom


Theological History

The views of Pelagius and Augustine

It is interesting to summarize and compare the views of Pelagius and Augustine.

Pelagius taught [not to be confused with what his followers taught]:

1. Man has a perfectly free will. He can do what God requires him to do.

2. There is no innate impulse to sin, no original sin inherited from Adam.

3. Sin is the simple choice to do wrong. Man's nature is the occasion, not the cause, of sin.

4. Grace, as a cause, is unnecessary to move the will toward God. Christ acts as an Example and motivation to right acting. Christian perfection is only a cluster of individual virtues and works with no demand for a regenerated heart.

Augustine rejected this and affirmed:

1. God created man posse non peccare et non mori (possible not to sin and die). The will was master.

2. Man abused his freedom and willed to disobey God. As a consequence he entered a state of non posse non peccare et mori (not possible not to sin and die) because God no longer gave direction to the will.

3. The will became a sinning will. All men share in this evil will because all men were in Adam when he sinned and hence sinned with him. All are guilty.

4. Salvation (here Augustine failed to see his own ambiguity) is only by

a. Baptism, which assures a child of salvation-hence he [Augustine] favored infant baptism; or
b. Grace, which was absolutely necessary for salvation, because grace can move man's will.

Our task at this point is not to trace the history of the Pelagian-Augustine controversy. It is sufficient to note the logical form of Augustine's reasoning which was developed "out of an inner need for assurance of salvation" [J. L. Neve, A History of Christian Thought (Philadelphia: The Muhlenberg Press, 1946), I, p. 147], and in contrast to his antagonist, Pelagius.

Notice the logical development of his reasoning:

1. God is absolutely sovereign. He is the direct cause of all that is. No one can stand against his will. (This is his premise and it reflects a Neoplatonic view of God as wholly other, unknown, unapproachable.)

2. Fallen man, therefore, is absolutely powerless to will anything against God, or for Him. In contrast to God's holiness, man is utterly evil.

3. If any man is saved and turns to God, it is only because God has moved man's will to respond to Him; that is, God changes the heart so that man acts in freedom. Grace changes the heart. But in the work of changing the heart grace acts in such a way that man's will cannot resist. We can say, as Neve puts it, that man is converted, not because he wills, but he wills because he is converted (Ibid.).

4. Grace is irresistible because God's will is irresistible. Therefore whom God would save will be saved, and he will not be lost because it is God who takes the responsibility for moving his will and God cannot change.

5. if Christ died for all men, as some where saying, all men would be saved. But, he observed,

6. Not all men are saved. Why? (In Augustine's earlier years he answered this question by reference to man's free agency, not by electing grace [Orton Wiley, Christian Theology, vol. 2, Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1940, p. 234].

7. Obviously not all men are saved because God must have chosen particular men to salvation, a specific number of men which cannot be changed. The rest are left in their sins. It is inconceivable that Christ should die for anybody who would not be saved.

8. Since God cannot change, it is only reasonable to suppose that elect men where chosen from all eternity.

9. Therefore individual predestination is the only logical way to account for the salvation of any man.

Personal predestination, to Augustine, was not a biblical doctrine but the inevitable conclusion to his own line of reasoning, which he believed was biblical. his logic compelled him to make God fully responsible for the salvation of certain pre-chosen men. His doctrine of predestination was not an a priori but a conclusion. It must be also said that Augustine refused to follow his own logic to its inevitable conclusion and to make God the author of sin or the cause of any man's damnation. This step his followers would take in later years.

In this way Augustine arrived at the doctrine of personal predestination. This was not, as noted above, a teaching he found from a study of the Bible, but the conclusion to his own logic and which he then believed had to be biblical. Augustine's doctrine of personal predestination was developed after he developed his doctrine of sin and grace [J. L. Neve, A History of Christian Thought (Philadelphia: The Muhlenberg Press, 1946), I, p. 146].

His concept of grace as acting directly on the human will "necessated a belief in a divine decree which determined the exact number of those who were to be saved.... From these views...there gradually grew up a theory of [individual] predestination [Orton Wiley, Christian Theology, vol. 2, Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1940, pp. 348-49] (Mildred Wynkoop, 1967, Foundations of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology, Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, pp. 28-31).


Theological Teachingy

Discussion question: Grace and Sin

Tom Oden in his book The Transforming Power of Grace asks the question, “How could it be that one spiritually lost and dead could be yet possessed of moral ability that makes him responsible for his lost condition?” Answering his question from the general consensus of the first five centuries of Christian belief, Oden quickly surveys and rejects two options, writing: “The Pelagian view that freedom of the moral will has suffered no disability must be rejected. The deterministic view that natural man is utterly incapable of exercising free will leads to opposite excesses” (p. 44). Oden then begins a nuanced examination of how grace was considered to operate by those early Christians building upon his earlier survey of how God’s grace encourages the will to desire the good by challenging our prejudices, disarming our resistances, and enabling our ability to hear the Word of God, having argued, “grace transforms in its work of enabling is not simply our understanding of truth, but more so our disposition to embody the truth. The willingness and desire of the seeker behaviorally to embody the truth is made increasingly possible” (p. 43). “Grace,” Oden writes, “moves positively by helping to offer the soul an appetite for heavenly food, a desire to reach the celestial city” (p. 43).

