In my compatibilist proposal, the ninth point of my platform had to do with universal sufficient grace. It may be the most unusual of my points but I find it helpful, and so I continue to commend it to other Calvinists for consideration.
I summed up the concept with this statement from Who Can Be Saved?: “it may be that God gives everyone sufficient grace to enable them to believe in him but that he only draws and persuades effectively the elect. Not only does everyone receive revelation sufficient to lead to salvation if responded to with faith, but at least once in everyone’s life that divine revelation is accompanied by a divine enabling that makes a faith response possible, in the sense that people are justly condemned for failing to believe when God is made known to them on that occasion” (239).
In a comment on that earlier post, Tony Penner had some questions about this proposal and I thought some of these might express the wonderings of others too. So I’m answering his questions in a post.
“1. You say that God has given everyone sufficient grace but only effective for the elect. This is not a new concept if in it you are communicating the concept related to the atonement that says that Christ died sufficiently for all but only effectively for the elect. Is this close to what you are saying? If so, then, who did Christ die for and what does that do to the significance of the atonement?”
I will address the sufficiency of the atonement when I treat Roger Olson’s discussion of “limited atonement,” fairly soon, so I won’t describe my understanding of it here. I point out now, however, that my proposal regarding universal sufficient grace has to do with the work of the Holy Spirit rather than of the Son, as in the case of the atonement. I should also note that, in view of some change currently under way in my concept of the sufficiency of the atonement, I have begun to ask myself just what the relationship may be between the “sufficiency/efficiency” distinction in Christology and that distinction in pneumatology. I’m not ready to speak to that yet, but I’m pondering the matter.
“2. If you are using the word ‘grace’ in this context but it does not actuate faith, is it not closely resembling common grace and not saving grace? And if it is approaching the grace of the saving kind are you not then diminishing the force of the word ‘grace?’”
Yes, this grace is “common” in that it is universal and also that it does not effect salvation. It is a gracious divine enablement which puts sinners in a position analagous to Adam and Eve before they fell; it gives them the sort of ability to respond to God’s revelation that makes them culpable for not doing so. They could believe, if they would. But they won’t unless God gives them the grace that is efficient/effective. Its “sufficiency” is therefore rather limited; it is sufficient to account for their moral blameworthiness in unbelief or the counterpart disobedience.
Francis Turretin (1823-87) made this proposal in regard to Adam and Eve, in his attempt to account for their being justly condemnable for their disobedience, even though God had chosen not to give them the grace necessary to assure their obedience. As per my earlier post, I understand the need for that grace in terms of a “moral entropy” in the created order.
Interestingly, I was not aware of Turretin’s having postulated this concerning Adam and Eve, when I first came up with the concept in regard to people after the fall, but I was heartened to find that the idea had so illustrious a forerunner. But Turretin did not reapply the concept in the post-fall situation as I am doing. My own idea took shape in my mind while I was reading various books, including some Molinist works and Thomas Oden’s work on grace, from a Wesleyan perspective.
Why?, you may wonder, do I make this suggestion. It is part of my grappling to understand the moral accountability of pervasively depraved sinners for their acts of sin, when they are naturally unable to please God apart from a gracious enablement. Traditionally, Reformed theologians have accounted for this universal responsibility for the sins we commit, despite our having been conceived dead in sin, by appeal to our implication in the original sin. As Paul says in Romans 5:12, we sinned in Adam. We are not accounted guilty because of something Adam did, we are guilty for what we did in Adam.
