A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, November 15, 2010

John Wesley on Predestination

There was much in the theology of John Calvin that Wesley appreciated and agreed with. He wrote that on justification he and Calvin were but a "hair's breadth" away on the doctrine. Wesley also liked much of Calvin's doctrine of the Holy Spirit (He thought Luther's account of the Spirit was "stunted").

But when it came to the Calvinist understanding of predestination, Wesley pounded the pulpit expressing himself in no uncertain terms. Even though he published an essay entitled, "Predestination Calmly Considered," there was nothing gentle about Wesley's response. In his sermon "Free Grace," Wesley referred to the Calvinist view that God has assigned some to hell as portraying "God as worse than the devil." Like Calvin, Wesley believed that God is the one who takes the initiative to offer salvation. Without grace salvation is impossible. But, unlike Calvin, the offer is made to all, and all persons, through God's prevenient grace, have the opportunity to respond. Divine grace is necessary for saving faith, but such grace can be resisted by the individual.
Father John's problems with Calvin's "double-predestination" can be summarized in a three-fold manner: First, it is a rejection of free will. Thus, our seeming choices are not choices at all; it is simply smoke and mirrors.

Second, it raises serious questions about the justice of God, who holds persons accountable for something they cannot choose in the first place. It is tantamount to a parent insisting her child spill his juice on the carpet and then punishing him for it.

Third, it undermines the motivation for Christian discipleship and mission. Why go into the world and preach the gospel if it has already been determined who is saved and who is condemned? The Calvinist response that we should preach the gospel because Christ commands it, still does not deal with the truth that those chosen for life will accept it, whether we preach or not, and those assigned to perdition will reject the message, whether we proclaim it or not; the decrees of God, after all, will not be falsified.

Wesley quotes 2 Peter 3:9: "The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." For Wesley, the Calvinist doctrine of predestination is contrary to the testimony of Scripture that God offers the invitation to all and that all are able to accept it.


Randy Olds said...

I've read Wesley's "Free Grace" several times and Wesley doesn't pull too many punches, even going so far as to call the predestination aspect of Calvinism "a plague". I've read elsewhere (I don't remember where) however, that without the doctrine of Prevenient Grace that he would have had no choice but to become a Calvinist himself. Thank God for Prevenient Grace!

Bruce said...

Randy, Prevenient Grace is based in the Bible. Scripture teaches us of God who desires to save and intvites people to join in the kingdom. The double predestination god is much more akin to the poor Islamic version of Allah. Human beings are not valued. My Prysby friends say that we torture the doctrine of predestination to arrive at our criticisms. Of course they nothing wrong with calling United Methodists semi-palagin.

Dim Lamp said...

Although I'm not a Calvinist nor a believer in double predestination; I believe there is evidence of what some Lutherans refer to as single predestination. Check out, e.g. biblical texts such as Psalm 139 and John 15:16.

Bill B. said...

For the majority of my Christian life, I agreed w/Wesley on the doctrine of election. But studying further and sitting under the teaching of a theologian, I've changed my view to one that's in agreement w/Calvin's. The arguments against Calvin's view of election are usually because of a failure to understand that view. People are always free to believe in Christ; however, the problem is that they freely do exactly what they want to do which is sin and they/we do it with a vengeance. So unless God unilaterally intervenes in our lives to take away the stone heart and give us a heart of flesh, we will go our sweet way freely and happily. The notion of Prevenient Grace simply cannot be found in the Scripture. It's a nice philosophical way to explain what is happening but it is not theological.

Mike W. said...

I wish SOMEONE could post scriptural support for this notion of "prevenient grace". I find no scriptural basis for this obviously man made doctrine. the bible teaches that we are DEAD in trespasses and sins. How can a dead man "make a decision for Jesus"? Arminianism is man-focused...completely unbiblical. People reject the sovereignity of God because they think "God is unfair" in choosing some to eternal life and others not. Why then did the Apostle Paul write in Romans 9:14-15, "What shall we say then? [Is there] unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." god is not OBLIGATED to extend ANY mercy to ANY human being! He would be perfectly just in allowing all of human kind to perish in our sins. This is where the Arminiast view is completely flawed (in addition to any lack of biblical support for their view).

Jared Williams said...

Mike W. -

I don't understand how you can say that there is no scriptural basis for "prevenient grace." It is not listed as such - but only insomuch as there is nothing listed as predestination. Romans 10:9 "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." While God is not obligated to extend God's mercy to anyone - God still extends it to all. Belief is a choice. Why would Christ have told his disciples to preach the gospel to all nations (Matthew 26), if God only wanted a few to be saved?

I Timothy 2: 3-4 "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." NKJ God desires ALL to be saved. Not all are saved - but not because God doesn't want it. If God wants all to be saved (as said by Paul here in I Timothy) and all are not saved - then who is to blame if predestination is the way of the world - God is. If it is up to each person to decide to choose Christ or not - that is Arminianism. Prevenient Grace is the theological concept to explain why we can choose God in our sinful state - because God has allowed us to make that choice.

Ron T. said...

The truth is "we are all predestined to exercise our own free will". God knew each of us, all mankind before He created us. He knew and knows the choices each of us will make in this life. Creating me, knowing I would at some point choose to accept Jesus Christ, is predestined to accept Jesus Christ from God's view, not mine. However I did not know and therefore God gives me this life so I can experience making the choices I make, and receiving the results of my decisions.
I will stand before Christ knowing I chose to accept His sacrifice for my sins.
Others will kneel before God knowing they chose to reject a relationship with Him through His Son, and they will receive what they chose.

Anonymous said...

You seem to be saying anyone can choose Christ, but that choosing Christ on our own is impossible. If choosing Christ is impossible without the direct intervention of God (done for some, but not all), then God chooses some and rejects others. Our choice to follow Jesus is no choice at all, and is 100% dependent on God doing even more and beyond Jesus dying and rising from the dead. Nothing could be more unbiblical than requiring more than the Bible for salvation. Besides, prevenient grace is as much a part of Scripture as the Trinity. Maybe it's not named, but its sitting there in plain sight.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your comments. I apologize if what I wrote was confusing. We can freely choose to accept or reject Christ. God does not predestine individuals to eternal life or damnation. God chooses that all should be saved, but that choosing does not become choseness until the individual accepts it.

Prevenient grace is God's wooing of us prior to conversion. It confirms God's choosing of all of us, but it does not become effective without the faith response on our part. Once we respond in faith we experience justifying grace.