The answer to his question, Oden says, is a theological balance between the created nature as good and the fallen nature that is tempered by grace. Oden writes, “No one remains merely in an utterly ungraced, fallen state.... The good that is found in the unregenerate fallen human will is not due to nature, as the semi-Pelagians would have it, but grace. This explains why all men are not as bad as they could be. ‘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. Fallen man has never been without the benefits and influences of the atonement,’ wrote Tillet. The benefits of Christ’s righteousness and atoning death are coextensive with the effects of Adam’s sin” (Ps. 117, 120; Rom. 5:12-21 [pp.44, 45]).

Oden then argues that nobody is condemned for Adam’s sin alone but because of personal and volitional desire to sin that exercises itself in sundry defective ways. Notwithstanding, God is more full of grace than the world is of sin.

Discussion question:

Oden’s method of developing a contemporary theology from a consensual understanding of early Christianity is well understood and documented. Does his understanding of the early Christians agree with your own in areas of grace arresting mans’ fall and of all accountable sin as being volitional (willingly done)?

In Christ alone,

Eric Landstrom

Follow up discussion:

Q: What you think it means to be made in the image of God, or what attributes of God have been imparted to Adam, and then how does the curses listed as a result of fall, affect the "image of God"?

Adam's fall both affects and effects our nature. In an unregenerate state, without God's ministry of grace, we would all wax more and more wicked. Notwithstanding, because of grace, after the fall, man is still said to be in God’s image (Gen. 9:6) and likeness (James 3:9); nontheless he requires to be "renewed... after the image of him that created him" (Col. 3:10; cf. Eph. 4:24).

Answer your question?

Q: Yes, and no....

In my own experience when I was young and not saved, there was times when I did some things that were right, not breaking a commandment, not always but at times. When I did these "good" things there were times when I did them for selfish gain, and other times I did them just because it was the right thing to do.

This experience I believe not to be just mine, but all mankind at different times within their lives. This "seems" like the nature that is passed along by being in the image of God, and it also "seems" like grace. Isn't this antinomy?

Your experience sounds typical to me. The paradox of two natures you describe is now being renewed into the likeness of Christ. I'll try and explain: As a natural man, one's senses and appetites are dulled to the things of God. The Formula of Concord frames this well, writing,

Although man's reason or natural intellect indeed has still a dim spark of the knowledge that there is a God, as also of the doctrine of the Law, Rom. 1, 19ff, yet it is so ignorant, blind, and perverted that when even the most ingenious and learned men upon earth read or hear the Gospel of the Son of God and the promise of eternal salvation, they cannot from their own powers perceive, apprehend, understand, or believe and regard it as true, but the more diligence and earnestness they employ, wishing to comprehend these spiritual things with their reason, the less they understand or believe, and before they become enlightened and are taught by the Holy Ghost, they regard all this only as foolishness or fictions.

But by grace, the sinful Adamic nature that does not desire or will the things of God is circumcised.* Where the old nature could not even grasp the things of God, under the beginnings of grace was kindled to then know the good but unable to do the good, goes on to be renewed to not only know of the good but to also be able to do the good. Do you see the progression that our Lord's ministry of grace makes in the life of a believer as the person moves from complete anonymity with God to taking on the nature and image of Christ?

If nobody has shared with you the progressive nature that grace takes in the life of believers that always goes before us, enabling and empowering, then, in part this is a failure of the Christian community that tends to respect the fallen sinful nature too much and regard our Lord's ministry of grace without enough affection.


Eric Landstrom

* The illustration of circumcision in the OT highlights the idea of outwardly rejecting sin and embracing godliness by the cutting away of the sinful Adamic nature, but Moses called for an even greater circumcision than even that, he said, "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked" (Deut. 10:16).


The False Antithesis Between Monergism and Synergism

A false division exists within theological discussions that centers on monergism and synergism. Within Reformed circles, on a lay-level, monergism is considered to be Reformed orthodoxy and synergism heterodox to Reformed theology. However this is not the case among the "informed Reformed" when monergism and synergism are properly framed.

As in non-scholastic faith traditions, scholastic faith traditions hold that God's ministry of grace is given so that the persons He works on will do the things of God. However, synergy is a controversial word in the scholastic traditions were it is emphasized that salvation is by God alone. It is commonly held by the scholastic traditions that God saves monergistically (God alone) rather than a combined effect between God and man (called synergism). As evidenced on the web, if a search is conducted for either monergism or synergism, one will find web site after web site loaded for bear, ready and willing to vilify the "evil" synergists and their deceptive hubris of cooperating with grace for salvation. Curiously, those same monergists generally believe that persons cooperate synergistically throughout the never-ending process of sanctification post-justification (a theological discrepancy I discuss here). Observing this distinction within the scholastic tradition, non-scholastic faith traditions generally see doctrines of non-cooperation as something of an insult because God is a person and deals with other persons in personal ways and not in the abstract way they consider monergists view God's saving acts. As such, synergists view God giving grace with results in mind and people as the medium that grace causes to act. Specifically, these non-scholastic faith traditions ask "How are we healed?" instead of the scholastic traditions who ask, "Who does the healing?"