I affirm the federal/covenantal understanding of original guilt, but I see a problem which I have not found addressed in Reformed theology. (If it has been spoken to, I will be very grateful to whomever tells me by whom and where it has been addressed.) I do not consider unjust the corporate role of Adam as head of the race “in him,” by God’s constitution, any more than I object to our incorporated righteousness in Jesus, the second Adam. But I have concluded that the traditional Reformed treatment of this matter puts a weight upon original guilt which is not warranted by biblical teaching. Having been born sinners in Adam, no human being after the fall (with the exception of the second Adam, of course, who is head of a new race) is able not to sin. Every sin we commit during our entire lives grows out of our original act in Adam. But no biblical text with reference to the final judgment cites our sin in Adam as a factor in our condemnation! That should surprise Calvinists. Scripture always cites, as the criteria for judgment, deeds we did in the body, that is, what we call “actual” guilt as distinct from “original” guilt.
This is one of the things that led me to postulate that, at least once in everyone’s life, God’s Spirit puts every human being in the situation of Adam and Eve before the fall. Faced with temptation, we are placed in a position where we could believe/obey God’s revelation, if we would. The act we then commit is analogous to that of Adam and Eve in the garden, and the relationship between that decisive personal act and the sins we do after it is precisely the relationship which “actual” sins have been classically understood to bear to “original” sin. What changes with my proposal, however, is that the “originating sin” is one that was done in the body, not representatively in Adam, our natural covenant head. This would explain why no final condemnation passage refers to our sin in Adam. By marked contrast, our being “in Christ” is front and center when our final justification is in view; God’s people are clothed in Christ’s righteousness.
“3. If God provides a divine enabling to every human being how does this work if enabling grace is only given to the elect unless you believe that everyone is elect? Is this not just dangling the carrot?”
I am hoping that my answer to your second question has also given you the answer to this one.
“4. How does your proposal of universal divine enabling differ from prevenient grace?”
You’ll observe that the grace of which I speak is similar in effect to the universal prevening grace of Arminian theology. But I posit it to be accompanying rather than prevening, and hence more akin to Lutheran theology, except that Lutherans believe that this grace accompanies every divine revelation, whereas I posit that it need only happen once, though it may happen more times in the lives of some individuals.
Arminians have objected to me that the grace I call “sufficient” is problematic because it never suffices for anyone’s actual faith. But, I point out that their prevening grace doesn’t either! In both cases, something else is needed, for faith to occur. They posit that what is additionally required is an act of the human will, without any further divine enablement. I posit that what is additionally needed is an act of God, the regenerative grace that is at work in the efficacious call.
I first made my proposal publicly at an annual meeting of ETS, in a paper entitled: “The universal salvific work of the Holy Spirit: reducing the scandal of Calvinism.” They informed me that, since my proposal still affirms a monergistic action of divine grace for salvation to occur, I had not reduced the scandal. I grant that fact, but I have reduced my level of puzzlement, and I am hopeful that the concept may be useful to my fellow Calvinists.
This is a concept that has also helped me to understand God’s distress at the unbelief of the non-elect. Jesus, for instance speaks of having tried to gather Jews of Jerusalem under his wings, but they were not willing to be gathered (Mt 23:37). Why the distress if they could not come to him, in any sense?
Tony asked, finally:
“5. If everyone is given sufficient grace whereby a faith decision were possible how does this square with depraved inability?”
I am hopeful that my answer to question number 2 has made this clear.
If you are a Calvinist, how do you understand God’s distress at the unbelief of the non-elect and the lack of reference to original guilt in the final judgment? What have you read that has helped you on this point?
For anyone who wants to get a better understanding of my proposal of universally sufficient enabling grace, I have uploaded three files to a new page under “Documents,” titled “Excerpts.” The files are under Soteriology/Universal Sufficient Grace, and you can get to the files from that page or go directly to them from the following links:
“The Distinction Between My Proposal of Universal Sufficient Grace and Amyraldian ‘Hypothetical Universalism’” [This is a prepublication draft of Appendix 2 of Who Can Be Saved?. It may not correspond exactly to the final published form of that appendix]
“Scriptural Support for the Concept of Universally Sufficient Enabling Grace” [This is a prepublication draft of Appendix 3 of Who Can Be Saved?. It may not correspond exactly to the final published form of that appendix]