Sunday, August 3, 2008

An analogy of Prevenient Grace

What analogy do Arminians most often use in order to illustrate how God saves and rescues the lost? According to the Arminian book, "Why I am Not a Calvinist?", the answer will vary between what is termed a "Contemporary Arminian" and a "Classical Arminian." In the following illustration, an analogy is offered which explores the difference in perspective between a Contemporary Arminian, a Calvinist and a Classical Arminian:

"The contemporary Arminian addresses the sinner as a convicted criminal standing at the gate of the penitentiary. Standing under a legal obligation to enter into eternal imprisonment, the prisoner will be escorted into inescapable confinement and punishment upon death. There at the front gate, an evangelist offers release from the coming horror and urges the convict to accept the gift of total pardon.

In contrast, Calvinists and classical Arminians see the sinner as already imprisoned in the deepest corner of a terrorist camp. Bound, gagged, blindfolded and drugged, the prisoner is weak and delusional. Calvinists and classical Arminians know that the preacher at the gate cannot reach the prison through the layers of confinement and sensory distortion. The prisoner can't even begin to plead for help or plan an escape. In fact, the prisoner feels at home in the dank squalor of the cell; she has come to identify with her captors and will try to fight off any attempted rescue. Only a divine invasion will succeed.

The Calvinist view of divine invasion is simple. God invades the camp, carriers the prisoner out, strips the prisoner of her shackles and blinders, and injects 'faith' into the prisoner's veins. The former prisoner, having already been rescued from prison and positioned outside its walls, now trusts the Deliverer because of the potency of the administered faith serum. God has been the lone actor throughout, in the sense that the human response of faith is directly and irresistibly caused by God. Whether this saving action of God takes place over a longer or shorter period of time, faith is the inevitable result of divine illumination.

The classical Arminian believes that God steals into the prison and makes it to the bedside of the victim. God injects a serum that begins to clear the prisoner's mind of delusions and quell her hostile reactions. God removes the gag from the prisoner's mouth and shines a flashlight around the pitch-black room. The prisoner remains mute as the Rescuer's voice whispers, 'Do you know where you are? Let me tell you! Do you know who you are? Let me show you!' And as the wooing begins, divine truth begins to dawn on the prisoner's heart and mind; the Savior holds up a small mirror to show the prisoner her sunken eyes and frail body. 'Do you see what they've done to you, and do you see how you've given yourself to them?' Even in the dim light, the prisoner's weakened eyes are beginning to focus. The Rescuer continues, 'Do you know who I am, and that I want you for myself?' Perhaps the prisoner makes no obvious advance but does not turn away. The questions keep coming: 'Can I show you pictures of who you once were and the wondrous plans I have for you in the years to come?' The prisoner's heartbeat quickens as the Savior presses on: 'I know that part of you suspects that I have come to harm you. But let me show you something--my hands, they're a bit bloody. I crawled through an awful tangle of barbed wire to get to you.' Now here in this newly created space, in this moment of new possibility, the Savior whispers, 'I want to carry you out of here right now! Give me you heart! Trust me!'

This scenario, we believe, captures the richness of the Bible's message: the glory of God's original creation, the devastation of sin, God's loving pursuit of helpless sinners and the nature of love as the free assent of persons.

Here also is room for tragedy, for the inexplicable (but possible) rejection of God's tender invitation by those who really know better and who might have done otherwise. Sin shows up in its boldest colors when it recapitulates the rebellion of Eden and freely chooses to go its own way in the face of divine love and full provision. The tragedy of such rejection is the risk God took in making possible shared between creature and Creator, the very love shared between the Father and his eternal Son (Jn 17:23-26).

As we see it, the prisoner's trust in the Rescuer was not caused by God, though God caused every circumstance that made it possible. God did all the illuminating, all the clarifying and all the truth telling. The prisoner's trust possessed no power of its own, for it didn't remove one shackle or take one step on the way to freedom. God alone shatters all bonds and lifts the emaciated body on his own shoulders. The prisoner's trust had no monetary value for enriching the Rescuer or compensating him for his wounds. Since God bore all the cost, took all the initiative and exercised all the power required for the saving event, God owns exclusive rights to all praise and glory for the miracle of redemption." (Why I am Not a Calvinist?, pp.68-70)

The author adds: "The prisoner did not will herself out of captivity with a grand display of grit and determination (Jn 1:13) but surrendered her will to a saving God. Throughout Scripture, faith is the supreme condition for salvation, and it never obscures to the slightest degree the grace of God or dilutes his role as the only Savior." (Why I am Not a Calvinist, p.70)

Wednesday's post will highlight the author's view of the atonement as a "provision." That should prove interesting too.

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