When the questions "How are we healed?" and "Who does the healing?" are asked, we are able to place the doctrines of monergism and synergism into their proper contextual framework. Here monergism and synergism are not viewed as competing theologies but complimentary theologies where Christians are all able to acknowledge the Who that saves as solely God and the how God saves as a work of God that brings about faith and repentance in persons.

In the Augustinian tradition, both non-scholastic and scholastic faith traditions hold the God gives grace preveniently. Prevenient grace goes before enabling the will to do good, and calling persons to salvation, inviting those buried in sin to awaken and rise to new life: "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Eph. 5:14). "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him" (Rev. 3:20). Prevening grace enables those seeped in sin and dead to God to hear the voice of God and answer the call of salvation. Prevening grace illuminates and liberates minds from sin. God acts upon the person before the person can act. But God acts on the person not so that the person can do nothing but namely, so that the person will see and do the things of God.

Prevenient grace goes before the soul can cooperate and works without us because it works before us so that we can then respond to God's call of salvation. “God thus operates in the hearts of men and in free will itself, so that a holy thought, a pious plan, and every motion of good will is from God” (Oden, The Transforming Power of Grace, p. 51, quoting Gregory the Great).

Augustine was the first to develop a distinction between prevening grace (who saves?) and cooperating grace (how are we saved?) writing, God “begins His influence by working in us that we may have the will [prevenient grace], and He completes it by working with us when we have the will [cooperating grace]” (Oden, ibid., quoting Augustine p. 52).

Philippians 2:12-13 is the classic text for cooperating grace: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (NKJ). On the dynamic of synergistic cooperation Oden noted Augustine’s thoughts on the subject, quoting,

It is we that will when we will, but it is He who makes us will what is good, of whom it is said... “The will is prepared by the Lord” [Prov. 8:35].... It is certain that it is we that act when we act; but it is He who makes us act by applying efficacious powers to our will, who has said, “I will make you walk in my statutes” [Ezek. 36:27]. It does not, therefore, depend on the man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy [Rom. 9:16] (Oden, ibid., quoting from Augustine’s On Grace and Free Will, p. 53).

The big idea that we can pack away from studying theological history on this subject is that modern attempts to pit monergism against synergism are little more than the result of theological reductionism whose summary does injustice to historical Christian thought through the creation of a false dichotomy that pragmatically works to hinder the proclamation of the gospel through needless in-fighting.


Eric Landstrom


Oden's Schema of Grace

The psalmist taught both that "God will go before me" (Ps. 59:10), and that God's "mercy shall follow me" (Ps. 23:6, KJV).

Heals the Soul
Moves the Will
Enables Salutary Action
Preserves in Resolve
Consummates in Glory
"Hence the grace that was subsequent at one stage becomes prevenient to a later stage" (Oden, The Transforming Power of Grace, p. 54).

Grace is always prevenient and going before us; even when encountered in sanctifying stages, grace goes before preparing and heralding the renewing of the soul. Grace goes before us, enabling and empowering us. Prior to profession of faith grace draws us to faith and empowers our faith. "Following justification, grace continues to move preveniently, preparing the way in a synergistic response to and with our acts of faith, generating elements and fore-tastes of God's perfection within us. When we 'improve' upon grace, it moves on ahead, preveniently improving us still further toward the glory which God has for us. In every act of grace, God's action is first, our faith is responsitory" (Rev. Neal, email 10/26/02).

In the sense of God's ministry of grace coming before our embodiment and subsequent cooperation, it is best to not think of the different terms used to describe grace as as different kinds of grace but as descriptions of the differing roles grace plays at differing points of a person's relationship with the Lord, our God.

In the schema above prevenient simply means the grace that "goes before." In this role our Lord gives grace before any action on the part of the person. God goes before the person encouraging the will to desire the the things of God and God goes before to effect action. God wants the person to do something, namely the things of God.

Framing the concept of prevenient and subsequent roles of grace in Calvinist terms, then prevenient grace maybe considered as a monergistic act by God that enables a synergistic cooperation between the person and God. If the person embodies and then acts upon the grace he or she has already been given, then our Lord improves upon this by again monergistically giving more grace to bring about a cooperative or synergistic action. And so on.


What About Pharaoh? God Hardened Pharaoh's Heart

Read Exodus 2:22-25. God provides us two reasons for delivering Israel:

1) He heard their groanings.
2) He remembered His covenenant (in other words, the time had come for Him to honor His covenant).

