Prevenient grace

Prevenient grace

Prevenient grace is a Christian theological concept rooted in Augustinian theology [Henry Bettenson, "The Later Christian Fathers" (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), pp. 204-205.] and embraced primarily by Arminian Christians who are influenced by the theology of John Wesley and who are part of the Methodist movement. Wesley typically referred to it in 18th century language as "preventing grace". In modern English, the phrase "preceding grace" would have a similar meaning.

Prevenient grace is divine grace which precedes human decision. It exists prior to and without reference to anything humans may have done. As humans are corrupted by the effects of sin, prevenient grace allows persons to engage their God-given free will to choose the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ or to reject that salvific offer.


The "United Methodist Book of Discipline" (2004) defines prevenient grace as, "...the divine love that surrounds all humanity and precedes any and all of our conscious impulses. This grace prompts our first wish to please God, our first glimmer of understanding concerning God's will, and our 'first slight transient conviction' of having sinned against God. God's grace also awakens in us an earnest longing for deliverance from sin and death and moves us toward repentance and faith." ["The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2004" (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 2004), Section 1: Our Doctrinal Heritage: Distinctive Wesleyan Emphases.]

Article VIII of the Articles of Religion which John Wesley adapted for use by American Methodists states that, "The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and works, to faith, and calling upon God; wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, "without the grace of God by Christ preventing [preceding] us", that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will" (emphasis added). The article is official doctrine not only for The United Methodist Church but for many other Wesleyan denominations as well, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the British Methodist Church, and those denominations associated with the Holiness movement.

Thomas Oden of Drew University defines prevenient grace as, "...the grace that begins to enable one to choose further to cooperate with saving grace. By offering the will the restored capacity to respond to grace, the person then may freely and increasingly become an active, willing participant in receiving the conditions for justification." ["John Wesley's Scriptural Christianity" (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), p. 243.]

Infant baptism is seen in Methodism as a celebration of prevenient grace. Although infant baptism is important for the life journey of the faithful disciple, it is not essential.

In Wesley

In John Wesley's sermon "On Working Out Our Own Salvation" (sermon #85), Wesley stated that prevenient grace elicits, "...the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning His will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against Him."

Wesley insisted on prevenient grace as a solution to two great problems in Christianity: the belief of original sin and the Protestant doctrine of salvation by grace alone. Developing the idea based upon the witness of Scripture, Wesley felt that prevenient grace enabled the doctrines of original sin and salvation by grace to co-exist while still maintaining God's sovereignty and holy character as well as human freedom.

In Scripture

Scriptures used to support the doctrine include (NT quotes from Wesley's translation, unless noted)::Jeremiah 1:5 (ESV): "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you...":Jeremiah 31:3 (KJV): "...I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.":Ezekiel 34:11, 16 (ESV): "For thus says the Lord ] They argue that because this grace is supposedly given to all alike, the determining factor in salvation becomes the will of man. Calvinists believe that Wesleyans teach that God seeks all people equally, and if it weren't for the fact that some were willing to respond to his promptings and persuasions, no one would be saved. They see this dependence on the will and choice of the individual as a good work required for salvation and thus an implicit rejection of salvation by grace alone. Conversely, in Calvinism it is singularly God's own will and pleasure that brings salvation (see monergism) lest salvation be, at least in part, "of ourselves" in contrast to Ephesians .

Wesleyans counter these objections by claiming that God has initiated salvation through prevenient grace, and while human beings still maintain God-given free will to respond to that initiative, salvation is still initiated (and ultimately activated), by God, through justifying grace.



* Sermon #44: [ "Original Sin"] by John Wesley
* Sermon #85: [ "On Working out Our Own Salvation"] by John Wesley
* Sermon #105: [ "On Conscience"] by John Wesley
* Sermon #128: [ "Free Grace"] by John Wesley
* "Wesley on Salvation: A Study in the Standard Sermons" (1989) by Kenneth J. Collins, chapter 1: "Prevenient Grace and Human Sin" (ISBN 0-310-75421-6)
* "Total Corruption and the Wesleyan Tradition: Prevenient Grace" by Donal Dorr, "Irish Theological Quarterly" 31 (1964), 303-321.
* "A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology" (1994) by J. Kenneth Grider, chapter 14: "The First Work of Grace" (ISBN 0-8341-1512-3)
* "John Wesley's Message for Today" (1983) by Steve Harper, chapter 3: "Power to Begin: Prevenient Grace" (ISBN 0-310-45711-4)
* "Practical Divinity: Theology in the Wesleyan Tradition" (1982) by Thomas A. Langford, chapter 2: "Wesley's Theology of Grace", (ISBN 0-687-07382-0)
* "Responsible Grace: John Wesley's Practical Theology" (1994) by Randy Maddox, chapters 3-7 (ISBN 0-687-00334-2)
* "Relational Holiness: Responding to the Call of Love" (2005) by Thomas Jay Oord and Michael Lodahl (Beacon Hill Press) (ISBN 0-8341-2182-4)
* "John Wesley's Scriptural Christianity: A Plain Exposition of His Teaching on Christian Doctrine" (1994) by Thomas Oden, chapter 8: "On Grace and Predestination", pp. 243-252 (ISBN 0-310-75321-X)
* "The United Methodist Hymnal" (1989) "Prevenient Grace" section, hymns 337-360 (ISBN 0-687-43134-4)

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • prevenient grace — noun : divine grace that is said to operate on the human will antecedent to its turning to God * * * divine grace operating on the human will prior to its turning to God. [1660 70] * * * prevenient grace, Theology. divine grace turning the heart… …   Useful english dictionary

  • prevenient grace — noun An Arminian doctrine distinctive to Methodism and the broader Wesleyan movement. It holds that man is so fallen that he is utterly incapable of perceiving the need for salvation, but God, in His infinite wisdom, has preveniently extended to… …   Wiktionary

  • prevenient grace — divine grace operating on the human will prior to its turning to God. [1660 70] * * * …   Universalium

  • prevenient grace —  Предшествующая благодать …   Вестминстерский словарь теологических терминов

  • Prevenient — Pre*ven i*ent, a. [L. praeveniens, p. pr.] Going before; preceding; hence, preventive. Prevenient grace descending. Milton. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • prevenient — [prē vēn′yənt, privēn′yənt] adj. [L praeveniens, prp. of praevenire: see PREVENT] 1. going before; preceding 2. anticipating; expectant 3. antecedent to human action [prevenient grace] prevenience [prē vēn′yəns, pri vēn′yəns] n …   English World dictionary

  • Grace — may refer to:Religion* Grace (prayer), said before or after a meal * Divine grace, unearned favors received from God. * Prevenient grace, an Augustine Christian theological concept * Irresistible grace, a Calvinistic Christian theological concept …   Wikipedia

  • Grace (Christianity) — A series of articles on Grace in Christianity Actual grace a Catholic theological concept …   Wikipedia

  • grace prevenient —  Благодать предваряющая …   Вестминстерский словарь теологических терминов

  • Actual Grace — • A grace that is given for the performance of salutary acts and is present and disappears with the action itself Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Actual Grace     Actual Grace …   Catholic encyclopedia

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