Prevenient grace fails as a valid option in Molinism

by Matt Slick
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According to Dr. MacGregor, Molina admits that the natural state of a fallen person is that he is incapable of coming to faith in Christ on his own. So, the solution is prevenient grace.

"While Molina would disagree with these conclusions of Luther and Calvin, he did concur with one aspect of Calvin’s reasoning. Molina agreed that the impact of original sin upon humanity was so great that it incapacitated their mental faculty to choose freely to do spiritual good, including positively responding to Christ’s offer of salvation." (MacGregor, Kirk R., Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge, Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI, Kindle Edition, 2015, p. 72)

Prevenient grace is defined differently among various groups. In relationship to Molinists, it is of main two types. The first is where God re-enables a person to be able to choose Christ freely. The second view is that God providentially brings a person to the place of regeneration as long as the person does not resist along the way. Please consider the following quotes from Molinist writers.

  • "Prevenient grace seems to be a legitimate postulation, that is, the grace that precedes salvation that enables one to repent and turn from sin." (Andrews, Max. An Introduction to Molinism: Scripture, Reason, and All that God has Ordered.  The Spread of Molinism Book 1, Kindle Locations 345-347, Kindle Edition).
  • "To sum up Molina’s Catholic but non-Thomistic doctrines of grace and justification, which he developed during his doctoral studies, we observe that fallen humans, apart from God’s universally given prevenient grace, would have possessed the theological version of compatibilist free will; but in fact, God does universally give prevenient grace, thereby establishing libertarian free will. In other words, apart from God’s unmerited supernatural assistance, fallen creatures would only have the ability to choose between good and evil in matters below, or in physical matters that we humans typically regard as good (e.g., saving someone’s life) and evil (e.g., committing murder). But they would not have the ability to choose anything spiritually good, namely, to perform any act with the pure, altruistic motives requisite to making the act worthwhile in God’s sight." (MacGregor, Kirk R.. Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge, Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI, Kindle Edition, 2015, p. 72).
  • “In Molina’s soteriology, dealing with prevenient grace and libertarian free will, God, so to speak, works through a person who does nothing to resist God’s gracious movement, while God is arranging favorable circumstances for that person, and once the person is brought through God’s gracious arrangement-of-things and does not resist, then God regenerates him.” (Notes approved by Kirk MacGregor from Dialogue between Matt Slick and Kirk MacGregor, 4/6/2017)

Alright, so the reason that prevenient grace is needed in Molinism is that of the depravity of man. He is not free, in and of himself, to come to Christ. The effect of the fall upon him is such that he is incapacitated.

What is total depravity?

Total depravity is the teaching that sin has touched a person in all areas of what he is: heart, mind, soul, and body. The result of this total depravity is his inability to come to Christ freely. Verses used to support this are as follows.

  • Mark 7:21-23, "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness."
  • John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day."
  • John 6:65, "And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.’"
  • Rom. 3:10-12, "as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless. There is none who does good, there is not even one.’"
  • 1 Cor. 2:14, "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."

The fact Molinists offer prevenient grace is a solution, is an admission that total depravity is true. Otherwise, prevenient grace would not be necessary. But, prevenient grace fails as an option because it still results in the ultimate choice being made out of man's unregenerate state. This state of being totally depraved is a condition of the unregenerate. But, prevenient grace doesn't stop a person from being totally depraved. It is supposed to be something that re-enables an individual to choose Christ - yet within his total depravity. But if that's the case, then how is he still totally depraved?

Now, the regenerate are still affected by sin in all that we are, but we are not incapacitated. We can believe in Christ. With the regenerate, there is the indwelling of God (John 14:23; Galatians 4:6). With that indwelling is the fact that God also grants that we believe (Philippians 1:29). The granting of our belief is necessary because of our total depravity. So, God regenerates the person by making him born again not of his own will (John 1:13) and grants that we believe (Philippians 1:29). This is the biblical means by which we choose Christ. God indwells us, grants that we believe, and so we do. With that belief, we receive Christ (John 1:12).

So how then does prevenient grace work? If it re-enables a person to choose Christ, then it is working on someone who's unregenerate and who is still regenerate even with that grace. So, in this sense, prevenient grace is self-refuting because it is stating that the person who is totally depraved (which means he can't of his own free will choose Christ), is still totally depraved, yet he is now somehow able to choose Christ. But, then how is he still totally depraved? It makes no sense.

Providential arrangement of circumstances

Let's Look at the other option. Luis de Molina asserts (according to Dr. MacGregor) that prevenient grace is God's providential arranging of circumstances through which individuals move, and if they do not resist God along the way, then God will end up generating them.

But this doesn't work either because the unbelieving person is still totally depraved. Since nothing changes in the individual, there is no difference in him and his inability to choose Christ is still in place freely. Just arranging circumstances through which he must progress, providing he doesn't resist, does not change this fact. Resistance is precisely what he will do according to Scripture. After all, the Bible tells us that no one does good (Romans 3:10-12), that out of the heart proceeds evil (Mark 7:22-23), and that the unregenerate are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:14-20). It doesn't matter how far along a person gets in various circumstances, his resistance to God occurs all the time. There is no neutrality with the unbeliever. He is a slave of sin, full of evil, and does no good. Therefore, his behavior will be consistent with his nature, and he will resist because that is what is natural for him.

However, if, according to this position, the Molinist asserts that God regenerates the person which enables him to believe, then he is affirming the Reformed doctrine of regeneration preceding faith. Of course, this preceding is the same way electricity precedes light in a light bulb. Whenever electricity is there, light is also present. They both occur at the same time. But electricity logically must precede the light in order for light to be there. In Reformed theology, regeneration logically must precede belief. So, if the Molinist wants to affirm the Reformed perspective, there is no problem.





About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.