God's desire to deliver them was because the Israelites were hopeless and helpless, lost in slavery. Now ask yourself if Pharaoh (a type of federal head who is Egypt in the sense that he is Egypt’s head and reflects the stubbornness of Egypt toward Israel and through the nation of Egypt God sought to display his greatness so as to draw the nations to repentance and thus nearer to God) is typical of all persons?

I'm led to believe that both Pharaoh's position and person is extraordinary and not typical of all persons. Consider, if you will, that,

1) Pharaoh is the federal head of Egypt. This is not directly stated in Scripture but is deduced from Scripture.

2) As federal head, Pharaoh represents the stubbornness of Egypt toward the nation of Israel and God was about to bring Egypt under judgment for cursing Israel under the Abrahamic covenant.1 God's honoring of the Abrahamic covenant is not explicitly stated in the text but deduced from a comparison of the texts of Israel groaning and God's promise to bless those who bless Israel (Abraham) and to curse those who curse Israel (Abraham).  The suzerain covenant (an unconditional covenant between a sovereign and his people) between God and Abraham and Abraham's descendants is viewed as the reason God brings judgment to Egypt.

3) God sought to display his greatness so as to draw the nations to repentance and thus nearer to God. This is explicitly stated as God's goal for bringing judgment to Egypt.

Summary: Under the idea of federal headship, Pharaoh personifies Egypt. God hardened Pharaoh's heart to accomplish his immediate goal of revealing himself through his judgment to the nations to bring them to repentance and faith in fulfillment of his eschatological goal to have a people to call his own with which to share his blessedness with.

Have you considered that when God promised Moses to harden Pharaoh’s heart in order to bring great judgments against Egypt, that his judgment wasn't a personal judgment against Pharaoh but a corporate judgment against Egypt that God used to further unfold His plan of redemption of the human race in human history that He had first promised in the Garden (Gen. 3)?

A corporate judgment instead of a personal judgment seems to stand in better agreement with the text where God would rather have seen Pharaoh “return from his old ways and lived,” and where the Hebrew text makes clear that Pharaoh hardened his own heart during the first five plagues. After the first five warnings went unheeded while Egypt suffered, Pharaoh's submission would have meant prudence, not repentance. Because Pharaoh had resisted evidence, experience and even the testimony of his own court magicians, only then was his heart hardened by God to further resist. For though the first five plagues were displinary, the final five where purely penal. Although penal, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was not to wickedness but with the nerve to follow through the inclinations of his heart that already existed. In other words, after the first five disciplinary plagues where God saw Pharaoh harden his own heart, God then confirmed the path that Pharaoh had chosen and strengthened Pharaoh’s resolve to act on his evil inclinations to resist God even when prudent self-interest would have mitigated against such unrivaled foolhardiness.


Eric Landstrom


1. Remember the Abrahamic covenant: “I will bless those who bless you, and whosoever curses you I will curse” (Gen. 12:3). Oppression of Abraham’s children was Egypt’s sin and this oppression placed the nation of Egypt in a hostile relationship with the Lord of Hosts. Pharaoh and Egypt had already hardened their hearts against the children of Abraham long before the story of the Exodus. As a result, Egypt was already due judgment by the time the events of Exodus unfolded.


Spread the Word: Arminianism isn't Pelagian or semi-Pelagian, it is semi-Augustinian.

The term semi-Pelagian is often bandied about by laymen as summary term that is descriptive of those persons who follow in the Arminian and Wesleyan theological traditions. AA. Hodge defined the term, stating:

Semi-Pelagianism admits that divine grace is necessary to enable a sinner to return unto God and live, yet holds that, from the nature of the human will, man may first spontaneously, of himself, desire and attempt to choose and obey God. They deny the necessity of prevenient but admit the necessity of cooperative grace and conceive regeneration as the product of this cooperative grace. - Regeneration, A.A. Hodge

Calvinist Theologians Robert Peterson and Michael Williams, addressing the contemporary practice of labeling Arminian and Wesleyan theology semi-Pelagian, write:

The Arminians of the seventeenth century, however, held that the human will has been so corrupted by sin that a person cannot seek grace without the enablement of grace. They therefore affirmed the necessity and priority of grace in redemption. Grace must go before a person's response to the gospel. This suggests that Arminianism is closer to Semi-Augustinianism than it is to Semi-Pelagianism or Pelagianism. The word Pelagian as a description of Arminians—or Roman Catholics for that matter—does them an injustice because it associates them with a theological tradition that is truly heretical (Why I Am Not An Arminian, p. 39).

Consider that with the following quote from the book Why I Am Not A Calvinist, p. 67:

Robert Chiles has shown that contemporary Arminians' underestimation of sin represents a shocking erosion from classical Arminian convictions, especially as taught by John Wesley. For his part, Wesley affirmed the dreadful effects of the Fall in the strongest terms, agreeing fervently with his Calvinist contemporaries that sinners, left to themselves, stand utterly hopeless and helpless before God. Yet in the generations succeeding Wesley, and especially in American Methodism, the pendulum swung from Wesley's emphasis on free grace to an emphasis on free will, with an accompanying tendency to consider free will a natural human possession.

Although popular in contemporary circles to fail to discuss the necessity of grace to act preveniently before any good my be exercised by the individual in preference to discussing free will, no Arminian or Wesleyan systematic theology written makes the omission. With very few exceptions formal Arminian and Wesleyan theologies follow the seventeeth century tradition of emphasizing the necessity of grace before any liberty of any kind is manifested. As such, we should refrain from labeling Arminians and Wesleyans as semi-Pelagian even if the laity fail to articulate their view as well as their theologians.

The bottom line is that labeling all Arminians and Wesleyans as semi-Pelegan is wrong because formal Arminian and Wesleyan theology requires God to provide grace to the person before any good can be brought to fruition be it kindness in thought and action or repentance and faith. Furthermore, calling Arminians and Wesleyans semi-Pelagian registers as an insult against their person because it associates their beliefs with the truly heretical beliefs of Pelagianism.

What of Original Sin, the Total Depravity of man?

John 1:17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

Nature of grace:

John 1:9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

John 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

John 6:65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

A salvation that is offered "for all" must by nature be attainable for "all."   

Let us examine mankind's fallen condition: David lamented, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps. 51:5). The prophet Jeremiah wrote: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9). Indeed the Lord himself has said, "The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen. 8:21). In the epistle to the Ephesians Paul writes of man that "by nature [are] the children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3). The apostle Paul confirmed this truth writing: " As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God" (Rom. 3:10-11). These verses and others speak of man's inability to seek God because of his fallen nature. Because of his sinful deprived nature he is unable to draw near God on his own accord; nor does fallen man apart from the ministry of the Lord even desire to draw near God so deprived is his nature. This condition is what is referred to as original sin or what Reformed theology refers to as Total Depravity.

It is at this point we note only two options:

1) That the entire human race is hopelessly separated from the Lord in heaven;
2) or to deny Scripture and state that man isn't totally deprived.

Many opt to overcome this by appealing to man's apparent freedom to choose, yet confining this ability to choose God as a kind of inherent ability within themselves apart from the ministry of the Lord. This of course denies that man really is deprived and unable to draw near God or that man does want to even seek God on his own accord. This teaching is further denied by Jesus himself who said: "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him," and, "Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father" (John 6:44, 65). The result seems to be a paradox. God must choose the sinner, yet the sinner ought to be able to choose God—else why are men held responsible before the Lord if they are unable to exercise any kind of choice? To this paradox does my argument attempt an answer.

Are you saying that any man who doesn't reject God will be saved?

No, I am saying that the ministry of God the Spirit will continually draw all men torwards the goal of affirming the truth of the gospel and the message of John 14:6; that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The story of Cornelius serves as an example: Acts 10:2 reports that Cornelius was a devout man who feared God, who shared with his neighbors and prayed to the Lord always. According to Scripture this man could not have been drawing nearer to the Lord without the Lord's ministry. Yet so far removed was Cornelius from the truth that he fell before Peter and tried to worship him in Acts 10:25. This doesn't seem to be the action of a man who obviously has the Spirit of God working within his heart, yet isn't said to have been saved until he had heard the gospel preached by Peter in Acts 10:38-43. Regardless, Acts 10:2-8 make it clear that God was working within the man's heart. So much that God was about to offer Cornelius even more light by sending Peter to him so that he could enter into salvation by the grace of God.

I just don't see that much difference between choosing to accept and choosing to reject God.

Look at Romans 3:10, 11:

Rom. 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
Rom. 3:11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

All are not righteous.
None understand.
None seek God.

Howbeit that unrighteous man seeks or chooses to seek God?

There must be an enabler.

God does not draw near sin, nor does sin draw near God. For God is holy and set apart from sin.

There must be a mediator.

1Tim. 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

So Christ is the conduit.

How does man be draw near to God?

John 6:44 states that "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him."

The Son never left us but has sent the Holy Spirit to draw us to God. God the Spirit draws all men.

If you believe that you can choose God upon your own efforts, then you are contradicting the Bible. There must be an enabler that draws man to God "To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:79).

Now contemplate this passage:

John 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

Therefore man does not choose God, but God uncoercively enables man to reject His transcendent witness, God the Spirit.

This is the "stuff" of theology!

Is God's knowledge the cause of all things?

There is a common argument that says God’s knowledge causes all things. It goes like this: If God foreknows that something (x) is going to occur, then something else (non-x) cannot occur. If something (x) does not occur, then God’s knowledge was false. Curiously since they make strange bedfellows, this argument is used by theological determinists like Calvinists as well as those holding to process theology and Openness against orthodox Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and orthodox non-Calvinist Protestants. The argument is used by theological determinists to show that God must determine all things before they come to pass and alternatively, by those who hold that God cannot know the future for free will to be actual and not mere rhetorical sophistry.

In practice the Calvinist says that if God foreknows our choices then that knowledge guarantees those choices must occur. Therefore, says the Calvinist, determinism must be true. Conversely, the open theist argues that if God foreknows our choices then that knowledge guarantees those choices must occur. If this is so then free will cannot be true unless the future is open and God’s knowledge of the future is limited. Thus both Calvinists and Open theists argue that the Arminian must be wrong on the virtues of the same argument.

Calvinists and Open Theists, by making the argument, confuse foreordination with foreknowledge. To understand this confusion it is first necessary that I visit how orthodoxy, or, if you prefer, how everybody else understands how our Lord knows in relationship to our actions:

Within orthodox theology is the school of thought that our Lord has predetermined a plan to have a people who love Him and are motivated in all things by their love for Him. According to this school, all of the predestination passages are the expression of our Lord’s sovereign determination of the criterion of election. In other words, to make one’s election in Christ sure, one must have faith in Christ for the atonement of one's sins and continue to maintain faith in Christ to the grave. The criterion of faithfulness in Christ becomes the defining characteristic of the people of God. Our Lord’s people are then defined not by whether they are rich or poor, strong or weak, smart or slow, or in agreement in their theology. Our Lord’s people are defined as those who trust in Christ for their salvation. Our Lord's plan necessarily consists of two groups: those that come to Him and those who don't. In this, the four places in the Bible where predestination is directly noted in the Bible are understood to apply to our Lord's overarching plan to have a people to call his own and not to individuals who make up either group. Likewise in orthodox thinking, our Lord's foreknowledge of events is not said to come about because our Lord has first predestined all things. Rather our Lord's foreknowledge is determined by what will happen. Yet, as Geisler well summarized, this does not deny that God:

a) Works to effect things.
b) Allows things.
c) Positively commands things.
d) Negates or negatively requires something not to be enacted.
e) Teaches and advises but does not coerce an action.

Simply knowing for sure that a person will freely do something is not enough for God to control the world. This is because foreknowledge of an event does not imply direct influence or omnicausality or absolute determination, but merely knows what other wills are doing. In other words, foreknowledge doesn't mean absolute determination. Dr. Oden makes expands upon a subtlety: God not only grasps and understands what actually will happen, but also what could happen under varied possible contingencies. If God's knowing is infinite, God knows even the potential effects of hypothetical but unactualized possibilities, just as God knows what has or will become actualized (Oden).

This idea stated as an argument looks like this:

1) God knows all potential choices.
2) God knows the exact choices.
Therefore, God knows not only what is, but what possibly could be.

Thus it is said that God doesn't merely have a will, but a knowing will. Therefore God's knowing is said to be:

1) Eternally actual, not merely possible.
2) Eternally perfect, as distinguished from a knowledge that begins, increases, decreases, or ends.
3) Complete instead of partial.
4) Both direct and immediate, instead of indirectly reflected or mediated--God knows all things simultaneously.

Therefore God doesn't "think," He knows.

If we accept Oden's argument then we can view the relationship of human willing to our Lord's willing:

To accomplish human willing it is necessary that one (a) know what is to be done; (b) decide or will to do it; and (c) have the power to do what is willed. One may fail to accomplish an act of willing by either (a) failing to know how something is to be done; or (b) knowing what should by done but not willing it; or (c) knowing and willing that it should be done but still lacking the power to do what is willed. God lacks none of these since (a) God enjoys untrammeled awareness of what can be done; (b) God wills that the good be done, even if beyond our finite perceptions; and (c) God has the power to accomplish what God wills (Oden).

While process theologians escape the implications of an orthodox understanding God knowledge through their belief that God is temporal and that God is getting older and wiser, Calvinists and Open Theists who share the orthodox belief that God is spirit who is not creation cannot escape the implications of orthodoxy: God can know something beforehand because he has determined beforehand that it should come to pass but he can also know of the unrealized choices of his creatures as part of his nature. By way of thought experiment we can ponder how God can know everything if we consider a universe where freedom is not only assumed to exist but really does exist. Now we consider a special camera that witnesses freedom in this universe. The camera is special for two reasons: the first reason is that it exists in a dimension that compresses all time to a mathematical point and the second reason the camera is special is that the dimension in which it exists also compresses all space into a mathematical point. The result is a camera that can see all things throughout all time in a universe where real freedom exists. Now consider that the camera is more than a camera and ask yourself why the future must be open for freedom to exist?

If we think it through we can see how the logical determinism of the argument “God knows x, then x must occur” confuses foreknowledge with foreordination. Our Lord can know things in the future because He has determined beforehand that it should happen (i.e., predictive prophecy and the criterion of election). But He can also know what other wills are doing as a natural course of his own nature: that of a Supreme Being. As Keith Schooley astutely observed,

This doesn't mean that He caused that action; merely that He knows about it. To say that "God knows I will do x, therefore I don't have the ability not to do x," is to conceal a tautology with the phrase, "God knows." It resolves down to the simple fact that I can't both do and not do the same thing at the same time. If I do it, then I can't not do it, and if I don't do it, then I can't do it. It only means that I must choose between two alternatives; it certainly doesn't mean that my choice is determined.

This is where Calvinism and Open Theism become strange bedfellows. Both accept the idea that God's foreknowledge implies foreordination, and therefore limits human autonomy. Calvinism replies: God has perfect foreknowledge, therefore humans are not autonomous; Open Theism replies: Humans are autonomous, therefore God doesn't have perfect foreknowledge. But there is no reason why God cannot create beings with the capacity to make free decisions and at the same time know what decisions they will make. To say that He can't is to diminish His sovereignty simply because we can't quite grasp how it is possible (available 6/9/07:



The fallacy of God's will vs. Man's will

Those who argue for hard predestination (high Calvinism) view freewill as a threat to the sovereignty of God. This is not so because every Christian doctrine hangs upon the sovereignty of God in orthodoxy. Hence the slightest break in the sovereignty of God cannot be permitted. Even the doctrine of man's moral freedom is actually meaningless apart from God's sovereignty.

When I see people arguing against any freedom, I know that the root of such thinking lies in the thought of man's will hanging over God's will to such a degree that man's will challenges and defies God so as to constitute a threat to God's will and purpose in creation.

This unsatisfactory concept of man's freedom in relation to God's sovereignty could be likened to a set of balancing scales with the weights set against each other. In this view either God's will is thwarted by man's will or man's will is thwarted by God's will. In either case one of the two is victor and the other vanquished.

If man is afforded no moral responsibility apart from the agency of God's own, then it cannot be said that there are any other wills other than God's own. Hence, whatever your "will" is, it is God's will working. Therefore in what way are men held morally responsible? They cannot without destroying the concept of a just God and pitting the attributes of God in opposition with each other. Hence the sovereignty of God cannot supersede His justice.

Because God is not internally at opposition with himself, there must be a flaw with the view of pitting man's will and God's will in opposition.

Hence it seems to be more in keeping with the biblical teaching (God is sovereign; men are accountable) to illustrate the proper relationship my drawing a large circle which typifies God's will and them drawing a small dot within that large circle which represents man's moral freedom within God's will.

With this model God has sovereignty created morally responsible beings who are strictly limited by God. God makes the rules while man is allowed to exercise freedom within the limits set by God. Hence man always lives in an environment where God is Master.

With this model God's will and mercy sustains man's moral freedom. In fact with this model, God has made man in such a way that man is under the constant necessity to make moral decisions. With this model man cannot choose evil and reap good, nor can he make his own rules for the moral life. Neither can man dictate the terms of his own salvation.

Consequently the problem of God's will vs. man's will is resolved and there is no need to argue against man's moral freedom to defend God's sovereignty.

Abstract and cited from Mildred Wynkoop, 1967, Foundations of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology, "God's Will and Man's Will" Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, pp. 91-92

A Short Listing of Proof Texts for Prevenient Grace

I was discussing prevenient grace with somebody, and she has asked me to defend it, in context, biblically.

I'd begin by asking her if regeneration precedes faith? According to Reformed thought it does. But if this is so, we may then ask if regeneration is by God's grace? Undeniably regeneration is by grace. Therefore we are afforded an illustration from Reformed thought that the grace of God goes preveniently before the justification and sanctification of the individual.

The reason for my pointing out that on one level or another Reformed thought acknowledges that grace goes before salvation is that by doing so we uncover common streams of thought within competing systems of theological thought and establish some common ground. Through the establishment of common ground we may then continue to carry the discussion forward rather than allowing ourselves to become bogged down in combative discourse. Nevertheless, proof-texting does have its place in establishing biblical doctrines and themes and so to establish prevenient grace upon biblical grounds we may appeal to the following Scriptures:

John 12:32 declares that all men are drawn to Christ. 
John 16:8-11 we see that the ongoing ministry of the Spirit is to convict the entire world of its sin of unbelief (the suppression of truth cf. Rom. 1:18-32).
Titus 2:11 clearly states that God's grace has appeared to all men but from this passage we cannot conclude that all men will be saved. Yet the grace spoken of here cannot be explained as simply a common grace. This is because the purpose of the grace spoken of was to bring people to salvation (something that common grace in Reformed thought is never said to do). 

The book of Acts is illustrative of grace going prevenienty before salvation:*

Acts 2 reports that on the day of Pentecost "Jews from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5) were gathered together and after hearing the apostle Peter's discourse, they were awakened by the Spirit and asked the apostle, "What shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). They were not saved at this point so why are they asking unless God's grace had preveniently gone before and convicted them of their sins?

In Acts 8 we see the Ethiopian eunuch so moved by the Spirit as to read Isaiah. When Philip was led to join him in the Bible study the Ethiopian was eager to receive greater instruction (Acts 8:31). Why?

In Acts 9 Saul is smitten by the Holy Spirit three days before he was told to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 10 we see the Holy Spirit working with devout Cornelius and causing Peter to go to him. Cornelius was not a New Testament Christian at this time, but was a "God-fearer" because he sought to serve God in spirit and in truth.

In Acts 13:48 we see many "ordained" Gentiles glorifying God. They were under the mercy of God's prevenient grace waiting for the Word of Truth to come unto them.

In Acts 16 Paul finds a young man, Timotheus, already awakened, taught by his mother and grandmother, ready to be led in the way of faith. Then he found Lydia leading a group of awakened women in a riverside prayer meeting, ready to receive the things Paul preached. Next the Philippian jailer had knowledge of God enough to ask, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30).

Also in Acts 17:4 at Thessalonica we find devout Greeks, and chief women who were under prevenient grace waiting to be told of the gift of saving grace. At Berea the Bible searchers were hungry to hear God's Word. At Athens men were ignorantly worshipping the unknown god and certain men clove unto Paul and believed on Jesus.

At Ephesus in Acts 19 the grace of God preceded Paul's preaching of Christ, but they were not saved until Paul came and sensed their lack of the Spirit and exhorted them to be baptized in the name of Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit, thus bringing them up to the New Testament standard.

*My thanks go to E. Norman Brush for the illustrations of prevenient grace in the book of Acts which I've both edited and quoted directly. Visit the original article at:

Follow up 1

Reader Comment

I am afraid that this "prevenient grace" stuff is nothing more than an accomodation of the Reformed and Calvinistic language prevalent in Arminius and Wesley's time.

Eric Landstrom's Reply

I disagree with your conclusion but I do agree that if one reads Arminius for themselves they are likely to find him thoroughly Reformed and brilliant. Arminius' typical method was to take a scripture or topic, explore it through the Scriptures, then exegete the Scripture primarily under study, develop the logic of the teaching, consult the fathers and the creeds, and then state his conclusions (an incredibly modern approach for the hermeneutics students following along). However, Arminius was weak in the area of the “freed will” in that he didn't give it much of a treatment because at the time it wasn't an issue on the table. Of John Wesley's two major contributions toward theological development (apart from his rediscovery and emphasis that sanctification is also by faith—the second work of grace), was to move “Arminianism” towards an Augustinian perspective by his emphasis on prevenient grace that didn't provide free will but freed the will so that the will could respond positively. In other words, Wesley revived an Augustinian teaching. Sadly, as a result of the layman's movement, many of Wesley’s interpreters emphasized “free will,” over his own “freed will,” through the prevening grace of God. As a result, Wesleyan-Arminianism has often been mischaracterized by Reformed commentators to be semi-Pelagian instead of semi-Augustinian.

In other words, Wesley's emphasis upon prevenient grace (or prevening grace as it is also referred to) is far more than an accommodation of Reformed language because it is an emphasis that pre-dates the Reformation by well over one thousand years.

Godspeed throughout the only race that matters,

Eric Landstrom


Follow up 2

Reader Comment


For a long time I have wondered why some people "choose" God and some don't. In my own life I [have] thought "Why did I decide to accept the Truth, and so many others refuse to listen?" Your commentary makes a lot more sense to me now. Please let me know if I got this right...

a) All men are being directed to God and his Salvation.
b) If we "go with the flow", (look for it) we will find/receive it.
c) The only choice we have is to deny/reject it.
d) It is not our choice to accept it (we have been pointed in that direction already).

It is still a bit difficult for me to put in words this concept, but I understand it much better now. How about this? At birth, we are like a ship set out on a course. We are instinctively (for want of a better word) put on this heading. If we continue on the path, we will get the understanding (salvation) that we instinctively seek. However, due to our own lusts, we either decide to continue the straight, change direction, or turn around completely.

Does this make sense? I am just trying to put your article in a few words, and I don't think I am doing it too well.

But it has cleared up a lot for me. I always thought it the other way around.

Let me know if any of what I said made sense.



Eric Landstrom's Reply


After reading your summary, I believe that you have properly digested the meat of my argument.

Like your own nautical analogy:

1) Man is a like the captain of a ship with a sure helmsman who is guiding man on a long voyage to a great and distant port.
2) The Lord God is at the helm and shall keep this ship on course with a sure compass avoiding other ports of call that tempt the captain.
3) Man can dismiss this helmsman.
4) But without a helmsman the captain is lost and set adrift upon the high seas not knowing where he goes, always seeking the great port of call, but with no port in sight.

Regardless, be I right or be I wrong, I strongly urge you to study with your mind's eye upon the Lord and show yourself approved. I say this because I want you to recognize that I do not claim to have a perfect understanding or a perfect comprehension of biblical truth. Therefore, in this regard, it is up to you to use your discernment of the truth and test my words, or any mans words, against Scripture to see if they are indeed true.


Eric Landstrom


Copyright © 2001-2007 by Eric Landstrom

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